There will be no talk of a victory formation this week. Instead, we'll talk about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a close game for the third straight time. This is quickly becoming a theme, as this is the model of a Greg Schiano team. Play hard-nosed defense, run the ball on offense, and win the close game in the fourth quarter. So far, though, that last aspect has been missing. The Bucs are playing to script, to an extent, but as Josh Freeman told Tom Krasniqi after the game "Losing is not acceptable."
Losing sure looked acceptable in the first half, though, as the Bucs dug themselves a nice hole the size of 15 points, ending the half with a 21-6 deficit. The offense looked like a trainwreck, but the bane of the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers reared its ugly head too: missed tackles. Those missed tackles led to a 39-yard rushing touchdown by Alfred Morris, the longest run Tampa Bay has given up this year, and it led to a run defense giving up 5.8 yards per carry - more than twice what they'd given up in the previous three games. The other two touchdowns given up in that game were runs as well - both by Robert Griffin III, although one of them was a fumble recovered by Pierre Garcon.
Surprisingly, the defensive line was still punishing on running plays, but second- and third-level tackling was lacking, and at times defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim struggled to set the edge. Adrian Clayborn he is not, although Te'o-Nesheim certainly did an admirable job as a pass-rusher. Yet the Bucs' defensive line was not as dominant as it had been in pass rush, with just two sacks on the game. The defense got in some punishing hits, especially Mark Barron, but was far from consistent in actually stopping the Redskins.
The first half on defense may have been sub-par, but it wasn't disastrous. The same can't be said for the offensive performance, which was absolutely horrendous. Josh Freeman had an especially bad first half, routinely missing open receivers with poor throws and poor decisions. When your best play on offense is a Statue of Liberty fake, you know you're in trouble. Josh Freeman's first half was what I'm now calling 'bad Josh'. It was so horrible, people were calling for Dan Orlovsky at the half. Yes, I-run-out-of-my-own-endzone Orlovsky.
If it wasn't for Connor Barth and his inability to miss field goals, the Bucs would have scored no points in the first half. Thankfully, his opposite half Billy Cundiff remembered how to miss field goals, whiffing on three attempts in the game.
The Bucs looked like they were going to lose a blowout game at the half. It looked like, quite frankly, the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But then, the second half happened, and it was like a different team stepped onto the field. A defense that gave up 21 points in the first half, kept Robert Griffin III contained and gave up just three points in the second half. An offense that couldn't produce even a short play in the first half produced long bomb after long bomb. Josh Freeman looked confused and uncomfortable in the first half, but he was decisive, aggressive and accurate in the second half.
The Bucs started off with a big, 65-yard completion to Mike Williams and followed that up with an 8-yard Vincent Jackson touchdown. That cut the lead to 8 points. One 54-yard bomb to Vincent Jackson and a Legarrette Blount touchdown run later, and that lead had been cut to two points as the Bucs missed on the two-point conversion. The defense had to come up with a stop, several times, and they didn't disappoint. They harassed Robert Griffin III, held up on the back end and stuffed the run to give the offense chances. And the offense repaid that with 16 points on the half, the final 3 points coming on a quick field goal drive that ate some clock.
But then, Robert Griffin III had the chance to lead the Washington Redskins down the field with less than two minutes remaining. The Tampa Bay defense collapsed under its own weight, as the pass rush disappeared and a few apparent breakdowns left some players wide open. Billy Cundiff may have missed three times in that game, but when given the opportunity to win them the game he did not disappoint the Washington fans.
Ultimately, the Bucs came just a few plays short of a win. A stand on defense on the final drive, or any kind of offensive production in the first half could have won them this game. In the end, nothing but a loss will be remembered. Close games are won mostly on luck, and the Bucs appear to have missed that luck these past three games, losing three straight close games. They need to reverse that, and find a way to play a little better - and get a little bit of luck.
The Bucs head into their bye week now, and they've got a lot of things to work on. Josh Freeman needs to find a way to be 'good Josh' more often, while the defense needs to figure out this complicated 'coverage' thing. The Bucs are clearly a team in transition, and they've got the rest of the season to transition toward actually winning games.
Injuries: Eric Wright left the game with a head injury and did not return.