Buccaneers - Saints 16 - 27: Tampa Bay loses division, composure in New Orleans

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the New Orleans Saints today. The game ended with a score of 16 to 27, but for a long time it really wasn't all that close. 

The story was the same as it's been for two years now. Slow starts, poor play during the first half, a failure to stop the run and dumb penalties. And that's despite the fact that the referees helped out the Buccaneers by calling some iffy penalties against the Saints in key situations. 

But the Bucs failed to stop New Orleans' juggernaut offense and couldn't consistently move the ball on offense until it was too late. The Bucs gave up a total of 453 yards, 195 of that coming on the ground. Add 80 yards on 9 penalties to that total and it's easy to see why the Bucs lost. 

The Bucs weren't helped by injuries, again, but that can't be an excuse. Still, Gerald McCoy went out of the game with a likely season-ending arm injury early on, while Frank Okam had to miss the game with an injury as well. That left the Bucs with just two defensive tackles in Brian Price and Roy Miller, and they couldn't figure out a way to stop the Saints' run defense. The Saints also took advantage of their personnel: they forced the Bucs into playing with nickel and dime personnel, taking linebackers off the field in favor of defensive backs. And then the Saints ran at that personnel with great success. 

Despite that the Bucs amassed plenty of yards themselves. They had a total of 365 yards, but just 84 of those came on the ground. The Bucs gave Legarrette Blount just thirteen carries, while he was rushing at a 5.5 yard per carry average. But Josh Freeman was relatively efficient, completing 27 of 37 passes for 281 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. 

But it wasn't enough, and this game was marred by missed opportunities. In the second quarter the Bucs were in prime position to score their first touchdown, but the Bucs pulled Freeman on 3rd-and-4 in favor of Josh Johnson, who ran a Wildcat play that went nowhere. A field goal ensued. 

 After a third quarter interception by Ronde Barber gave the Bucs some great field position, and an iffy encroachment penalty on the Saints gave the Bucs a first down they couldn't convert as Legarrette Blount stupidly earned a flag for unnecessary roughness, killing that drive. A field goal ensued. 

At the end of the fourth quarter Josh Freeman just missed a wide open Erik Lorig, who saw the pass bounce off his fingertips. The Bucs weren't fazed and converted a fourth-and-six on a quick slant to Mike Williams. A few plays later they converted another fourth down, this time from the Saints' thirteen yard line. But then they couldn't figure out a way to get the ball in the endzone, and kicked a field goal instead. That drive ate up clock, needed two fourth down conversion, and still didn't get the Bucs a touchdown. 

And despite all that, the Bucs got a late chance to tie the game. A touchdown pass to Kellen WInslow made it a one-score game, and the Bucs needed a three-and-out to get the ball back for the offense with some time left. Instead the defense gave up first down after first down, until finally stopping the Saints - well in field goal range. A John Kasay field goal then made it a two-score game, and that meant the game was out of reach for the Bucs. 

The Bucs are now 4-4 and have essentially squandered the opportunity to win the division. The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are both ahead of them in the division, with 6-3 and 5-3 records respectively. While all is not lost, the Bucs face an exceptionally tough schedule in the next couple of weeks. Having lost to the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions earlier on, the Bucs are also not in good position to earn a Wild Card playoff spot. 

This was a very important game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they came up short in a tight situation. 

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