Buccaneers struggle to protect leads

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 10, 2012
The fading Tampa Bay Buccaneers talk about needing to make more plays. Coach Greg Schiano just wants his players to concentrate on doing their jobs at all times. The coach rejected the notion Monday that the Bucs (6-7) failed to protect a fourth-quarter lead for the fourth time this season because they did not make enough plays down the stretch of a last-second 23-21 loss to rookie quarterback Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, Tampa Bay failed to make a potential game-saving interception, and Foles extended the winning drive with a pair of fourth-down conversions. But Schiano said there were also other factors that contributed to a defeat that dealt a blow to Tampa Bay's chances of making the playoffs. ''You'll never hear that from me. ... I don't think that's the case,'' Schiano said of the recurring theme of players explanations for squandering an 11-point lead in the final four minutes. ''I think you have to do your job, and you have to get 11 guys doing their job consistently. ... I think when you focus on making plays, that's exactly when you don't make plays,'' Schiano added. ''Focus on doing your job and plays come to you, the game comes to you. That's what we believe around here.'' Foles threw touchdown passes on Philadelphia's final two possessions, including the game-winner to Jeremy Maclin as time expired to cap a 13-play, 64-yard drive Foles led without any timeouts. The young quarterback threw 51 passes without an interception, finishing with an Eagles' rookie-record 32 completions and 381 yards against the NFL's last-ranked pass defense. Still, the Bucs were left wondering how Philadelphia was able to end an eight-game losing streak that was the Eagles' longest skid since 1970. ''We did a lot of things that you normally would look at and say that you win the game, but we didn't win the game,'' Schiano said. The Buccaneers outrushed the Eagles 136 yards to 29, forced the game's only turnover and sacked Foles six times. Josh Freeman overcame a slow start to lead three scoring drives that turned a 10-point halftime deficit into a 21-10 lead that Schiano felt his defense would be able to protect. It didn't happen, in part, because of what Schiano described as ''self-inflicted'' mistakes on both offense and defense. ''We committed too many penalties, some in crucial situations. Some could be argued, but that doesn't matter. If they're called, they are,'' Schiano added. ''At the end of the game, we have some opportunities to makes the game be over, and we don't do it.'' Tampa Bay, which fell two games behind Seattle and one behind Washington, Dallas and Minnesota for the final NFC wild-card spot, also surrendered fourth-quarter leads in losses to the Redskins, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. Schiano, who didn't feel the defense played poorly overall, suggested there's no common thread among the unit's problems late in games. ''It's not one guy, it's not one mistake,'' Schiano said. ''It's not one set of calls, whether it's blitz or three-man rush or four-man rush or man or zone (coverage). But it's something that we work on a lot. ... We just need to get better.'' The coach defended a decision to basically put the game into the hands of the defense with conservative play-calling on Tampa Bay's final offensive possession. Instead of allowing Freeman to throw a pass on third-and-8 from their own 33 to try to retain possession and burn more time off the clock, the Bucs ran Doug Martin up the middle for no gain with just under three minutes remaining. The strategy forced the Eagles to use their final timeout, however Schiano's plan for closing out the game began to unravel when Michael Koenen's punt traveled just 31 yards before rolling out of bounds at the Philadelphia 36. Foles started Philadelphia's winning drive with 2:44 left. ''If it were the same situation in another game on another day, I might have chosen to do it differently. But in that game, rookie quarterback on the other side, where we were on the field, our punter - all things I believe to be true, and are true - I don't think I'd change it. ... The laws of football didn't hold up there,'' Schiano said. Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said the team will leave the disappointment behind and put its all into ending a three-game skid at New Orleans next Sunday. ''Every loss is tough, but we can't dwell on it. A lot of guys are disappointed, but they still understand we've got a lot of football to play the rest of the year,'' Bowers said. ''You can't dwell on that one game. We've got to correct the fixable things and transfer our focus to New Orleans.'' Receiver Vincent Jackson, who had six catches for 131 yards and one TD against the Eagles, agreed. ''We haven't played a perfect game all season. ... We'll definitely learn from it,'' Jackson said. ''We're still very confident in the team that we have, and the ability that we have in this building, and we'll get better.'' --- Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
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