Bucs rally but fall to Redskins, 24-22
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 1 October 2012

As he watched Redskins kicker Billy Cundiff's 41-yard game-winning field goal rise up and through the uprights early Sunday evening, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman's chin fell to his chest. Freeman's heart no doubt sank, too.

Of the three losses the Bucs have suffered at the hands of NFC East opponents the last three weeks, this 24-22 setback at Raymond James Stadium was by far the most difficult one to swallow.

The Bucs had rallied, after all, Freeman conjuring memories of 2010 by bringing them back from 18 points down in the second quarter to take a 22-21 lead on a 47-yard Connor Barth field goal with 1:42 to play.

All the Bucs needed was for their defense to stand strong one last time against a rookie quarterback who had been on the run since the middle of the second quarter. That stand, though, never materialized.

Unable to stop Robert Griffin III when it mattered most, the Bucs allowed the Redskins to drive 56 yards in seven plays to their own 24-yard line, where Cundiff finished them off. "The fact of the matter is we have to learn how to finish better,'' Gerald McCoy said. "It's as simple as that. If you want to win in this league you have to finish.''

The Bucs have learned that lesson the hard way the last three weeks. They were in position to win going into the last possession against both the Giants and the Cowboys but in each case they failed to finish. It was the Bucs offense that failed to get the job done during the last drive of a 41-34 loss at New York two weeks ago and it was the defense that couldn't get off the field during their 16-10 loss at Dallas last week.

The same situation materialized Sunday, but Greg Schiano believes this game may have been lost long before the Redskins snapped the ball to start their final drive.

"Because you lose at the end you fail to finish but we really didn't do a bunch of stuff before that to put ourselves in a position to win,'' he said. "We didn't play what I envision as Buccaneer football, which is smart football. We had (a lot of) penalties, and there are certain penalties I can live with, but there are others that are inexcusable and we had a few of those today, particularly in the kicking game.''

The Bucs, who are on pace to set a franchise record for most penalties in a season, were flagged 10 times for 107 yards in this game, including twice for 21 yards on two critical third-quarter punt returns. The first forced the Bucs to start a drive at their own 6 while the second forced them to start a drive at their own 15. Both drives sputtered, forcing the Bucs to give the ball back.

All it took, though, was for Freeman to hit on a couple of long throws, the first to Mike Williams for 65 yards and the second to Vincent Jackson for 54, to get the Bucs back in gear. Those two plays set up a 7-yard TD pass to Jackson and a 2-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount that reduced the Redskins lead to 21-19 with 9:41 to play in the fourth quarter.

The Bucs defense followed up by quickly getting the ball back for the offense, which did its part by getting another field goal out of Barth, who had already made good on tries of 50 and 57 yards in the first half. "That's what an NFL kicker is supposed to do make field goals in the clutch,'' said Barth, who extended his franchise record for consecutive field goals made to 25.

Cundiff has been around the NFL a lot longer than Barth but he's lost the magic Barth has found. He missed two field goal tries of 31 yards earlier in the day and the Bucs were hoping for another miss. That wish didn't come true, though. Instead, Cundiff slid a ball just inside the right upright to redeem himself and leave the Bucs thinking once again as if they had let a winnable game slip away.

"We thought we had it won,'' said Williams, who teamed with Jackson to become the first Bucs receiving duo since 1992 to have 100-yard passing games on the same day. "But to me, it goes back to us starting faster. If we start faster, we win.''

For most everyone else in the Bucs locker room it was a matter of finishing faster, everyone else except Schiano, who couldn't ignore the penalties and missed tackles that let the 'Skins take a lead in the first place.

"We're a team that's going to be around in the fourth quarter and in tight football games, and we need to find a way to win those games,'' Schiano said. "This one, if you don't make all those errors, I don't know. I don't even know what the game looks like. It doesn't matter, because we made the errors and we have to stop playing that way.''