Saints send Bucs to another narrow defeat
The venue was different. The opponent was different. Even the atmosphere was different. The outcome was the same. Another kick in the gut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This time, it was Garrett Hartley who did the kicking, making good on a 27-yard game-winning field goal as time expired
Sound familiar? It should.
The Bucs' 16-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints in their home opener at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday was a virtual replay of their 18-17 loss to the New York Jets in their season opener at MetLife Stadium last week. Even the final act was the same. First, the offense failed for the second week in row to convert a critical third down that would have allowed the Bucs to extend their final drive and possibly run out the clock.
Then, for the second week in a row, the Bucs defense allowed its lead to slip away in the waning seconds as Drew Brees drove the Saints 54 yards in five plays to set up Hartley's game-winning score. “It's tough,'' linebacker Mason Foster said. “We knew what they were going to do. I mean, Drew Brees is a great quarterback, and he made some great throws. But we have to find a way to make some plays there, too, and close it out.''
The same can be said for the offense. On a day when Doug Martin regained his rookie Pro Bowl form and churned out 144 yards on 29 carries, he could only gain 3 on a third-and-6 play from the Saints 32. That forced the Bucs to settle for a 47-yard Rian Lindell field goal try with 1:10 left to play. Unlike a week ago, when Lindell kicked a 37-yarder to give the Bucs a short-lived 17-15 lead, he missed wide left. “The snap, the hold, everything was great,'' Lindell said. “I just didn't do my part.''
Lindell wasn't alone in that regard. For the second week in a row, quarterback Josh Freeman was ? ordinarily ? ineffective, completing just nine of 22 passes for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception. For the second week in a row, though, he was often betrayed by the players around him. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson dropped a catchable third-down throw in the second quarter and twice slipped to the ground on passes targeted for him.
Freeman also had two big plays wiped out by illegal formation penalties. The first was a first-down throw to Martin late in the first half. The second was a 73-yard touchdown pass to Jackson midway through the third quarter. “That's definitely frustrating,'' Freeman said of the penalties. “On the field, you don't see it, so I'm really interested tomorrow in going in and looking at those plays and seeing what it was we didn't do correctly.''
A few members of the Bucs' defense will be doing the same, but for reasons similar to last week, when they were flagged for three personal-foul penalties, including two involving helmet-to-helmet hits. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safeties Dashon Goldson and Ahmad Black were each flagged for unnecessary roughness calls this week, including one that wiped out a takeaway when Brees fumbled the ball away after being sacked by Clayborn. That occurred on the first play of the second quarter and allowed the Saints to continue a drive that resulted in a 43-yard field-goal try that Hartley pushed wide right.
The other two personal-foul penalties extended drives, but on a day when it sacked Brees four times and intercepted him twice, the Bucs defense was so staunch it did not allow those penalties to lead to points. “I thought we did a lot of goods things on defense,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of a unit that allowed Brees to throw for 322 yards but limited the Saints to 75 yards rushing on 20 carries. Unfortunately, it will all be overshadowed by the loss, but that's life in a team sport. So we need to keep getting better. I mean, we had, really, two bad plays, maybe three, and they cost us dearly.''
One of those plays was a coverage bust that Brees took advantage of when he hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 56-yard touchdown pass down the left seam with 2:36 to play in the first quarter. Coming one drive after Freeman hit Kevin Ogletree with a 5-yard touchdown pass that finished off the Bucs' second possession, that score gave the Saints a 10-7 lead that they struggled until the end to expand on.
The Saints finally improved their lead to 13-7 when Hartley hit a 42-yard field goal with 8:04 in the third quarter, but the Bucs bounced back two New Orleans drives later with the play of the day. That came on a pass for Graham, as well, but on this occasion, Foster picked off Brees at his own 15-yard line before running 85 yards for the touchdown that gave the Bucs their 14-13 lead.
“We knew they were going for No. 80 (Graham) on third down there, and I just tried to make a play for our team,'' Foster said. “It was a great effort by the whole defense there, everybody running down the field and making blocks for me. But, like I said, we have to find a way to pull it out, because it's tough to lose no matter what, but it's especially tough when you play a great team like that and it comes down to last second. But that's life in the NFL.''
No, right now, that's a Bucs Life.