Dreary weather and an equally downcast mood followed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers south after suffering a devastating 23-17 loss in Tennessee less than 24 hours ago.
The locker-room atmosphere was expectedly subdued Monday as players trickled in and out of the double-door entryway. Head coach Raheem Morris, though not short in his responses, was limited to only six minutes of press-conference time.
Sunday had been dubbed as a playoff-type game for the Bucs, needing to win out just to match last year’s surprising 10-6 finish and retain realistic hopes of advancing past Week 16. If that were the case, Tampa Bay was a one-and-done postseason team.
The Bucs were plagued by turnovers and penalties at inopportune moments in Nashville and Morris said making that many mistakes is something this young and inexperienced team cannot recover from at the present time.
“At lot of bad things as far as turnovers,” Morris said during his opening statement on Monday. “Sloppy ball. We’re not a mature enough team or a grown enough team to win games that way. We’ve got to go out and be perfect. We’ve got to execute. We can’t leave it in anybody’s hands but our own. We remain committed to growing as a football team and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Despite falling to 4-7 and the actual playoffs becoming nothing more than a pipe dream, Morris didn’t let on that the team is losing confidence in its ability to win games with five remaining on the 2011 schedule.
“I don’t think the mentality of this team is ever going to change. There’s a bunch of guys playing with pride in there. They’re not done playing and we’re not done coaching. So we’re going to keep going out there and keep giving our best effort. I don’t see any quit in these guys. I don’t see these guys turning it down. They certainly didn’t do it yesterday, but we’ve just got to be able to finish games and be able to play better.”
Cornerback Aqib Talib, who recorded his second interception and touchdown at Tennessee with his third-quarter pick-six, admitted that the latest setback was especially frustrating.
“The most frustrating thing that could happen to a football team,” he said about losing a winnable game in the fourth quarter. "We’ve got to just find a way. I mean, it’s all about finding a way. There’s no answer for that. You all ask the questions and there [is] no answer for it. If we knew the answer to that we would never lose a game. We go out there and play on Sunday. We try to win [and] stuff happens and we lose. Stuff happens and we win. This week stuff happened and we lost. It’s football.”
Tampa Bay led twice during Sunday afternoon’s cold, wet contest, but was unable to build upon either lead. As the day wore on, Titans running back Chris Johnson began emerging as the game’s premier player and the Bucs defense had no answers for how to stop him. Johnson gained a manageable 46 yards on nine carries in the first half but exploded for 144 on 14 attempts over the final 30 minutes of play.
“He did a nice job running the football and staying consistent with his runs,” Morris said of Johnson. “The couple breakout runs he had, he had one on a breakdown by us. He broke a couple tackles in the second half. Also in the second half, their offensive line did a nice job of getting up to the second level and blocking our linebackers and allowing Chris Johnson to make some D-linemen miss. They did a nice job of that in the second half.
“We’ve got to be able to stop him like we did in the first half and contain him like we did in the first half. In the second half they made some plays and they made one more [than us], really, to win that football game. We really had them where we wanted; kind of forcing them into a bunch of pass situations. We got a couple tackles for loss, but you really just can’t let him out because he’s a dangerous back, runs fast and when he’s in the open grass he becomes dangerous. Those few plays that he gets out in the chute allow the rushing stats to get all out of whack.”
The Buccaneers will evaluate the game tape and release their official tackle totals on Tuesday, but the postgame NFL numbers listed four members of Tampa Bay’s secondary as the team's top tacklers on Sunday. The Titans ran the ball one more time than they passed it (35 to 34) and that aforementioned stat is indicative of a running back spending quite a bit of time in the second and third levels.
When asked if a lack of production from the second level allowed for much of Johnson’s big day, Morris said that onus primarily lies up front.
“The DBs actually kept him in the chute. That’s why he didn’t have the 70-yard run, the 60-yard run. They kept him pretty consistent. Their O-line did a nice job of getting up to our backers in the second level in that second half. They put blocks on those guys and those guys had to shed and make some plays. You saw Quincy [Black] make some plays by shooting his gaps. We’ve got to play up front and that’s where it starts. The guys at the second level actually did a nice job of not allowing him to absolutely destroy and get downfield and really press us and get to the point where we ran into trouble with him.”
In order for his defense as a whole to begin winning games, Morris said little in terms of specifics. He simply said they aren’t playing well enough and must improve.
“Well, we’ve got to play better. The guys have got to step up. We’ve got to play better up front. We’ve got to play better at linebacker. We won’t make excuses. No excuses, no explanations. We didn’t play well and we’ve got to play better.”
Prior to being essentially hustled away from the podium, two questions were snuck in regarding the status of defensive tackle Brian Price and the play of rookie Da’Quan Bowers.
Price was injured during the first half of Sunday’s game and needed to be carted off the field.
“He messed up his ankle a little bit,” Morris said. “I’ll get more detailed information as the week goes on as far as where he’s going to be, but we lost him pretty early yesterday. I think it was early in the second quarter. The guys really came out and played well on defense that first series, got a three-and-out and stopped them after the big turnover. Then they came back out, we were down 7-3 [after] the big kickoff return and they played well again, got a nice stop, and I think I lost Brian at that point.”
Starting in place of the injured Michael Bennett at left defensive end, Bowers filled in by getting credit for one tackle and one hit on Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. It was Bowers’ first crack at starting on Sundays and Morris said he turned in an up-and-down performance.
"Bowers played well for his first time out there [as a starter]. Growing pains of course. He obviously had some bad plays and he had some really good plays. He played decent and we can get him to play better and keep seeing him grow and grow throughout the season."