Down a point with less than a minute on the clock, it looked like Tampa Bay finally found a way to win a game late rather than suffering the familiar, nauseating alternative.
Quarterback Josh McCown avoided Cincinnati’s persistent pressure just long enough to hit receiver Louis Murphy over the middle for a 21-yard first down to the Bengals 20. But instead of running another play or two and setting up a 30-plus yard field goal, Murphy’s grab was nullified by an absentminded penalty for having 12 men on the field.
Instead of first-and-10 at the 20 it was second-and-20 from the 46. McCown’s next two passes fell incomplete and rather than run kicker Patrick Murray out to attempt a 64-yard, game-winning field goal, Tampa Bay elected to run one last offensive play. McCown connected with receiver Mike Evans, but the 13-yard gain came up well short of a first down and sealed Cincinnati’s 14-13 victory.
At 2-10, Tampa Bay fell deeper into the NFC South cellar and head coach Lovie Smith said the Bucs have no one to blame but themselves.
“When you make dumb, stupid penalties like that throughout the game, they end up biting you at the end – which [they] did,” he said. “Again, we’re a 2-10 team. Not a good feeling at all. I thought we were really prepared for the game but the results didn’t show that.”
Tampa Bay entered Sunday as the fourth-most penalized team in the NFL and the Bucs lived up to that ranking against the Bengals. A total of 24 flags were accepted and 13 belonged to Tampa Bay for a total of 94 yards.
As for the costly 12 men on the field penalty, an irritated Smith said he and the coaching staff deserve the blame for that one.
“Coaching error on our part, we didn’t catch it,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. It shouldn’t happen. Miscommunication, so blame the head coach. Bad move on my part not seeing that.”
Sunday proved to be an afternoon littered with costly mistakes, missed opportunities and not much offense for Tampa Bay.
A Buccaneer defender opened the game with an interception on the very first offensive snap for the second time in three weeks when Johnthan Banks caught an errant pass from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and returned it to the Cincinnati 9.
The ensuing sequence represented the first opportunity Tampa Bay failed to fully take advantage of. The Bucs ran three plays for a total of minus-5 yards and had to settle for a 32-yard Murray field goal.
The Bucs jumped ahead 10-0 early in the second quarter when tailback Doug Martin capped Tampa Bay’s best drive of the day with a 7-yard run into the right side of the end zone.
Success on the ground hasn’t come easy of late but Martin and the Bucs were putting it together in the first half. Tampa Bay totaled 69 yards on 15 rushing attempts through 30 minutes of play, including Martin’s 55 yards on 12 carries.
The Bucs’ offensive line also kept McCown upright in the first half despite playing without center Evan Dietrich-Smith. The veteran was replaced by second-year pro Garrett Gilkey and the spot-start didn’t go as well as hoped. Gilkey, who typically plays guard, rolled a third-down snap to McCown on the Bucs’ opening drive and proceeded to get hit with four flags, two of which were declined.
“I think it just comes down to focus and just being consistent,” Gilkey said of the offensive line’s play and the penalties. “I think for myself when I get out of sorts, I tend to get sloppy, and today that showed up. I was sloppy in several plays.”
Right tackle Demar Dotson ended up as the only starting Bucs offensive lineman not to get hit with a flag. Backup Oniel Cousins entered the game on numerous occasions and committed a pair of infractions.
Whatever moderate success the Tampa Bay offense mustered in the first half, it was mostly non-existent in the second. The Bucs ran the football 10 times in the final two quarters for a total of six yards and finished with only 263 total yards of production.
McCown completed 15 of 29 passes for 190 yards, no touchdowns and an interception late in the first half.
“I tell you as a veteran, as a leader of the team and obviously as a quarterback, I just look at it as I have to be better,” McCown said of the poor all-around performance. “The defense played lights-out today.”
Tampa Bay’s defense did an equally impressive job of frustrating Dalton and the Cincinnati attack, but McCown and the Bucs were unable to turn those efforts into an increased lead. Despite three first-half interceptions from Banks, Brandon Dixon and Alterraun Verner, the Bucs only led 10-7 at the break. It was the fourth time Tampa Bay’s taken a lead into the locker room at intermission and the only win came in Washington two weeks ago.
“Yeah, we’re playing better, but we have to score on defense, man,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It was great we had three takeaways, but one of those we have to turn into a touchdown.
“Collectively, as a unit, everybody has to be better in the end.”
Tampa Bay limited Cincinnati to just 288 yards of total offense without starting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and starting weakside linebacker Lavonte David. Starting strongside linebacker Danny Lansanah moved over to David’s position and reserve Orie Lemon stepped in at strongside. Akeem Spence started in place of McDonald.
David’s now missed two straight games and was tied for the league-lead in total tackles before injuring his hamstring. Lansanah stepped in Sunday and led the team in tackles with 14, including three for a loss.
“I take the same approach,” Lansanah said of moving over to weakside. “All through my career I take the approach as a starter. You are one play away from being up and if you are out there and don’t know what you are doing, that’s the fastest way to get cut. Being a professional you’ve got to prepare like you’re a starter.”
Other offensive players joining Dietrich-Smith on the inactive list Sunday were a trio of tight ends: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker. Cameron Brate made his first NFL appearance and caught one pass for 17 yards.
Evans and running back Charles Sims both paced Bucs pass catchers with an equal output of four receptions and 49 yards.
Cincinnati didn’t exactly make Tampa Bay pay for its offensive shortcomings but the Bengals did just enough to escape Raymond James Stadium with a win to remain in sole possession of first place in the AFC North at 8-3-1.
The Bucs lost their slim lead late in the third quarter when Dalton hit A.J. Green (four catches for 57 yards) for a 13-yard touchdown the All-Pro grabbed over the top of defensive back Leonard Johnson.
Another big opportunity presented itself following Green’s touchdown when the Bengals elected to attempt an onside kick. Lemon shot in and jumped on the ball at the Cincinnati 36 and Tampa Bay took over at the 31 because of a 5-yard offside penalty. The possession rolled into the fourth quarter but the Bucs walked away with Murray’s 42-yard field goal after netting seven yards on four plays.
Tampa Bay took over possession three more times before the final whistle but couldn’t do anything with them as the score stayed locked at 14-13 Cincinnati.
“That’s how 2-10 football teams play,” Lovie Smith said. “[We] found a way to lose it at the end.”
Tampa Bay heads north to Detroit next week for a 1 p.m. game against the 8-4 Detroit Lions.
Sunday’s temperature at kickoff was 77 degrees, the wind was blowing at 7 m.p.h. from the east, skies were partly cloudy and the announced paid attendance at Raymond James Stadium was 56,340.
Buccaneers reported defensive starters: LE Jacquies Smith, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Akeem Spence, RE Michael Johnson, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Danny Lansanah, SLB Orie Lemon, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Dashon Goldson and SS Bradley McDougald.
Buccaneers reported offensive starters: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Anthony Collins, LG Logan Mankins, C Garrett Gilkey, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Demar Dotson, FB Cameron Brate, WR Mike Evans, QB Josh McCown, RB Doug Martin and TE Oniel Cousins.
Active Bucs players not to enter Sunday’s game were QB Mike Glennon, S Major Wright and TE D.J. Williams.
Tampa Bay’s inactives were C Evan Dietrich-Smith, TE Brandon Myers, CB Crezdon Butler, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LB Lavonte David, TE Luke Stocker and DT Clinton McDonald.
Hey coach, here’s a suggestion for starters. Stop playing the wrong quarterback!
Anyone else tired of the excuses? I’m all for getting a top three pick in the draft now but St. Lovie running it and coaching this team next year? Good freaking LUCK selling tickets. What an absolute disaster.
Hey! Four games left and only three games out (not counting tie breakers). We’re still in this thing!
Coach since you and other coaches and players are taking blame for this game, any chance your pay check are donated to World Hunger because I sure am hungry for a win! Go Bucs!
Are we still playing….good grief, I thought we packed this terrible year in long ago….can we hurry up and get to the draft so I can regain some hope with Mr. Mariota….
In the first half Doug Martin was running as hard as I’ve seen him run since his rookie season. For some mysterious reason, the running game disappeared in the second half. McCown seemed to be reluctant to pass the ball in any sort of rhythm. With the O-line unable to protect him without a penalty the Bengals did what all of our opponents have come to realize after half-time. Stop the run and the Bucs will beat themselves. Of all the horrendous O-line play I’ve witnessed in 38 years, this is the absolute worst.
With all the pressure today anybody else wonder why we don’t ever roll out the mobile McClown? At some point you have to realize the line is having a bad day, and maybe it would help if we MOVED THE DARN POCKET!! O.K., I’m better. Listen Bucs brass it’s simple. Should you be lucky enough to draft Mariota, hire his O.C.. We know the scheme works in the NFL, ( see Eagles). This would solve to big problems. Having hopefully a franchice Q.B. coming in already knowing the system. We could start the off season running, with a new O.C.,and a rookie who’s had success with the offense. Of course that will never happen. Lovie has a bad history picking Q.B.’s, and O.C.’s.
surferdudes; I think if we did that then we would have to trade Evans and Jackson for faster WR’s. would that be the plan? I thought it was dunkaneer ball?
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