Solid effort again not enough
At this point in their season of discontent, the Bucs aren't into numbers. Until the scoreboard screams triumph, the Bucs don't want to hear about moral victories or impressive defensive stands.
That's why Tampa Bay players remained despondent following Sunday's 26-3 loss to the Jets, despite a third consecutive solid defensive effort since Coach Raheem Morris assumed play-calling duties.
"Against our old defense, they would have run for 300 yards today," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said after ex-Buc Thomas Jones paced New York's 175-yard ground attack. "Yes, we're playing better on defense, but that doesn't mean I'm not sick right now."
The Bucs fell to 1-12 as rookie Josh Freeman threw three more interceptions and Tampa Bay's offense went 0-for-14 on third down. The Jets enjoyed an average field position on their own 40, starting four of their 14 drives on Tampa Bay's side of the field.
"By no means did we have a bad game on defense, but we needed to generate turnovers like the Jets did today," said middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who led all players with 11 tackles. "Whatever it takes, we need to do more."
The Jets were forced to settle for three Jay Feely field goals until late in the opening half, when Jones burst off right tackle and raced into the end zone untouched on third-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 33.
"I should have made the tackle on him," Ruud said. "I had the right angle."
Jones finished with 99 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries as he happily returned to Raymond James Stadium. "It feels good to be back down here," said the NFL's No. 4 rusher. "I enjoyed my time in Tampa and I'm happy that Raheem got moved up. I'm proud of him and I think he'll do well if given the chance."
Tampa Bay's past three opponents have been held to 310 yards or less and the Bucs have yielded only five touchdowns in that span, yet the losses - and the anxiety - continue to mount.
"To be honest, I thought we didn't play that bad on defense," said cornerback Ronde Barber, who forced a third-quarter fumble that set the Bucs up at midfield. "It was a tough day. When you feel good about some of the things you do but still feel this low afterwards, it's a little bit frustrating."
Backup Kellen Clemens threw for only 111 yards, but the Jets maintained possession for 34:06 by forcing eight punts.
"We had to defend a lot of short fields today, but that's our job," Bucs safety Tanard Jackson said. "I think we definitely left some plays out there that we should've made, but I think overall we played well enough to hold them to field goals and give our offense more opportunities. It just didn't work out like we wanted it to."
For Bucs fans, that sounds like a fitting epitaph for the 2009 season.
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 14 December 2009