Bucs won't soon forget longest yard
They made 513 yards of offense, but it was the yard they didn't make that mattered. It might matter for weeks, not just Sunday and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wrenching 35-28 loss to the Saints.

How do you let the very worst defense in the NFL make a goal-line stand? How do you fritter away the very longest pass play in franchise history, 95 yards of Josh Freeman to Vincent Jackson, all the way down to the New Orleans 1-yard line?

After that, the Bucs couldn't make 36 inches. They didn't do their yard work. "Was it critical?" Bucs left tackle Donald Penn said. "We lost by seven. How could it not be?"

How do you not get in to tie this game at 28 late in the third quarter? Three good-for-nothing runs by LeGarrette Blount, easily the largest bad-short-yardage-guy in maybe league history. Think Greg Schiano knows that this morning? By the way, I think Blount missed a hole there on third down, too, just like at Atlanta a few years back. No Doug Martin in sight.

On fourth down, throw in a lousy call, a feeble pass play Freeman rolling right, looking for Luke Stocker, but no chance, all covered, and Freeman couldn't beat a Saints linebacker around the corner, loss of 3 yards. Four plays beginning at the 1, ending at the 4. This game changed, then and there. Ridiculous. "I can't tell you exactly why those plays didn't work down there," Greg Schiano said. "That was certainly a big part of the game."

Mind you, it did lead to a touchdown a New Orleans touchdown, on a 95-yard drive, for a 35-21 lead. "It was a 14-point swing," Bucs offensive lineman Carl Nicks said.

The Bucs never caught up. And now they might never get another chance to catch up to .500 this season. They tried mightily, with a touchdown, then a drive to the very end, the final play, a Mike Williams TD canceled.

I still go back to that goal-line stand, handed to the 32nd-ranked defense in the league, and without money ever changing hands in their huddle, even though Jonathan Vilma was back on the prowl. First and goal from the 1, that has to be money, a sure touchdown.

It was embarrassing that they didn't get in, as embarrassing as all those Bucs "fans" who fled the stadium, leaving it half empty and missing the late dramatics. Who do they think they are, Dodgers fans? They should be ashamed.

So should the Bucs offense for missing a slam dunk, and Schiano and his coaches' play calls down on the goal line that helped waste a career-high 420-yard day for Freeman and Jackson's 219 receiving yards.

You're probably still wondering how Jackson didn't make that one yard himself. But he'd been working with a bad calf all week. He ran out of gas, too, and was pushed out at the 1 by Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who came from across the field (or was it Manatee County?). And that's when the trouble began.

The Bucs offensive line (hey, weren't they vaunted once?) couldn't much budge Nicks' old team, and when it did, Blount missed it, or took seemingly forever to get up steam. Like this is a surprise. It would have been better if he'd tried to dive or hurdle.

Why no Martin? Injured? He had 83 yards rushing, including a sweet 36-yard touchdown. Instead, it was Blount for minus-1, for 1 and for no gain. Was this really the right short-yardage guy? And three times in a row?

"Whether he is or he isn't, we certainly think he is, because that's why he was in there at the time," Schiano said. "We're doing everything we can to score. You have to constantly evaluate that stuff. Through our evaluation, that's what we believed."

Oops. Why not play-action on one of those first three downs? Why not Freeman giving it a shot with a sneak? And that fourth-down call was no good, Freeman rolling, looking for Stocker. It was Stocker, right? "I'm not going to go into it exactly, because it would give away that play, something we keep in our repertoire," Schiano said. "There are a couple of options on that play."

I can see why you'd want to keep that play top secret. Well, this is no mystery at all: "It was seven we lost by seven," Donald Penn said.

About the writer
Martin Fennelly has been The Tampa Tribune's leading sports columnist for many years and is always on hand with a topical and witty opinion on any Florida sporting event. He was named the Bucs UK's Writer of the Year four consecutive years from 2001 to 2004.