I don't know about other Bucs fans, but for me, this loss hurt.
This one hurt more than the blowout losses to the Saints and Steelers.
It hurt more than all of last year's 13 torture sessions. Combined.
Yep, this losing feeling was vintage, like December 2008 when the team won 9 of 12 games and then proceeded to lose the next four and miss the playoffs.
Because after this Sunday, all I could think of was the fact the Falcons game was winnable. And that the Bucs could be leading the NFC South today. And that if the Bucs led the NFC South, they would have a better shot at the playoffs, and...
And there it was. This Falcons game got me thinking about the playoffs for the first time in almost two years. Something tells me it had that effect on other Buc fans as well.
How could it not? Sure, there were negatives -- like Josh Freeman's pair of interceptions and, of course, the pass rush -- but did you see those touchdown passes to Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn? Did you even know such plays could be made by men wearing red and pewter (or creamsicle, for that matter)?
This was a hard loss, but the 5-3 Bucs are playing like a team that expects and deserves to win. Who'd have thought.
Game Ball: Micheal Spurlock. Some media folks in Tampa Bay have groused that the Bucs were only in position to beat the more-talented Falcons because the special teams came through this week. Well, the team was only in position to win last week because the defense came up with interceptions. They were only in position to win the previous game because Connor Barth kicked 4 field goals. So this week Micheal Spurlock kept them in the game with 209 yards on kick returns, including an 89-yard touchdown. As far as I can tell, it's the same six points no matter who reaches the end zone.
Bonus game ball to Coach Bisaccia for attempting an onside kick following Spurlock's touchdown, with the Bucs down by 6 near the end of the third quarter. The Falcons ultimately recovered, but it was a play-to-win call.
Lame Ball: Fourth-Quarter Play Calling. In the Bucs' final drive, the team moved from their own 9-yard line to the Falcons' 11-yard line. In the ensuing 4 downs, Freeman threw one pass for 7 yards. Rookie LaGarrette Blount ran the other three plays, and the Bucs were stopped short of the goal, effectively losing the game. Blount later admitted that on 4th and 1, he ran right when he was supposed to go over the top. However, the issue is not Blount's rookie mistake, but that Coach Raheem didn't follow the cardinal rule of 2010 Buc-dom: "Give the ball to Josh Freeman. Josh Freeman just wins games."
Game Ball: Arrelious Benn. Mike Williams had another impressive touchdown (though he also dropped a few passes this week) and Micheal Spurlock had a big 43-yard catch in the fourth quarter. But Benn's beautiful touchdown catch this week proves that the Bucs now have two rookie receivers for opposing defenses to fear.
Lame Ball: First-Half Defense. In recent years, the Bucs never seemed to adjust at the half. Whatever mistakes they made in the first half, they repeated in the second. So at least this Buc D, which allowed 260 yards in the first half and 115 in the second, is finding ways to improve mid-game. On the other hand, maybe they could start adjusting at the end of the first quarter?
Game Ball: Cadillac Williams. Caddy may not run like a well-oiled machine anymore, but dude can pick up a blitz. Until Blount figures out how to protect the franchise QB, it looks like Caddy will have a role on this team. And, hey, the Bucs got rid of the receiver-who-blocks-but-can't-catch, so there should be room for a running back-who-blocks-but-can't-run.
Lame Ball: Clock/Time Out Management. At the end of the fourth quarter, with 4th and 1 and the Atlanta 2-yard line, Josh Freeman lost track of the game clock, forcing Raheem to call a time out. On the next play, Blount's run was called short of the 1st down, giving the Falcons the ball on downs. The play ended just outside the 2-minute warning, so there was no booth review of the questionable spot of the ball. Since the Bucs had just used their last time out, they could not challenge. Game over.
Honorary Game Ball: Brian Billick. For using LaGarrette Blount's name as a verb. As in, "The Bucs need to Blount it here."
Up next: the injury-plagued Panthers. If the Bucs play their A-game, they will Freeman it for sure.
Cross-published at Chicks in the Huddle.