Bucs needed to put the ball in No. 5's hands
I thought it was all about 5? That's what Raheem Morris always says. Sure didn't look like it Sunday.

Where were the play calls to put it in 5's hands, in the hands of Josh Freeman, a certified Comeback Kid, at the end of a 27-21 yard-away loss to the Falcons?

Why is 5 not all over the four plays after the Bucs secured first-and-10 from the Atlanta 11-yard line on pass interference? Three handoffs and a lateral, not one end zone pass? LeGarrette Blount came up short on third and fourth downs and that was that.

There was some complaining from the Bucs about a bad spot after Blount's third-down run. But what really put the Bucs in a bad spot was not putting the ball in the hands of their best offensive player when it mattered most.

This criticism must come with a preface. The Bucs are 5-3 midway through 2010. I had them pegged for 2-6. Morris and his crew have exceeded a lot of people's expectations, if not their own. You have to give it up for them.

And if Blount gets that yard, we're talking about a very large win. And the Bucs seemed out of this game many a time Sunday, down 14-0, 17-7, then 27-14 late in the third quarter, and still they came back, with a great chance to win.

Going into the fourth quarter, with first place in the NFC South on the line, the Falcons had 337 yards of offense and 24 first downs. The Bucs had 189 yards and only nine first downs. But they still trailed only 27-21. They're not the best team in the NFC. But they might lead the conference in heart, spunk and perseverance.

And nerve. You had to love that onside kick the Bucs nearly pulled off after Micheal Spurlock's kickoff return for a touchdown. "It's big-time resiliency by our team against a big-time opponent," Morris said. "I was proud of the way they fought."

I think the coaching staff let down at the end. They stopped gambling. They went conservative. I put it in 5's hands.

Look, the old Josheroo had ups and downs Sunday, downs being his first picks since the Cincinnati game. The first one, just after halftime, led to seven Atlanta points. And I know young LeGarrette has become a Blount instrument in the Bucs' offense. But Freeman is the guy. He has to get the ball.

Hand off to Blount, then a pass to Preston Parker that was ruled a lateral, which means that Freeman's only throw in those plays went backward. Then, two more handoffs? You don't have Freeman throw for the end zone even once? C'mon. There were explanations when it was over.

"That last play, I had the fourth-and-inches. If we run the boot, throw an incomplete pass and the game is over, you ask me why I don't run Blount," Morris said. "You run a sneak there and we don't get it, you ask me why you don't run Blount. Now we ran the football and you ask me why we don't run the bootleg."

"We felt like LeGarrette Blount was running well, wearing them down," Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson said.

"The only reason people are second guessing and doubting is because it didn't work out today," Freeman said.

I still don't see how coaches with enough ice in their veins to try that onside kick, who had watched Freeman lead this team back again and again during his first 16 NFL games, who watched him throw that 43-yard rope to Spurlock on third-and-13 from his own 1 no, out of his own end zone can go away from him when it matters most.

No Freeman to Mike Williams? They'd hooked up on a 58-yard score earlier. No Freeman to Winslow? No Freeman sneak? No Freeman, no Freeman, no Freeman.

"I understand what you're saying," Morris said. "But you're fourth-and-inches with a chance to get four more downs for your young quarterback with four downs to throw the ball in there. Blount, who's absolutely tough to tackle, you've got to try to get four more downs now. It's easy to second guess those decisions."

Only the young QB didn't get four more downs. Matter of fact, the young quarterback didn't get to throw the ball in those first four downs, did he? Yes, it's easy to second guess.

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.