Eagles dominate Bucs in 33-14 romp
Truth be known, it was a recipe for disaster. You had the best big-play team in recent NFL history taking on a team that just can't seem to stop giving up big plays.

You had a young quarterback making his second NFL start taking on a savage defense that blitzes relentlessly. You had a rookie coach working his fifth NFL game taking on a veteran coach looking to rack up his 100th NFL victory.

It comes as no surprise, then, that disaster was not averted by the Bucs at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. When the tallying was done, too many big plays by the Eagles, too many mistakes in the face of a blitz by Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson and too many calls by Coach Raheem Morris that kept points off the scoreboard equaled a 33-14 Bucs loss.

The Bucs fell to 0-5 and lost their ninth straight. "We were obviously outplayed by a better football team," Morris said. "They outplayed us across the board."

Start with big plays, defined as passes of at least 20 yards and runs of at least 10. The Eagles put together three two-play scoring drives and had eight big plays - including touchdown passes of 51, 40 and 20 yards - to the Bucs' four.

Johnson improved on his first start a week ago at Washington, completing 26 of 50 throws for a career-high 240 yards and two touchdowns. But against the Eagles' blitz, he threw three interceptions, including two in the red zone, and fumbled a fourth-down snap.

The fumble came early in the second quarter on one of three fourth-down plays in which Morris opted to forgo a field-goal opportunity for a chance at scoring a touchdown later in the drive. The plan worked once, late in the fourth quarter, when Johnson hit Kellen Winslow with a 9-yard touchdown pass. But two fourth-and-1 tries in the first half failed.

"You should be able to get a yard on anybody and we couldn't do that," Morris said. "We have to have a better percentage than that. Those are the kinds of things that just can't happen."

Why those kinds of things do keep happening is what Morris has to figure out. Sunday, at least, he seemed at a loss for the answers. He had a hard time understanding how one Eagles receiver beat two Bucs defensive backs for a touchdown pass. Nor did he seem to understand why the Bucs offensive line continued to struggle as run blockers and pass protectors.

He also didn't quite understand why his two top receivers - Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant - dropped three passes between them. "Those plays have to be made by that caliber of receiver," Morris said. "We dropped a bunch of balls today. You've got to make those plays with a young quarterback.

"Now (Johnson) did throw the two interceptions playing against all that pressure. But you've got to have better protection up front. We've got to get it and we've got to stop making excuses for ourselves."

If that's the first step in solving the problems that continue to plague the Bucs, then maybe they are on the road to recovery. After all, no one was making excuses Sunday. Clayton, who all but demanded more opportunities to catch the ball a week ago, said flat out he failed his young quarterback by dropping two balls, including one on an early fourth-down try.

"I've got to stand up and catch the ball and make plays," he said. "We had a lot of opportunities to help get Josh settled in and we couldn't come up with the grabs that could have been key to our momentum."

And Ronde Barber, who was beaten along with Will Allen on the 40-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin that gave the Eagles a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter, made no excuses for the defense's continued struggles.

"Both of Maclin's touchdowns were just great throws and great catches," he said. "They weren't blown coverages at all. We're just getting beat per man, and that's tough to swallow sometimes."

Even Johnson, who was 26-for-50 for 240 yards and a touchdown, took the blame for his mistakes, which included two interceptions in the red zone and the fumbled snap on fourth-and-1 at the Eagles 23. "I knew we were going to be under duress," Johnson said. "I was just trying to anticipate the throws a little bit and we were able to do that a few times, but not enough.

"But a lot of credit had to go to what they were doing. They were bringing everybody. More than what we had protection for. I was talking with one of the coaches on the sideline and he said he'd never seen it before where a team just constantly brings everybody."

Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 12 October 2009