It doesn’t matter if it’s Josh McCown or John Elway playing quarterback. It doesn’t matter if it’s Doug Martin or Emmitt Smith running the ball. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mike Evans or Jerry Rice at wide receiver.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will continue to lose football games due to costly mistakes and costly penalties at the worst possible times. Nothing was more symbolic of that against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.
For the third straight game the Buccaneers got out to a 10-0 lead. They are 1-2 in those games because for the forth straight time Tampa Bay has committed 9 or more penalties. Not only are the amount of penalties troubling, it’s when they happen and the different ones they violate that’s inexcusable. False starts, illegal formations, holding, personal fouls, illegal blocks all were called on the offensive line alone.
Heck, Andy Dalton was picked off on the very first play of the game by cornerback Johnthan Banks who returned the ball inside the 10 yard line! But a false start penalty on left tackle Anthony Collins turned a 3rd & 5 into 3rd & 10, eventually resulting in a field goal. Later on, Doug Martin busted out for a 28 yard run into Cincinnati territory, looking like his rookie form. But an illegal formation penalty on Oneil Cousins not being on the line of scrimmage negated the play, eventually resulting in a punt.
Afterwards, Lovie Smith summed it up perfectly.
“That’s how 2-10 football teams play,” Lovie said in his opening statement of his post-game press conference. “When you make dumb, stupid penalties like that throughout the game it ends up biting you in the end, which it did.”
Ironically, it was Lovie and the coaching staff that contributed to the biggest blunder that decided the game. The Bucs were driving under one minute to go. On 2nd & 15 at the Cincinnati 41, Josh McCown completed a 20 yard pass to Louis Murphy, almost solidifying the victory. All they would need was a Patrick Murray field goal, and the Bucs will have one their first home game in nearly a calendar year.
But then, it happened again.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis threw down his challenge flag to review the play for too many men on the field. Because it was inside the two-minute warning, only the replay official can challenge a previous play. All it cost Cincinnati was a timeout, but it gave the officials time to take a look. Sure enough, 12 players lined up on the field. The Bucs offense couldn’t recover, resulting in another painful loss at home.
“Coaching error on our part; we didn’t catch it. Simple as that. It shouldn’t happen,” Lovie Smith acknowledged. “Blame head coach; bad move on my part of not seeing that.”
The Bucs did not have Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers or Luke Stocker for the game, making them extremely thin at tight end. They made Oneil Cousins an eligible tight end for most of the game, while using tight end Cameron Brate as a receiving option at times. Josh McCown explained the reasoning for the error post-game.
“Obviously because of the tight end situation where we were at this week, Oneil played a lot in the game,” says McCown. “They had pressured us before in that situation, down and distance, and so we were trying to get a shot down the field while making sure we were protected so we ran [Oneil] on, but we obviously did not get Robert Herron off.”
“I just have to do a better job of looking up and seeing it and calling out protection and calling out routes. It just can’t happen.”
It’s these self inflicted wounds at the worst possible moments that has sunk the Bucs’ ship this season. Penalties are part of the game, they will happen. But the Bucs fall apart at times when they have to come together the most. They are their own worst enemy. The players and coaches are taking blame and rightfully so. But the time for explaining the mistakes is frankly tiresome.
Simply put, the Buccaneers are not a focused football team. And the fact that it’s under the direction of Lovie Smith is very concerning. They have four games left. Forget the playoff talk, that ship has sailed. Focus on getting focused.
Follow Trevor DeGroot on Twitter @TrevorDeGroot