Defense won’t point fingers in Bucs loss
The Buccaneers are on a serious defensive roll, with little to show for it except heartache by the number. With coach Lovie Smith stressing patience to fans who wondered why opponents were strafing Tampa Bay at will in the early weeks, the Bucs continued their solid defensive play Sunday in a 14-13 loss to the Bengals.

“We are playing good on defense,’’ said veteran safety Dashon Goldson, who registered 10 tackles against Cincinnati. “We started slow, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and we’ve been picking it up. We’ve jumped up in a few categories — and we’re still improving.’’

In the first six weeks, capped by a 48-17 setback against Baltimore, Bucs opponents averaged 34 points per game. In the past six matchups, opponents averaged 18.3 points, but Tampa Bay is only 1-5 in that stretch.

“Ever since coach Smith showed us that Chicago film (three weeks ago), it’s come together for us,’’ Bucs defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “Guys are playing for each other, and it shows. We understand this defense so much better. We had three takeaways today and we got after Andy Dalton pretty well.’’

During the past three weeks, the Redskins, Bears and Bengals combined to convert only 10 of 40 third-down plays. Tampa Bay hasn’t allowed more than 332 yards in a game since the home debacle against the Ravens nearly two months ago.

“We’ve been playing some good football,’’ said cornerback Johnthan Banks, who intercepted Dalton on the first play from scrimmage when Dalton threw behind receiver A.J. Green. “We just have to keep pushing and going forward.’’

Defensive captain Gerald McCoy said his group won’t point fingers at Tampa Bay’s struggling attack. “This is how I see it,’’ said McCoy, who dropped Dalton in the opening quarter to give him 8.5 sacks on the season. “I’m on the defensive side of the ball and they have 14 points. So, that means we gave up two touchdowns. If they don’t score, they don’t win. We gave up 14 points and we lost by one. If we don’t let them score just one of those touchdowns, we win.’’

Of Cincinnati’s 11 full possessions, the Bucs forced six punts and took the ball away three times. Dalton’s passer rating of 60.6 left him even sicker than he felt Saturday night, when he didn’t sleep much because of nausea. “Anytime you get a win, it’s big,’’ Dalton said. “Obviously, you want to play better, but a win’s a win, regardless of how you get it. I’ve got to play better, especially early on in the game. We left a lot out there.’’

As the Bucs head into the final quarter of a miserable season, their defensive players are buoyed by the steady improvement that Smith insisted would come in time. Judging by the numbers, the time is now.

“We just want to keep it going for the last four weeks,’’ said Spence, who posted a career-high seven tackles and shared a sack with Da’Quan Bowers. “The results on the scoreboard aren’t changing, but for us on defense, things are changing. We’re getting takeaways, we’re getting quarterbacks on the ground, we’re stoning offenses. That’s about all we can do. Now, we have to start bringing those interceptions back for six points.’’