Bucs play safe, end up sorry
The count has begun, on this team, this head coach, this starting quarterback. It’s up to 0-2, two savage body blows. Floyd Mayweather couldn’t have done better. Greg Schiano’s team might not need a good cut man. It might need an undertaker.
In the season opener, the Bucs lost on the next-to-last play, a field goal. Sunday, in the home opener, they lost on the last play, another field goal. They’re on the mat. Under it, even.
This game was delayed by lightning for one hour and nine minutes. It was electrified when Mason Foster made one of the great plays in Bucs history. It ended with a bolt to the gut, another wrenching loss. We’ve seen this before. They can’t lose that opener — and they did. They can’t lose 16-14 to New Orleans on Sunday — and they did.
They were one lousy first down away from putting away the Saints, who were out of timeouts. They couldn’t get that lousy first down. They got conservative, played safe. After that, Rian Lindell couldn’t make a 47-yard field goal. Could Connor Barth have done better? Heck, could Lawrence Tynes?
Crazy things like that go through your head when Drew Brees is handed the football at his own 37 and there’s more than a minute left. Was there any doubt as to what would follow? Any?
What do you say when your defense, the same one that New Orleans strafed for 76 points in two games last season, with Brees throwing eight touchdown passes ... what do you say when that defense lays it on the line, pressures Brees, intercepts him twice, gets four sacks on the hardest guy to sack in football, holds the Saints’ mighty offense to one touchdown ... and you lose?
Foster’s play alone, his remarkable, exhausting, tackle-breaking interception return, demanded it. How do you lie down like that and not truly go for it on third down late in the game, settle for a run and then that field goal try that Lindell missed? It speaks to where this team is at 0-2, and how lost its quarterback is.
Josh Freeman, who was a story every day during the week leading up to the home opener, probably will be one until he turns to dust, which could be any day. Sunday’s pregame story was a report that Freeman was prepared to demand a trade. To where? Mars?
He completed only nine of his 22 passes for just 125 yards. Twice he turned it over in the second half, and in Saints territory. He held on to the ball too long ... one one-thousand, two one-thousands ... 12 one-thousands ... was sacked and fumbled. Then he threw off his back foot, no chance, and, well, it was picked off.
There is no trust anymore. That’s why the Bucs, right or wrong (wrong), ran away and hid from their starting quarterback when all they needed was one more first down. That’s the real team picture. A play-action pass on second down, simple enough, and this game is over. Instead, the Bucs — Schiano, really — puts it on Lindell. The Bucs trusted a kicker they picked up off the street more than they trusted their starting quarterback. Like against the Jets, it was playing not to lose again ...
Freeman can’t get a break, either. Even his Johnny Manziel moment — that sky ball that Vincent Jackson hauled in and ran away for a 73-yard touchdown, was called back. Illegal formation. That’s how you get to 0-2, to flat on the mat. “Well, this team is a resilient team, its head coach is a resilient coach and we’re going to fight our way right off it ...” Schiano said.
The mat leads on all cards.