Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 11/6/11

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 20: Head Coach Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on from the side line during their game against the Seattle Seahawks on December 20, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Buccaneers defeated the Seahawks 24-7. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Bucs had a lot going for themselves heading into their key NFC South Division road contest Sunday against the first-place New Orleans Saints. They were well-rested from a week off. They were healthier than they'd been in almost a month, with star tailback LeGarrette Blount and standout defensive tackle Gerald McCoy finally back in the lineup. And they'd carefully studied video of each of their many penalties this season a strategy by head coach Raheem Morris to cut down on costly mistakes by a team that had generated the third-most flags in the NFL this season. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, none of that made any real difference in its rematch with the Saints, ending in a 27-16 loss that solidified New Orleans' position atop the division at 6-3 and knocked the Bucs back to third place at 4-4. The Bucs still couldn't find a way to start any faster, falling behind 17-3 at the half before staging a familiar furious comeback attempt late in the game. Blount looked good in his first action in three weeks due to a strained MCL in his left knee, picking up 72 yards on 13 carries. But he undercut his efforts with an unnecessary roughness penalty that ruined a potential touchdown drive early in the third quarter. On top of that, McCoy returning to action after sitting out two games with an ankle sprain was likely lost for the season in the first quarter with a serious arm injury, believed to be a torn biceps muscle (the same kind of injury that caused the No. 1 pick from 2010 to miss the final four games last year). Meanwhile, the flood of penalties continued: nine more for 80 yards, and a streak of at least six penalties in each of their eight games (81 times for 588 yards total). "Same mistakes today that's been killing us all season that you've got to clean up," Morris said after the game. "Foolish penalties those are the ones that absolutely kill you. We just can't tolerate it, especially versus an elite team like the Saints." The most glaring one, of course, was the one committed by Blount. It came at a time the Bucs had a chance to get back into the game, trailing 17-3 in the opening minutes of the second half. Age-defying cornerback Ronde Barber had just picked off a pass by quarterback Drew Brees, and given Tampa Bay a first down at the Saints' 39. Four plays later, Blount took the handoff on a second and 10 from the 22 and was stuffed for a one-yard gain, then lost his cool and pushed a New Orleans defender in the face-mask after the play ended. As a result, the Bucs found themselves in a third-and-24 from the 36 and had to settle for a 48-yard Connor Barth field goal. That was a potential game-changer, having to settle for a 17-6 deficit instead of possibly finding a way to make it 17-10. Blount reportedly left the locker room without addressing reporters. But Morris didn't hide his feelings about that play and others that again hurt the cause. "It's just bad ball again," he said. "We've got to go out and play better and play smarter. There is no excuse for being young. The 15-yard penalties are just (hurtful). Those things, we cannot allow to happen. It's not good enough to come to the sideline and apologize to your teammates, coaches or whoever. It's just selfish, undisciplined football." Morris also took it one step further, hinting that he'll make changes on the field if the mistakes aren't corrected. "You have to," he said. "There is nothing else to do. If you go out and keep repeatedly making the same mistakes over and over again, that's your (only) option. Next man up (to play)." But penalties weren't the only problem Sunday. The Bucs consistently came up short on potential scoring opportunities in the red zone or chances to convert key first downs. Case in point: the play that occurred just before Blount's penalty on first down from the Saints' 22. Freeman had a wide-open Kregg Lumpkin sprinting down the left sideline, but the ball was just inches beyond Lumpkin's reach (for what it's worth, former Buc star safety-turned-FOXSports analyst John Lynch said Lumpkin still should have found a way to catch the pass). Late in the third quarter, trailing 24-6, the Bucs had a third-and-1 at the New Orleans' 33. Freeman had fullback Erik Lorig open for an easy first-down on the right side, but the pass was just a tad long and Lorig couldn't catch corral it (once again, Lynch placed the blame on the receiver, not Freeman). The Bucs proceeded to make matters worse on fourth down with a delay of game call, making it fourth and 6. But in this instance, Freeman made the miscue moot by connecting with Mike Williams for an eight-yard gain, fueling a drive ending with Barth's third goal when the drive stalled at the Saints' 7. "Touchdowns vs. field goals," Freeman said. "In this league, and with this team we're on, you've got to find a way to get touchdowns. And you've got to get them early on, and we weren't able to do that. "First drive in the second half we get a turnover, and could easily have a touchdown to Lumpkin the next play it didn't happen. The one to Lorig, it's a game of inches. It really is; an inch here, an inch here and the next thing you know you're looking at a loss. But it's all correctable stuff. On a positive note, we found a way not to turn the ball over, but there's still a lot of room for us to get better." Freeman did get better. Following his four-interception loss against Chicago in his last outing, the third-year quarterback completed 27 of 37 passes for 281 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, while posting a quarterback rating of 103.5 (even better than one of the league's elite, Brees, who hit 27 of 36 attempts for 258 yards, two touchdowns, one pick and a rating of 101.4). But the tone on this one was set early. After the Saints' first drive ended with a missed 42-yard field goal by John Kasay, the Bucs came marching back down the field with Blount churning up yards and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Saints' 29. Going for a first down looked like a good gamble, the way Blount had been running. But this time, he got the carry and was stopped cold. It never got much better for the Bucs from there until Freeman connected with tight end Kellen Winslow on a five-yard touchdown pass with 4:04 remaining in the game, giving Tampa Bay renewed life at 24-16. But that didn't last long. Brees steered the offense right back down the field with the methodical precision for which he's known. A questionable holding call against the Saints negated a 25-yard touchdown run by Darren Sproles, but Kasay's 34-yard field goal with 1:21 remaining put the game out of reach. Barber was one of the high points, recording his second interception of the season and 42nd in his 15-year career (the only player in NFL history to have at least 40 picks and 25 or more sacks). He did his best to put the loss in perspective. "I wouldn't call it a Chicago feel, it's just kind of us," he said. "Play kind of average to start the game and try to get back in it late. You can't start slow vs. good teams. We know that. We are 4-4. It's an average record. We played average at times today. It is probably where we should be. You generally get what you deserve in this game. We don't deserve to be top of the division right now, we aren't playing like it." Morris sounded a more upbeat tone as his team returns home to prepare for next Sunday's game with the visiting Houston Texans. It's another challenging matchup, this one against the leader of the AFC South at 6-3, with an AFC-leading 236 points scored (compared to 147 for Tampa Bay). "Four and four we're right in the hunt," he said. "(We're) right in the middle of the pack. There is nothing else to do. You've got to go out there and fight. We've got a bunch of tough teams coming in here. We're 2-1 in the division, which is most important. We've got to win these division games in order to try to have a chance to fight back at the end and try to steal this thing." But first, they have to stop robbing themselves of chances to win.
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