For Tampa Bay fans, the story is familiar. A terrible secondary and three Josh Freeman interceptions led to a 28-6 deficit in the third quarter. For the third time in four weeks, the game appeared to be out of hand in the third quarter as the Rams scored 21 unanswered points. And for the third consecutive week, the offense struggled to produce.
Freeman's four interceptions on the game weren't all his fault, as Mike Williams fell down on one and then ran a bad route on another. Of the four interceptions, only one was solely on Freeman. But interceptions are interceptions, and you can't win games when you turn the ball over four times. Meanwhile, the offensive line was consistently beaten by the outstanding Rams defensive line, which came into the game with 41 sacks and left the game with 46 sacks on the season. Yet Freeman made a few poor throws and poor decisions, and was inconsistent as per usual. In the first half, he was just bad.
But, as they did in Denver, the Bucs did start a furious comeback. The defense got two consecutive three-and-outs, and Josh Freeman found Mike Williams for a weaving 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The very next drive, the Bucs managed to drive all the way down to the five-yard line, but a failed fourth-down quarterback sneak saw them come away with no points.
Meanwhile, the defense turned from terrible to suffocating. Three straight three-and-outs and plenty of pressure gave the Bucs multiple chances to come back. But the offense struggled to convert in the red zone, driving down into the ten-yard line three times and coming away with just three points on those three drives. Forcing punt after punt over the last quarter-and-a-half, the defense kept the team in the game, but the offense simply came up short.
Josh Freeman was pretty good in the second half, but he failed to get the ball into the endzone repeatedly. Mike Williams was targeted repeatedly, but had a terrible game with multiple slips and a failure to win any jump ball. His one redeeming play was the 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run, which was arguably the biggest offensive play of the game. Had the Bucs managed to finish drives, they could have easily won this game. Instead, we're left with yet another loss and a 6-9 record. An inconsistent Josh Freeman and a porous secondary have kept this team out of the playoffs, and they've now caused another late-season slide. Five consecutive losses can turn to six next week when they travel to Atlanta.
Greg Schiano's culture change hasn't produced the results he wanted at the end of the season. The secondary simply isn't good enough, while Josh Freeman has been too inconsistent. The Bucs had chances to win games this season, as they did today, but they came up short just a little too often. They've gone from competing for the division to having the worst record in the division. Another offseason of rebuilding lies ahead for Tampa Bay.
What's next: The Bucs travel to Atlanta for the final game of the season, trying to halt a five-game losing streak. The Falcons won't have anything to play for, so the Bucs may have a shot.