Ron Martz
Ending their first National Football League season with as many victories as they began, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers achieved perfect imperfection Sunday in a 31-14 loss to the New England Patriots. It was the 14th consecutive Sunday without a victory for the Bucs, setting an NFL record for imperfection.

But in doing so, the playing with a roster that has been changed more than 50 per cent since the season began because of injuries, gave the playoff-bound and now 11-3 Patriots a run for their pride in front of 41,517 Tampa Stadium customers.

The Bucs led 14-7 late in the third period on Ed Williams' 17-yard touchdown run and Steve Spurrier's 27-yard scoring toss to Morris Owens, but the Patriots revived themselves in time to score 24 points and dish out a few insults along the way to victory.

Andy Johnson's nine-yard run with 4:59 left in the third period tied the score at 14. Then linebacker Sam Hunt, who wasn't supposed to play because of a pulled hamstring, intercepted a Spurrier pass and returned it 68 for a touchdown with 6: 15 to play in the fourth period to boost New England into a 21-14 lead.

John Smith's 30-yard field goal made it 24-14 with 2:41 to play and the Patriots twisted the knife when they called time out with six seconds to play so quarterback Steve Grogan could score from a yard out. Grogan's touchdown run gives him 12 for the season, breaking the previous NFL mark for most touchdowns rushing in a season by a quarterback held by Tobin Rote and Johnny Lujack. On top of that, the Patriots allowed linebacker Steve Zabel, who fancies himself a place-kicker but did no kicking all year, to kick the extra point.

But there were no complaints about the last-second touchdown from Bucs' Head Coach John McKay, who out his first season in the NFL without a victory: "That doesn't bother me," 'an unusually perturbed McKay 'said after the game.

New England Coach Chuck Fairbanks apologized to McKay at midfield when it was over. McKay's mood was more a result of his own team's imperfection when it could have had the game safely in hand by halftime. Twice in the first half the Bucs put together long drives and were less than 10 yards from scoring when fumbles stopped them without a point.

Rod McNeill did the honors the first time, giving the ball up at the New England six-yard line after safety Ken Stone had set up the Bucs with a 26-yard return of an intercepted Grogan pass in the first period. Johnson did it the next time, turning over the ball on the Patriotsí seven-yard line after Mike Patrick's a-yard punt rolled out of bounds at the New England 31.

"You shouldn't fumble the ball" McKay said. "You should be able to hand the ball off to another guy. Just say we didn't win. We tried as hard as we tried, but we were short-handed. We lost Morris Owens (knee) and Ed Williams (knee) and we couldn't keep going with that. We have 20 players who fit into that category and you can't play a contender with that number of people."

Williams returned to the game in the second half and the 242 pound fullback finished With 68 yards in 16 carries and four pass receptions for 33 yards, with 52 of those rushing yards, including the 17-yard touchdown bunt up the middle, coming in the first half.

Owens' knee injury appeared more serious and he thus becomes the 16th Buccaneer knocked out of action with a knee problem this season. 12 of them are on injured reserve, one (Ricky Davis) returned to duty and the other, nose guard Dave Pear, sat out Sunday's game. In spite of missing the last game, Pear was overwhelmingly voted the team's most valuable player

That the Bucs' defense, hit hardest by the injury epidemic, could hold the Patriots' offense to only seven points for the better part of three periods, was a major accomplishment. That score was a 69-yard touchdown run by Johnson in the second period. Johnson gained 127 yards on 14 carries and scored twice for the Patriots, who used fullback Sam Cunningham sparingly because of a bruised shoulder.

The Patriots, as the American Football Conference's wild-card team, travel to Oakland next week for the first round of the playoffs against the Raiders. New England's 11-3 record a complete reversal of last year's 3-13 mark. Should the Bucs be able to pull such a reversal next season, they would be 14-0. But right now, one win would be an improvement. Says McKay, "I think I'll take some time off and go hide somewhere"'