Bucs offense implodes in 26-3 loss to Jets
The game-day nod of appreciation the Bucs gave their seemingly declining army of fans Sunday was a white rally towel. By the end of the day, it was serving the Bucs faithful better as a crying towel.

There was no rally to speak of from the Bucs on an otherwise splendid sunny afternoon. Not from their once-surging defense, not from their potentially resurgent offense and certainly not from their rookie quarterback.

After throwing five interceptions in a loss last week at Carolina, Josh Freeman threw another on the first play of the game Sunday that set the tone for a 26-3 loss to the Jets. The uninspired performance apparently had its roots in a flat Friday workout.

"We came out a little flat in practice on Friday and I told the guys that these are the results you get when you don't practice hard every day," Raheem Morris said. "We came out flat on offense and (that) put us into some bad situations on defense, and then we give up a 33-yard run (for a touchdown) and all of a sudden the game is out of hand."

Like a lot of Bucs games this season, this one was out of hand by halftime. But it wasn't really that 33-yard touchdown run by Thomas Jones late in the second quarter that put it there. With Freeman out of sync, the Bucs gained just 15 yards of offense in the first half and gave up the ball after three plays or less on each of their eight first-half possessions.

That trend continued through the third quarter, where the only interruption was an 11-play, penalty-aided drive that resulted in a 43-yard Connor Barth field goal. By the end of the day, the Bucs had rung up just 124 total yards of offense - their second-worst output of the season after their 86-yard performance against the Giants in Week 3 - and no third down conversions in 14 attempts.

"We just didn't execute today," said Freeman, who finished the day with a 12.1 passer rating, only marginally better than the 2.8 mark he had at halftime. "We've got to start faster, and that's on me."

It was definitely on Freeman to get the Bucs started this particular Sunday. The game plan was to throw early to open up room for the running game, but Freeman put them in an early hole. Thanks to a Bucs defense that played respectably, for the most part, that hole didn't get too deep until Jones broke off that 33-yard touchdown run.

"I really don't think the defense played a bad game," Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "I mean, (allowing) nine points to start off is really a pretty good job by us."

Allowing 310 total yards isn't bad, either, considering the Bucs went into Sunday riding a two-game surge in which they'd allowed an average of 303 yards, ninth best in the league over that span.

Their offense has been unable to keep pace, though, and while much of that falls on the shoulders of Freeman, who connected on just 14 off 33 throws and was intercepted three times, the running game shares the blame.

After showing some progress a week ago with 154 yards on 26 carries, the Bucs gained only 43 yards on 20 carries against the Jets. The longest run was 16 yards by Freeman, who led the Bucs with 21 rushing yards on four attempts.

The running backs - Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham - gained 22 yards on 16 carries, stymied by a Jets defense that played so well it instilled a sense of "panic" in the Bucs huddle.
"I did feel a bit of panic at one point," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "But when things are going the way they were, what do you expect? We just couldn't get it going. I mean, they were able to shed some blocks and get into the backfield and make some plays. So, we have to focus on getting back to the X's and O's in practice and making sure everyone blocks their man."

Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 14 December 2009