Bucs lose seventh straight, 41-14 to Jaguars
Roy Cummings The Tampa Tribune, published 12 December 2011

Of all the hours of darkness through which the Buccaneers have played this season, this may have been their darkest. On an ominously gray day, in a mostly-empty stadium, against an injury-sapped team working for an interim head coach, Tampa Bay literally gave away what might have been its best chance to win another game this season.

Yet, it wasn't the franchise-record seven turnovers, the 12 penalties or the squandered two-touchdown start that left so many in the locker room feeling so hopeless after their seventh straight loss. It was the stark realization that the unending string of fundamental mistakes that led to Sunday's 41-14 loss to the Jaguars at EverBank Field defines this team, which at 4-9 is certain to finish with a losing record.

"We're not an untalented team," veteran cornerback Ronde Barber said. "It's just that we're not playing fundamental football. I mean, that's who we are. We show it every week."

Never before, though, did the Bucs show it to the degree they did against the Jaguars. Spanning the second and third quarters, Tampa Bay turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions.

Throw in punt returner Preston Parker's lost fumble midway through the second quarter — leading to Jacksonville's first touchdown on an 8-yard return and sparking the Jags' comeback from a 14-0 deficit — and the ratio of turnovers to possessions increases to five of six.

The first three of those giveaways came in a seven-minute span in the second quarter. Each led to a touchdown for the Jaguars, a team that had not scored more than 20 points all season, but suddenly had a 28-14 halftime lead.

Jacksonville scored four times in the second quarter, twice on offense and once each on defense and special teams. "It was a bit of a snowball effect," said quarterback Josh Freeman, who accounted for three turnovers, including two — an interception and a fumble — that resulted in Jaguars touchdowns.

"I felt like today was the day to come out and, we had a team in Jacksonville that we felt like if we go out and execute and play turnover-free against, we can win. But we weren't able to do it."

The Bucs, once again, were unable to bounce back from another dose of the same type of adversity they have faced all season. Not everyone in the locker room was surprised. With Tampa Bay having lost eight of their past nine games, the feeling among many of the few veteran players is they are simply too young and inexperienced to fight back against the adversity they often create.

"We don't have that ‘it' thing, that ability to change the pace of a game," Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph said. "We have to find that. We have to find a way. Really, we just have to mature. It's got nothing to do with coaching. It's us as players who have to be accountable, but we're not mature enough of a football team for that yet. When we mature as a football team, we'll be a better football team."

The Bucs looked like a pretty good football team during the first 20 minutes. They bounced back to take a 7-0 lead on their first possession, scoring on LeGarrette Blount's 1-yard run. It was the first touchdown by the offense in the first quarter this season.

Barber's third interception of the season — the 43rd of his career — set up the Bucs' second score, a 13-yard scramble by Freeman on third down that gave the Bucs a 14-0 lead with 14:09 left in the second quarter. "We were doing so good then," Joseph said. "Things were looking really good for us. But then we let it slip away. We started making mistakes and that gave them a chance."

Make that several chances. The Jaguars, who averaged 12.7 points per game, took advantage to score 41 unanswered points. The rally was the second-largest run of points against the Bucs, after Oakland's 45 unanswered in 1999.

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew scored a career-high four touchdowns — two rushing, two receiving — to set the Jaguars' franchise record with 73 career touchdowns. His effort also matched the record for most touchdowns by a player in a game against the Bucs, shared by three others.

That the costly mistakes came largely in the form of turnovers came as no surprise. The Bucs are tied with Philadelphia for the lead league in giveaways with 31. Blount, who ran 18 times for 74 yards, fumbled twice Sunday, losing it once. He has fumbled five times in his past six games, losing three.

"We have all the play calls, all the players, all the schemes on offense and defense to get the job done, but when you have six, seven turnovers and your running back can't hold on to the football, you have a problem," Blount said.

Raheem Morris plans to start making corrections right away. He will take full advantage, he said, of the league rule that allows teams to practice three hours a day, intending to devote much of that time to fundamentals.

"We're going to get out there and go longer, whether it's walk-throughs or fundamental drills or more individual time," Morris said. "We're obviously missing something, so we have to go out and get it fixed this week."