Bucs pay ultimate price for not coming to play
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 10 December 2012

They ran on third and eight. Ran. Then they stood or kneeled and they waited near the end zone for the replay to be reviewed. It should never have come to that. They had to know what was coming next: what they deserved. They'd blown it.

And then it was done. The Philadelphia Eagles won on the final play from scrimmage, 23-21. The last play from a last-place team and it was done.

No more Bucs playoff chatter. No more possibilities. No more happy 2002 Bucs Super Bowl reunion. Ronde Barber, the last holdover from the '02 champs, was the first Buc to race into the Ray Jay tunnel.

It was separation Sunday and the Bucs lost the field. Bye-bye. Around the NFC, playoff hopefuls were closing the deal: Washington with an upset in overtime over Baltimore, Minnesota with an upset over Chicago, Dallas won on the final play of the game. St. Louis won. Seattle led Arizona 38-0 at halftime. Everybody went for it.

And these drips can't beat a team that hasn't won in two months, against a rookie quarterback, no less. They don't even want to try a pass to get that big first down. Some killer instinct. No, the young and now solidly 6-7 Bucs didn't come to play, or coach, or quarterback.

Maybe there would still be playoff chit-chat this morning, if, just a few plays before the big, grisly finish, Danny Gorrer, who is listed as a back-up to E.J. Biggers, who should be a back-up himself, turned hands of stone on a sure win-sealing interception.

Moments later, Philadelphia QB Nick Foles, in just his fourth NFL start, hit a sliding Jeremy Maclin, who'd beaten Bucs corner Leonard Johnson. Johnson was a hero here just a month ago with his interception TD against San Diego, smack in the middle of that four-game Bucs win streak.

Now it's a three-game losing streak. How do you lose to these Eagles, who hadn't won since the Phillies were playing? How do you blow a 21-10 lead with four minutes left? How do you come out that sloth-like on offense and fall behind 10-0 at halftime in the first place?

And how, late in the game, still up 21-16, how does head coach Greg Schiano decide to run the ball on third-and-8 (no gain) instead of trying a pass play, thereby resigning himself and his team to a punt, thereby putting it in the hands of a defense ranked 30th in the league and dead last against the pass? "There were two ways to play it," Schiano said.

Yes, there were. "You could try to throw the ball," Schiano said. "We decided to run the ball and make sure they use their timeout or let it tick."

You have to go for it there, you have to take a shot, bad as Josh Freeman is right now, try a pass play to, say, Vincent Jackson (131 yards, one TD). Just a crazy idea there, I guess.

This was a bad day, and it was in full view of the 2002 world champions. And you have to take this one as a whole, and I think you blame part of it on immaturity, especially that lifeless start.

I bet they spent the whole week, all those young guys, watching film of the Eagles, thinking that those guys were awful, no matter how much Schiano and the coaches and Barber told them to beware. A lot of young Bucs couldn't convince themselves that Philly was good eight losses in a row, no LeSean McCoy, no DeSean Jackson, rookie quarterback, bad offensive line, bad defense W.

And they got it handed to them. Yes, Philadelphia's offensive line was awful, reviving the Bucs' dormant pass rush. But the Bucs offense was worse. Freeman was out-of-his-mind bad in the first half. He does know they just don't hand you a contract extension, right? Right?

Danny Gorrer blamed himself for that dropped pick. He was, in fact, an excellent choice. "The great corners in this game make those plays to get their team off the field," he said. "If I want to be a leader and great, I've got to make that play."

Actually, if you want to stay in the league, you make that play. The Bucs have loads of those guys in their secondary. Gorrer joined the Bucs on Halloween, no joke. Here's a joke: Doug Martin for no gain on third and 8. "That's either a feast or famine run and it didn't pop," Schiano said.

Famine, anyone? These Bucs just hit the fork in the road, and the fork hit back.