Bucs go from Morris' biggest win to biggest loss
For nearly 50 minutes of football Sunday, as day turned to night, they were right there, they were, as their young head coach likes to say, making themselves "impossible to ignore."

On Throwback Day, on John McKay day, before a sea of floppy white hats, the Bucs were about to beat the black hats. Earnest Graham threw a touchdown to John Gilmore and it was 24-14. The Falcons were a Bucs play thing. Raymond James Stadium rocked. It was a party.

The Falcons were going down. Raheem Morris' crew had its signature win. They would be the talk of the league. Maybe people would begin to truly believe. The Bucs were poised to be a playoff team. And then they weren't. They didn't finish.

Now the chase becomes a desperate one after a monumental collapse (offense, defense, special teams) in a somewhat catastrophic 28-24 loss. You knew it as Josh Freeman's final pass (10th in a row?) was picked off, and in the silence that followed it.

You can't lose that game. A win would have given the Bucs all the momentum. Now they have none. They're just a team with a two-game losing streak. There are seven teams in the playoff race outside of the useless NFC West. They all won this week, all except for one. Guess who?

When this Bucs season is over, there will be talk of improvement, of talent on the rise but not this morning.

This morning is for how do you allow that return guy, trapped on the sideline, escape for the one thing that you couldn't let happen, a 102-yard touchdown, a 21-second gut punch that instantly sucked out every bit of your momentum and turned this game upside down?

This morning is for how do you give up a first down on third-and-20? Or throw in a pass interference penalty and personal foul to help Atlanta, which seems to specialize in ripping the Bucs' hearts out, on its way to 10-2 while sending you reeling to 7-5?

This morning is for the simple fact that these young Bucs have yet to learn how to win this kind of game against this kind of team. A signature win written in invisible ink. "This was going to be the biggest win in Raheem's tenure," Barrett Ruud said. "Now it's our biggest loss."

Now the Bucs surely need to win out to make the playoffs, and with ranks that were further depleted Sunday. Look, playoffs were a moon shot from 3-13, so let's keep this in perspective. Maybe being the youngest team in the NFL caught up with the Bucs in these two close losses to Atlanta.

Only Morris will have none of that. "At some point, you've got to stop using the excuse of being young," he said.

Maurice Stovall is no rookie. Stovall and about 37 other Bucs coverage guys seemed to have Atlanta returner Eric Weems penned in along the sideline. Then they let up, thinking Weems would simply run out of bounds. They let up something Morris' team hasn't done much of this season.

I mean, if Stovall pushes Weems about a hundred times less hard as a frustrated Freeman hit Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes after the game-sealing pick, well "It's a play where we have to make the play," Stovall said.

And, sure, nice play between Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Roddy White, but on third and 20? Are you serious? "Great throw, great catch, but you just can't allow that," Ruud said.

Maybe that's the difference between the up and coming and playoff teams, between surprising and the real deal. And maybe this group assumed No. 5 would lead them downfield to a win, as Freeman has done so often in his brief professional career, as he did a year ago in his first NFL start, his last throwback game.

The Bucs wish they could throw this one back. What now? Where do Morris and the Bucs go from here? "Washington," Bucs defensive end Stylez G. White said.

Well, yeah, Washington.

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.