Bucs overcome 11-point deficit, then allow game to slip away
Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 23 October 2017

Got a minute? Actually, a little less than 60 seconds. About the time it takes to microwave a bowl of oatmeal. That's how fast the Bucs blew a game Sunday, losing 30-27 to the Bills. That's how fast an entire season may have been lost.

Tampa Bay had rallied from an 11-point deficit in the second half, taking a 27-20 lead when Jameis Winston rolled to his right and connected on a touchdown pass to Mike Evans, who made a spectacular sliding catch. With 3:14 remaining, everything was possible.

All the Bucs (2-4) needed was to keep the Bills out of the end zone. Celebrate a 384-yard, three-touchdown passing day by Winston. The season would be back on track at 3-3 with Carolina coming to Tampa Bay next week. Then it was gone in 60 seconds 54 to be precise.

That's how long it took the Bills to tie it on LeSean McCoy's 7-yard touchdown run and then force Bucs receiver Adam Humphries to fumble on the next play, setting up Steven Hauschka's game-winning 30-yard field goal. "To come back like that and take the lead late and give that lead up like that, that's just very disappointing," coach Dirk Koetter said of the Bucs' third straight loss. "But that's football and we've got no one to blame but ourselves."

Any defeat is tough to swallow in the NFL. But the Bucs were choking trying to digest what happened on a spectacular fall Sunday in Orchard Park. The Bucs had the lead. They had the game. But the Bills needed only three plays and 46 seconds to tie it. The back-breaker was a 44-yard completion on first down from Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Deonte Thompson, who had been cut by the Bears and signed off the street this past week.

Robert McClain, moved to cornerback because Vernon Hargreaves had played so poorly, was penalized for unnecessary roughness on Thompson's catch, tacking on 15 more yards. Thompson wasn't even McClain's man. "They beat our linebacker on the wheel route on that last one," Koetter said, and neither Lavonte David nor Kwon Alexander took responsibility for the mistake, both linebackers saying they had never seen the Bills run that play on film before. Later, after watching film, Koetter corrected himself, saying that his initial assessment was wrong and that a safety was responsible for covering Thompson.

The Bucs were still in good shape. They had all three timeouts and the two-minute warning when they took over at their 25 with 2:28 remaining. On first down, Winston threw a bubble screen to Humphries. They've run that play a million times and Humphries is as sure-handed as they come. But he was hit by rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White, who caused and recovered the fumble.

The Bills took over at the Tampa Bay 33. Only eight seconds had ticked off the clock. "It's a play I've run a hundred times, executed, but the defender made a play on the ball," Humphries said. "I've got to take better care of the ball better. It's something we preach every week, can't have turnovers."

The Bucs are in trouble and they know it. Conservatively, they probably need to win eight of their final 10 games to be in the NFC playoff picture. "We got to play desperate," Evans said. "We need every single win from here on out."

The Bucs know how to use a shovel. They dug a 3-5 hole last season before winning five straight and finishing 9-7. Even that wasn't enough to get them into the postseason. Koetter sounded like a man who knows a lot more could be slipping away in the basement of the NFC South. "My biggest concern is we're 2-4," Koetter said. "Of course, when you're not playing up to expectations, it's easy for your team to shatter from the inside out."

After the game, three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward said he was "at my wits' end," being used as a part-time player. "I mean, that's not why I came here," Ward said. "I did not come here to rotate. I didn't come here to be a part-time player. I came here to make this defense better. Be on the field 100 percent of the time. I destruct offenses. That's what I do. I need to be out there. You got me in one minute, one minute. Last week, I didn't even play the first half."

Ward, who missed two games with a hip injury, also had his fingerprints on the loss by allowing a TD pass to Logan Thomas. Hey, weren't the Bucs' the feel-good team in the NFL. Like just a minute ago?