Just like that, the Bucs come back to reality
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 30 November 2015

Even the edge of a playoff picture was too much for Lovie Smith and the lads. The Bucs couldn’t stay in frame, or focus.

Just when they were least needed, the clowns returned _ those bumbling fools, the ones who make crucial mistakes, who take points off their side of the scoreboard or add them to the other side, the hapless crew that comes up short when it matters. All that and less in a 25-12 loss at Indianapolis. Euphoria over. Reality back on top.

It was probably too good to be true. I mean, Atlanta lost to Minnesota. Just think: This Sunday could have been the reeling 6-5 Falcons at Raymond James against Lovie’s surging 6-5 Bucs, on Doug Williams Ring of Honor day, no less, with another home game to follow against the lousy Saints. The road to 8-5 and extremely serious playoff talk.

Quiet down. I’m not saying the Bucs can’t or won’t win these next two, but Sunday they went back to being foul-ups. It went beyond the lone touchdown they scored or that miserable second half, or that they lost a 12-6 lead as if it never existed.

There were all those penalties, most notably the holding call on lunk offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile that wiped out a Doug Martin touchdown run in the first half, making the Bucs settle for a field goal and 6-6. There were those missed Connor Barth kicks.

There was the holding call on Vincent Jackson on the first snap of the second half, to set the awful tone, first and 20 from the Bucs 10-yard line. There was the sack of Jameis Winston on the Bucs’ next series to dig yet another hole. Two drives, six plays, minus-18 yards.

They never recovered. They sputtered and were blanked the final 30 minutes. The skinny on the Bucs’ cadaverous second-half drives: Punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, turned over on downs, punt, interception. Lovely.

Don’t forget a crucial trip down memory sewer, that crucial Mike Evans drop on a third-quarter deep ball that could have put the Bucs near the Colts end zone and while down only four points. Instead, Barth missed a field goal try.

There wasn’t enough pass protection or pass rush when it mattered. It made Winston look worse than he was and turned ancient Matt Hasselbeck into a 309-yard madman, helped by carefully placed blown Bucs pass coverages and zero Bucs takeaways. That’s how you hold the other team to 27 rushing yards on 26 carries and still lose.

I’d hate to think the Bucs had been suckered in by recent success. After all, they’d had so little. But they clearly weren’t ready to answer the call Sunday. It was a promising enough beginning, that 12-6 halftime lead, but it devolved into exactly why they’re still a loser trying to be a winner. Look at all those penalties, 12 in all, for a league-high 109 on the season. We’re back to bad conduct and coaching.

Like, you’d think that by now a veteran hand like Bucs safety Chris Conte would know that bounding off teammates at field goal tries is illegal, but, no. It led to Indy taking an Adam Vinatieri field goal off the board and to another Colts touchdown.

With everything on their plate, a veritable feast, the Bucs came away starved for contention. Of course, this remains the NFL’s open-all-night playoff delicatessen. where no is ever out of anything. Raging parity means the Bucs are still just a game behind the second wild card spot.

But consider that a win Sunday could have turned this Sunday into this Sunday. A town on fire. Cool it, everybody. The Bucs weren’t even in the kitchen yet, but they couldn’t stand the heat.