Akeem Spence’s personal foul penalty didn’t cost Tampa Bay the game last Sunday, but it certainly didn’t help.
Trailing by five with less than three and a half minutes to go, the third-year pro gave New York Giants offensive lineman Weston Richburg a two-handed shove after a short run that drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty from a nearby official and the ire of head coach Lovie Smith on the sideline.
The infraction came after a first-down play with New York at its own 36 and the Bucs trailing by five, trying to force a punt with sufficient time remaining for the offense. Instead of second-and-7 from the New York 36, the ball moved across midfield to the Bucs 49 and the Giants took advantage.
It was a heated moment he wishes he could take back, but Spence took a moment this week to praise the leadership shown by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston afterward.
“Definitely a rough week,” Spence said. “I didn’t want to beat myself up too bad because it’s just one game and my team needs me this week in a big way going against the Cowboys. I appreciate Jameis for just coming over there and giving me a few encouraging words; just uplifting a teammate. That was big of him being a young guy doing that.
“He knew I was upset but he just knew the situation and I myself knew the situation we were in,” Spence added. “[With 4 minutes left] you can’t have a dumb penalty there – cannot have a dumb penalty like that. Him knowing that, he just wanted to come over and talk to me and let me know that he had my back and I appreciate that.”
Still in the developmental stages of being an NFL quarterback and leader himself, Winston was asked Wednesday how he handles these situations and what he tells teammates.
“Keep your head up,” Winston said. “Keep going out there and playing. Things are going to happen, but it’s the way you overcome that adversity and show how we can improve in those areas. If we get a penalty, yeah the penalty may have moved us back, but if we overcome that penalty, it’s not a penalty. If we get a drop – okay Mike dropped [and it’s] third down – but if we convert on the next play, okay we converted, so that drop doesn’t matter.
“It’s basically just eliminating the mistakes is what we want to happen, but at the end of the day we have to keep playing football because if a mistake happens, that’s football. We have to overcome that as well.”
Spence’s penalty was the second unnecessary roughness call against the Bucs defense Sunday and the eighth of nine total flags Tampa Bay incurred as a team. That makes eight 25-yard unnecessary roughness calls against the Bucs this season, while the league average is just 3.78, according to NFLpenalties.com.
Lovie Smith, who yelled for Spence to get off the field before grabbing him by his jersey to let him hear about the costliness of his error, said those are the kind of mistakes that keep teams from winning consistently.
“Again, we had opportunities, guys played hard, but – some of the things we’re doing – it’s just hard to win when you [commit] penalties,” Smith said. “We talked about that again pre-snap penalties and post-snap penalties, those are the ones that you should be able to clean up and you have to be able to clean up.”