Tampa Bay lost a winnable game against Miami in the last two minutes of the first half and the final two minutes of the game. The Dolphins scored a combined 13 points during that span, including a 25-yard game-winning field goal by Dan Carpenter with 10 seconds left in regulation, to come back to beat the Buccaneers, 25-23, after driving 77 yards in five plays at the end of the game.

On Sunday, Tampa Bay’s two-minute defense was absolutely horrible.

“They went [77 yards] on us in whatever amount of time was left,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “Put it on myself, put it on our staff, put it on our players to make plays. It was a group effort.”

After the Buccaneers took a 23-22 lead with 1:14 left, the Tampa Bay defense wilted. Starting from the Dolphins’ 16, quarterback Chad Henne, who had thrown a costly fourth quarter interception that allowed Tampa Bay to come back and take the lead, threw a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Devone Bess down to the Miami 41. A 9-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Geno Hayes gave the Dolphins another first down at midfield with 41 seconds left. Bess then caught a 16-yard pass over former practice squad cornerback Derrick Roberson down to the Tampa Bay 34 with 25 seconds left.

Ricky Williams, who had replaced the injured Ronnie Brown at halfback, surprised the Bucs by ripping off a 27-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 7-yard line with 14 seconds left. That set up the winning field goal by Carpenter, who also stung the Bucs right before halftime with a critical kick.

With 1:38 left in the second quarter, Miami scored 10 quick points to build a 19-9 lead with the help of referee Tony Corrente. The Buccaneers were the victims of a ridiculously horrible NFL rule that came into play with 1:38 left before halftime in their own end of the field. Josh Freeman’s pass to wide receiver Michael Clayton was complete and Clayton was tackled by cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Yeremiah Bell at the Tampa Bay 15-yard line for what should have been a first down as Clayton appeared to be down by contact.

However, once down with his back on the ground, the ball popped up into the arms of Miami defensive end Jason Taylor, who took it back 15 yards for an apparent touchdown. Corrente reviewed the play with instant replay and upheld the interception, although he awarded Miami the ball at the spot of the interception.

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 on page 51 of the NFL Rule Book states that “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact with an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or in the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

The ball never hit the ground and Taylor was able to pick it off for Miami.

The call in this game resembled the one made in Oakland’s season-opening 24-20 home loss to San Diego in which Raiders rookie receiver Louis Murphy appeared to catch a touchdown, but the play was ruled incomplete because Murphy did not maintain possession even after he hit the ground.

After the game, Corrente explained the controversial call to the media’s pool reporter: “The player in question, the player who was possessing the ball in the air, as he started to come down, was hit. As he is coming down, he is now going to the ground to complete a catch and by rule, if he’s going to the ground to complete a catch, he has to maintain possession of the ball completely through the entire process of hitting the ground and thereafter showing control. As he went to the ground, basically right when he went to the ground, the ball popped out, and went right into the arms of the Miami player. The ball had never touched the ground.”

Morris was livid over the play and flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Miami took over at the Tampa Bay 8-yard line. After a 3-yard pass to Williams, Henne found rookie tight end Kory Sperry in the end zone over middle linebacker Barrett Ruud for a touchdown. With 1:25 left before halftime, Miami led 16-6.

“This loss is solely on me,” Morris said. “At the end of the half, getting a personal foul on the head coach is unacceptable. I’m taking those points. That’s on me. That’s what we lost by and I should be given blame for that. That was a discipline issue on my part and I didn’t do the right thing. That’s a great lesson for me as a young coach and it’s a great lesson for my team.”

Morris indicated that he wasn’t satisfied with Corrente’s explanation.

“He was trying to give it to me, but I didn’t want to hear it at that point,” Morris said. “It didn’t matter what his explanation was. I didn’t care. I thought it was the wrong call and he disagreed. He’s the official.

“I didn’t see it the same way, but the official makes the call, and ultimately at the end of the day that’s what we’re dealing with.”

While Carpenter killed the Bucs going 4-of-4 on his field goal attempts, including a 30-yarder right before halftime, Tampa Bay’s own kicker, Connor Barth, kept his team in the game by drilling three field goals – all of which were from 50 yards or more, including a career-long 54-yarder. That performance tied an NFL record.

“The offense was not pretty in the first half and we were able to make three 50-yard field goals to keep us in the game,” Morris said regarding Barth’s play.

Freeman, who fumbled four times, but luckily lost only one, was 16-of-28 for 196 yards with one interception and a 33-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Stovall in the fourth quarter to help Tampa Bay comeback. Tight end Kellen Winslow was Freeman’s favorite target, catching seven passes for 102 yards with six of those catches for 97 yards coming in the second half.

“We played hard today,” Morris said. “The offense bounced back from that first half, which was miserable. Josh Freeman came back and got his composure back. We made some great adjustments at halftime to get him going.

“The first half was disastrous. He did everything that you could do wrong when you talk about fumbled snaps to just everything – rookie mistakes that he’s going to make. That’s part of the patience we talk about when it comes to Freeman. But to bounce back like he did in the second half and play like he did in the fourth quarter, that’s what quarterbacks are made of.”

Yet Freeman was outplayed by Henne when it mattered most. The Dolphins quarterback completed only 17-of-31 passes for 175 yards and had one pick and one touchdown on Sunday, but was 7-of-9 for 89 yards and one touchdown – not including spikes to stop the clock – on Miami’s two scoring drives before halftime and on the Dolphins’ game-winning march.

Henne wasn’t the only one doing damage. Miami’s running game racked up 199 yards on 36 carries (5.5 avg.), led by Williams’ 102 yards on 20 carries. Brown chipped in 82 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries prior to leaving with an ankle injury in the third quarter.

Cadillac Williams rushed for 52 yards and the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown on 14 carries, but Tampa Bay wouldn’t have eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark if not for Freeman’s 36 yards on seven scrambles.

Aside from battling the Dolphins and Corrente, the Bucs also battled themselves with nine penalties for 77 yards, including the one on Morris, while falling to 1-8 on the season.

Tampa Bay got on the scoreboard first when the Bucs took the opening kickoff and marched 21 yards in six plays with the drive ending with a 51-yard field goal by Barth. A 36-yard kickoff return by Clifton Smith gave the Bucs excellent field position at their 46-yard line. Freeman was the victim of a 15-yard facemask penalty by linebacker Charlie Anderson that gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Miami 39. However, the Bucs couldn’t pick up a first down because of a delay of game penalty that set up third-and-11 from the 40. After a 7-yard run by Williams, Barth’s 51-yard field goal on fourth-and-4 from the 33 gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead with 11:24 left in the first quarter.

Henne converted a third-and-7 situation from the Miami 26 with an 8-yard pass to Greg Camarillo to the 34-yard line. On second-and-5 from the 39, Brown took a snap out of the Wildcat formation and eluded tackle attempts by safety Sabby Piscitelli and linebacker Quincy Black to dash for 45 yards down to the Tampa Bay 16 before cornerback Aqib Talib could knock him out of bounds. On third-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 10, Henne hit Camarillo again with a 9-yard gain to the 1-yard line. On the next play, Brown scored a touchdown behind right guard. Carpenter’s extra point was blocked by left tackle Donald Penn, and with 6:40 left in the first quarter, Miami led 6-3.

After a 16-yard catch by fullback Earnest Graham down to the 32-yard line, Freeman fumbled the center snap from Jeff Faine. The ball was recovered by linebacker Akin Ayodele at the Miami 34-yard line. However, the Dolphins were not able to capitalize on the turnover, and the score remained 6-3 heading into the second quarter.

Miami would add to its lead in the second quarter on a 12-play, 43-yard scoring drive that started at its own 26. The key play was a 17-yard pass from Henne to rookie receiver Brian Hartline to convert a third-and-15 situation out to the 50-yard line. Henne also connected with Brown for a 5-yard gain on third-and-4 down to the Tampa Bay 39. But the Bucs defense would stiffen and on fourth-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 31, Carpenter’s 49-yard field goal was good. With 7:19 left, Miami’s lead increased to 9-3.

Tampa Bay would answer Miami’s field goal drive with one of its own. After Freeman took a sack and fumbled the ball on first down, which was recovered by Tampa Bay, Williams ripped off a 7-yard run out to the Tampa Bay 34 to set up third-and-7. Freeman’s 11-yard scramble picked up a first down, and that play, coupled with a 14-yard jaunt by Williams on the next snap, gave the Bucs the ball at the Miami 45. The drive progressed to the Miami 36, but a pass to Sammie Stroughter on third-and-5 picked up only four yards. Barth was brought in to attempt a 50-yard field goal and drilled it. With 2:36 left, Miami’s lead was trimmed to 9-6 before expanding to 16-6 with Sperry’s touchdown catch.

After a three-and-out by Tampa Bay, Miami got the ball back at its 48-yard line with 52 seconds left in the second quarter. After an 11-yard screen pass to Brown, Henne hit Sperry with a 13-yard pass down to the Tampa Bay 28. Two plays later, Henne hit Bess with a 16-yard pass down to the Bucs’ 12-yard line. With 10 seconds left, Carpenter added a 30-yard field goal and Miami’s lead swelled to 19-6 at halftime.

On Tampa Bay’s second drive of the third quarter, Freeman completed a 9-yard pass to Sammie Stroughter on third-and-8 from the Tampa Bay 16. On third-and-7 from the Tampa Bay 28, Freeman eluded pressure and found Winslow for a 37-yard gain down to the Miami 35. On the next play, a bad shotgun exchange between Freeman and Faine cost Tampa Bay 13 yards that the Bucs just couldn’t make up. On second-and-23 from the 48, Freeman hit Winslow for a 12-yard gain, but the two couldn’t connect on a third down attempt and Barth was brought out to nail a career-high 54-yard field goal. With 4:05 left in the third quarter, Miami’s lead was cut to 19-9 after Tampa Bay’s 10-play, 50-yard drive.

The Bucs forced a turnover on Miami’s next possession when Piscitelli punched the ball out of Brown’s hands at the Tampa Bay 32. The fumble was recovered by free safety Tanard Jackson at the Tampa Bay 37. Freeman scrambled for eight yards on second down and found Clayton for a gain of three yards on third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 45. Two plays later, Freeman hit Winslow with a 19-yard strike down to the Miami 33. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Freeman found Maurice Stovall down the left sidelines for a 33-yard touchdown. With 14:53 left in regulation, Miami’s lead was sliced to 19-16.

Miami continued to put points on the board in the second half with Carpenter drilling a 45-yard field goal with 6:09 left in the game to cap off an eight-play, 40-yard drive.

Tampa Bay drove down to the Miami 22-yard line, but two incompletions by Freeman on third and fourth down turned the ball over to Miami with 2:04 left.

Miami made a huge mistake on third-and-7 at its own 25-yard line with 1:52 left in regulation. Instead of running the ball to force Tampa Bay to use its final timeout and then punting, Henne tried to complete a throw to Hartline, but the pass was intercepted by Black at the Miami 26. Tampa Bay took over at the Dolphins’ 26.

On the first play of the drive, Freeman scrambled for a first down to the Miami 12.  On the next play, Freeman hit Winslow with a 4-yard catch to the 8-yard line. A 7-yard run by Williams gave the Bucs a first-and-goal with 1:19 left. Williams followed the lead block by rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller, who lined up at fullback to score the go-ahead touchdown.

But Tampa Bay’s 23-22 lead wasn’t safe as Carpenter capped off a 77-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to give Miami the victory.

The Buccaneers’ long, exhaustive search for a field goal might have ended in Miami. This year, Tampa Bay cut Matt Bryant, the most accurate field goal kicker in team history, in favor of Mike Nugent at the end of training camp, only to see Nugent start the year 2-of-6 and cost the team a win at Washington with two missed field goals in a three-point loss. Shane Andrus replaced Nugent and didn’t connect on his lone field goal attempt before being released during the bye week for Connor Barth.

Barth, who was 1-for-2 in last week’s debut for Tampa Bay, was the team’s MVP on Sunday as he connected on three field goals of 50 yards or more. His 51-yarder in the first quarter got Tampa Bay on the board, followed by a 50-yarder in the second quarter. Barth nailed a career-long 54-yarder in the third quarter to pull the Bucs within 10 points at 19-9. In a year in which the Bucs are looking for young players to step up and emerge as building blocks in what is amounting to a throwaway season, Barth could be a real find.

Not only are his three field goals of 50 yards or more a team record, but Barth tied an NFL record. He joins Houston’s Kris Brown (54, 54, 57 against Miami on 10/7/07), Arizona’s Neil Rackers (55, 55, 50 vs. Seattle on 10/24/04) and New Orleans’ Morten Andersen (51, 55, 55 vs. Atlanta on 12/10/05) for the honors. Barth’s 54-yard field goal is tied for fifth in Buccaneers history.

Tampa Bay had a 23-22 lead with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter, but poor execution by the Bucs’ two-minute defense allowed Miami to drive 77 yards in five plays and kick a game-winning, 25-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to triumph 25-23. The Bucs defensive playcalling and execution was pitiful in both two-minute drives in each half, allowing the Dolphins to score a total of 13 critical points.

Wide receiver Maurice Stovall had his first touchdown catch of the season against Miami. The TD was the second of his NFL career. … Tim Crowder got his first start in Tampa Bay at left end in place of Jimmy Wilkerson, who got his first start at right end in place of the injured Stylez G. White. … Tight end Kellen Winslow had his second 100-yard receiving game in Tampa Bay and the sixth of his NFL career. … Left tackle Donald Penn blocked an extra point. That marked the second blocked PAT of the year and the fourth blocked kick by the Buccaneers this season. The block was Penn’s first in the NFL. … Free safety Tanard Jackson recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter and that marked the fourth straight game in which he has produced a turnover (three interceptions, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble). Jackson led the Bucs in tackles on Sunday with nine, which tied strong safety Sabby Piscitelli, who also forced a fumble. … Carnell Williams’ fourth quarter rushing touchdown was the 17th of his career, which moved him past Ricky Bell into sixth place in team annals. … Clifton Smith moved past Phil Freeman into fifth place on Sunday in kickoff return yards. Smith now has 1,745 kick return yards in his career.

The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:

WR Michael Clayton
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
WR Maurice Stovall
FB Earnest Graham
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh Freeman

LE Tim Crowder
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
RE Jimmy Wilkerson
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sabby Piscitelli

Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:

QB Byron Leftwich (emergency QB)
WR Antonio Bryant
WR Yamon Figurs
FB Chris Pressely
G Shawn Murphy
OT James Lee
DE Stylez G. White
CB Mike Mickens

The Bucs did not report any injuries after the game.

The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Dolphins game at Land Shark Stadium was 66,085 The kickoff temperature was 80 degrees under clear skies with 43 percent humidity.

The Buccaneers (1-8) will travel home to play the New Orleans Saints (9-0) on November 22. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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