The day after a 33-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris said the missed opportunities against the Eagles were the result of veteran players not making plays they are being counted on to make.
"I'm extremely disappointed in yesterday's result and how it played out," said Morris. "The bottom line is we had too many missed opportunities by too many of our good players. We are just not getting it done right now. We can't have missed opportunities. They took advantage of their opportunities."
A focal point of the missed opportunities is wide receiver Michael Clayton. The sixth-year veteran wide receiver dropped a number of passes against the Eagles. One of them was on fourth-and-2, and another came on a bomb downfield early in the first quarter. After the Week 1 game against Dallas when Clayton had five receptions for 93 yards, Morris dared people to question the decision by the organization to re-sign Clayton in free agency. Morris was asked on Monday if Clayton had betrayed his trust with a large number of dropped passes in the four games since the contest with the Cowboys.
"I can't say that he betrayed my trust," said Morris. "I'll go into the office and let him know, we'll talk one-on-one. Obviously we'll talk to the team about those things. He's got to stand up and do that every week. He has to play like he did against Dallas. He's accountable. He's one of the guys we are depending on, and he knows that. He's got to play like that and he hasn't been. I'm not going to say he betrayed my trust or anything like that."
Morris said that Clayton, 26, could be replaced in the lineup. Backing up Clayton is Maurice Stovall, Brian Clark, and Sammie Stroughter. The rookie Stroughter has been used as the team's third receiver and he has 10 catches for 86 yards on the season. Stovall got an opportunity to play in Week 2 against Buffalo when wide receiver Antonio Bryant was out with a knee injury. Stovall responded with three catches for 80 yards, and a long reception of 38 yards. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall hurt his knee in the game and has not longed a catch on offense since. Stovall has played on special teams the past two games. Morris hinted that Stovall could see more playing time on offense in place of Clayton.
"We are always considering the best 53," said Morris. "That's got to include the best 45, obviously that has to consider the best 11 guys to be out on the field. That's always a consideration. That was an opportunity for Stovall to get out there and make some plays. Maybe it is time for him to get a couple of opportunities. You won't be wrong by saying that Stovall deserves a shot, or Stovall deserves a shot to be out there. What he has done out there on special teams so far has been good. What he has done on some of the different areas here inside the building has been good. That's not far-fetched, that is not a far cry."
In the days leading up to the game in Philadelphia, Clayton said the needed more opportunities after he had zero catches in two games against the Giants and Redskins. He entered the game with seven catches for 120 yards. Against the Eagles Clayton had three receptions for 25 yards, but had 12 passes thrown to him.
"You have got to be accountable," said Morris. "Be careful what you ask. Be careful what you wish for. I'm sure he feels that remorse right now and today. I'm sure I'll address, and we'll do that as a team first."
Morris discussed other players on the team having to take advantage of opportunities as well. In doing so he highlighted the play of second-year cornerback Aqib Talib. The big play hurt the Buccaneers defense again. The Eagles connection of quarterback Donovan McNabb to rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin completed touchdown passes of 51 yards and 40 yards.
"We got to go back, and the players that are supposed to make the big plays have to make them," said Morris. "We talk about those missed opportunities deals because they are seven points. They are big plays. They are huge plays. Those are the plays that got to be done on offense. On defense we have to stop the big plays. We got to stop giving up the big plays. It can't be about the same guy giving up the big play every time. We got to go back and figure out how not to give up those big plays, and that one individual has to stand up, so it is about missed opportunities on both sides of the ball. When you are a cornerback or safety and they throw the deep ball at you that is your opportunity to make a play. You have to stand up and make those plays. Aqib Talib stood up last week and made three out of four. This week he stood up and made all of them. DeSean Jackson had one catch for [one yard]."
Cornerback Elbert Mack was one of the players that allowed Maclin to get into the end zone, and Morris was asked about Mack being replaced as the third cornerback.
"When you talk about the player, he's obviously made some plays, and missed his fair share of plays," said Morris. "He's got to step up and be more consistent. He's got to get better, because right now he is the best option. We got to get better as a football team. We know that. Elbert Mack has got to get better. He knows that. He doesn't want to lose his spot. He wants to step up and be a better player, and he will be."
Morris said as a coaching staff they have to find the answers to the issues that plague the Buccaneers, and why they aren't taking advantage of missed opportunities. Defensive end Gaines Adams said from a player's perspective all they can do is listen to their coaches.
"I'm not going to sit here and say we have the answers. We're trying to find the answers," said Adams. "As a team, we just have to stick together and listen to the coaches and keep working."
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org