Sports

Bucs search for answers to 8-game skid

FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
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TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17:  of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the Dallas Cowboys during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 17, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

TAMPA, FL – DECEMBER 17: of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the Dallas Cowboys during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 17, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay’s eighth straight loss left Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris questioning his team’s effort for a third time.

The club’s longest skid within the same season since 1987 follows a 4-2 start. It also has the NFL’s youngest coach on the hot seat only a year after Morris appeared to have the Bucs headed in the right direction.

Dallas dominated Tampa Bay 31-15 on Saturday night in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. The Cowboys scored on four of five first-half possessions to build a 28-0 lead, and the Bucs were limited to one first down and 55 yards total offense until late in the third quarter.

Watching the latest setback live was bad enough. Morris took a second look on tape Sunday and concluded the team did not do any of things he preaches as essential components of winning.

“We got outplayed by a better football team. I won’t make any excuses on why, what or who,” Morris said. “It doesn’t really matter. They’ve got to go out and play hard, play fast and play consistent every single week.”

The Bucs (4-10) have lost by double-digit margins six times, with five of those lopsided finishes coming during the current skid — Tampa Bay’s longest within the same season since it lost eight straight under Ray Perkins 24 years ago.

Morris dropped his first seven games as a head coach in 2009, extending a losing streak that began the previous season under Jon Gruden to 11.

Tampa Bay rebounded from a 3-13 record two years ago to go 10-6 and narrowly miss the playoffs in 2010. A porous defense and sputtering offense share the blame for this season’s collapse following a start that included wins over NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta.

“Once we make a mistake, instead of shaking it off, and go play the next play, we kind of take it with us and it causes more mistakes,” defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said Saturday night.

“Before you know it, we have a snowball. We just have to shake it off,” said Haynesworth, who began the season with New England and has only been with the Bucs for six weeks. “The NFL is one play at a time. No matter if you had a sack, an interception for a touchdown, or we give up a 30-yard pass. We still got to go play. You have to forget it.”

Morris shrugged off a question Sunday about whether the team is as talented as he thought it was entering the season.

“It’s hard to make those excuses right now. I won’t do that. Anything you say about talent level, it makes an excuse for yourself,” the coach said. “We’ve got to go out and do a better job coaching. We have to go out and do a better job playing. We’ve got to go out there and do a better job getting it done.”

General manager Mark Dominik and the Glazer family, which owns the team, remain silent on whether Morris will have opportunity to turn things around.

Tampa Bay has games remaining at Carolina and Atlanta, and quarterback Josh Freeman said he would be disappointed if players give less than maximum effort.

“It’s the National Football League. You have to take some pride in what you are doing, take some pride in being a Buccaneer,” Freeman said. “If nothing else, do it for your teammates, do it for your coaches.”

In addition to being unhappy with the overall effort against Dallas, Morris felt the Bucs fell short in that critical area in a 37-9 home loss to Houston and a 48-3 debacle at San Francisco early in the season.

Much of Saturday night’s frustration stemmed from poor play from the offensive line. The most experienced unit on the team struggled to protect Freeman, who was sacked three times.

“You’ve got to go out there and execute what you’re coached to do,” Morris said. “If it was something we weren’t prepared for, or didn’t know it was coming, I’d be a little bit more understanding. But when it’s something that you practice, something you go out there and work on, talk about it and discuss it … you expect it to get executed.”

 Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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