At the end of the game in Cowboys Stadium, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had grabbed one interception, recovered two Dallas Cowboys fumbles, a whopping four sacks, allowed no passing touchdowns and held opposing running backs to 37 yards on 19 carries for an average of 1.9 yards per carry. And despite those amazing statistics, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still lost the game. A heroic defense forced 3-and-out after 3-and-out, stuffed the run play after play and put constant heat on Tony Romo - but the offense couldn't do anything.
Josh Freeman was a major culprit, as the quarterback was off target for most of the game and ended up completing just 10 of 28 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That probably understates how poorly the offense played, as 71 of those yards came on the final drive of the game, when Freeman finally threw down the field. It wasn't all the quarterback's fault, however, as the coaches made some absolutely baffling decisions. One series should illustrate this: down nine points at the end of the game, the Buccaneers had the following series of plays. Doug Martin up the middle for 1 yard. Freeman pass incomplete to Doug Martin. Doug Martin run for -2 yards.
Yes, you read that correctly. On third-and-9, down two scores at the end of the fourth quarter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers called a draw. To make matters worse, they then lined up for a punt before deciding, after the two minute warning, that going for it might actually be a good idea when you're down two scores. Freeman then quickly led the team down the field, but it was too little too late as the team couldn't recover he onside kick and rushing a kneeldown three consecutive times (with some lovely Greg Schiano screaming at the defense) didn't work, either.
It didn't start out that way, however. The Bucs started incredibly quickly, with Aqib Talib picking off Tony Romo early on, and the Bucs converting that into seven points via Josh Freeman and Luke Stocker. It didn't take long for the offense to give that back, as D.J. Ware let a Josh Freeman pass bounce off his facemask leading to a Sean Lee interception - and a quick seven points the other way. The rest of the game turned into an ugly slugfest, where neither offense could get going, but a few mistakes on the Bucs' side eventually did them in. A muffed Jordan Shipley punt return turned into three points for the Cowboys, after an outstanding defensive stop. Two other field goals came after the defense allowed big plays, but then tightened up in the red zone.
Yet the defense gave the offense plenty of opportunities, as Michael Bennett and Gerald McCoy had some dominant games. The defense forced three turnovers, despite some refereeing problems. Both forced fumbles on sacks were initially not ruled as fumbles, and Greg Schiano had to get out the challenge flag to fix those mistakes. One of them appeared to cost the Bucs a touchdown, as Eric Wright picked up the fumble and was on his way to the endzone, but he was eventually whistled back.
The offense couldn't do anything with the field position, as nothing seemed to click. Josh Freeman took two sacks, and threw many more poor passes on third down. Meanwhile, the Bucs appeared to fall in love with the "run Doug Martin up the middle" play, resulting in his rushing for 53 yards on 19 carries, or just 2.8 yards per carry. Not because Doug Martin wasn't running well, but because the offensive line failed to get much movement, and the opposing defense could predict what was coming after 8 straight runs up the middle on first down. Playcalling was incredibly conservative, even when the Bucs were down two scores and it was clear that running up the gut was not picking up yardage.
I'm sure we'll hear some sniping about Greg Schiano going after a kneeldown three times in a row, calling timeouts and screaming at his defense in between. We'll hear a lot about the offensive ineptitude in this game, Freeman's outright poor play and the failure of the receivers to get open. But for me, this game was a story of failed coaching. Calling runs up the gut when they aren't working, failing to put the ball in the hands of your quarterback until it's too late, and playing too conservatively on offense are what lost this game. The Bucs were competitive once again and showed that they have the personnel to be really good on defense, but their offense isn't good enough to consistently produce. And that needs to change.
Despite all of the doom and gloom, though, the Bucs are still second in the NFC South after the New Orleans Saints lost their third straight game, and the Carolina Panthers moved to 1-2. The Bucs play the Washington Redskins at home next week, when they'll get a chance to move to 2-2 against rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.