I’ll be honest: I wrote off Tampa at halftime. Down 21-6 before intermission, they looked for all the world like they’d rather be at one of the strip clubs a couple of miles down Dale Mabry Highway. Most of the third quarter didn’t help to change that perception, but then QB Josh Freeman and the Bucs offense woke up, putting together a couple of tight touchdown drives, and another drive for a field goal to give Tampa the lead at 22-21 with less than two minutes to play. I was starting to worry after the second touchdown, though, as the offense seemed to be moving away from the aggressive play which had gotten them back into striking distance. It took them a couple of tries to notch that last field goal, but in between those two drives the Bucs defense stepped up huge, giving Freeman the opportunity he needed. With the lead now theirs, it all came back to Tampa’s bread and butter, right? Big strong D to finish things out, and everybody can hit the showers.
Apparently, the defense went to the showers early. That’s the only explanation that makes any sort of sense, considering how Washington quarterback Rob Griffin and the Redskins offense was able to move down the field the way Thai food moves through my digestive tract. And in a demonstration of just how fickle the Football Gods can be, they allowed Washington place kicker Billy Cundiff, whose track record for accuracy throughout the day would make Lin Elliot look like Clint Barton, to kick the game-winning field goal with three seconds remaining in the game. What followed was yet another of those Keystone Cops-style lateral fests on the ensuing kick-off, during which the Bucs special teams tossed the ball to everyone including the mascot, a couple of cheerleaders, two waterboys and some drunk dude dancing in the stands.
It was tough to see Tampa overcome such a huge deficit, and then let the game slip away during that final minute. Ironically, it was the first time in three weeks that the Bucs defense didn’t “play until the whistle.” I guess the lack of a victory formation to charge threw them off, or something. That said, there was still a lot of good to be recognized, on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, Coach Greg Schiano and his staff can keep up the settling-in adjustments and get everything tightened down in the next couple of weeks, before Atlanta starts to run away with the division.
On that point, Tampa drops to 1-3 while the Falcons won again, improving to 4-0 and a comfortable three-game lead in the NFC South. They beat Carolina, which means the Panthers also fall to 1-3. Elsewhere, the New Orleans Saints suffered a heartbreaker of their own, coming within just one holding penalty of possibly getting one over on the Green Bay Packers. They drop to 0-4, which really does just boggle my mind. Next up for the Bucs? After their bye during Week 5, they’ll host Kansas City on October 14th. The Chiefs are having a hard year under a new head coach, too, so something’s gotta give, right?