This Sunday the Bucs, in full control of their playoff destiny, lost to the Detroit Lions 23-20. The same Detroit Lions, mind you, who had lost the previous 26 road games. The Drew Stanton-led Detroit Lions. THE DETROIT LIONS.
As with most of this season's losses (Saints and Steelers games excepted), this Lions game was eminently winnable. But the Bucs didn't win. You know who I blame for that?
1. The effing refs.I have two conspiracy theories on the decidedly un-home team-friendly crew.
First: This was the same officiating crew that stole the Bears' game away from the Lions, and they were playing make up.
Second: One or more of the crew members' wives grew up in Detroit. And the refs didn't want to sleep on the couch.
Because there were a number of questionable calls that went against the Bucs. Drew Stanton appears to fumble the ball, it's called an incomplete pass. Stanton throws to an invisible receiver, intentional grounding is called, but the refs negate the penalty because the QB's arm was hit.
In overtime, Calvin Johnson catches a 12-yard pass on 3rd and 8 and tippy-toes the sideline, and the refs decide not to review the play. Maybe it is a catch, but the challenge has to come from the officials and they won't even review the play.
But worst of all was the series of events in the fourth quarter with the Bucs at the Lions' 1-yard line. Josh Freeman threw the ball to the endzone, where Kellen Winslow and a defender were hugging it out. K2 still somehow managed to catch the potentially game-winning touchdown, but it was called offensive pass interference. That call is only legit if the defender is called, too, because hugs are a two-way street. (Right, ref? Not getting enough of those from your Michigander wife?)
In the ensuing play, Mike Williams couldn't hang on to another potential touchdown pass because the defender got a little too handsy. But this time no pass interference was called.
2. The effing playcalling. Not to let up on the effing refs, but with the game tied with fewer than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and a 1st and 1 at the goal line, you pound that ball, right? The Bucs do have a 6'5″ 250-lb. QB and a similarly sized running back in LaGarette Blount. But this was how the Bucs played the downs:
1st-QB sneak, 0 yards
2nd-Earnest Graham rush, -1 yard
3rd-Pass to Winslow, penaltly, -10 yards
3rd-Pass to Williams, no catch, no penalty
4th-Field goal, Connor Barth
Next drive, the Lions marched down the field and scored a tying field goal, which led to overtime.
Sure, Freeman was unsuccessful in the QB sneak for the first time all season on the first down, but his odds have to be pretty good if you try it again. 6'5″. 250.
And what about Blount? Cadillac Williams was running well early in the game, but Blount had 110 yards on 15 carries-and only 15 carries. Blount touched the ball just 4 times in the fourth quarter (for 36 yards), when the game was on the line.
3. Calvin effing Johnson. Watching Johnson line up across the line of scrimmage from the members of the Bucs' secondary was one of the more comical aspects of the game. It looked like Johnson could have picked up Ronde Barber between his thumb and forefinger and swallowed him whole, so great was the size difference. Aqib Talib, at 6'2″, would have at least had a chance against the monster receiver. But Calvin Johnson vs. E.J. Biggers? Calvin Johnson vs. Elbert Mack? Yikes.
4. The effing injuries. You know you've got injury issues when a rookie special teams-playing wide receiver is in at safety. According to radio analyst Dave Moore, Preston Parker did just that. Preston, you win the "Single Player as Analogy for Entire Season" Award.
The Bucs team is ravaged with injuries, having lost 6 starters in the past 3 weeks alone. And it showed.
Without Talib, Tanard Jackson, Cody Grimm, Gerald McCoy, and Brian Price, the Bucs were unable to stop the run (RB Maurice Morris picked up half as many yards in one game as he'd previously gained all year) and unable to rush the passer (2 hits and no sacks on future HOF QB Drew Stanton).
5. The effing penalties. With a rookie team, penalties are bound to happen. Fine. But the Bucs' delay of game penalty in the 2nd quarter and 12 men on the field penalty in the 4th were inexcusable. (Oh, and welcome back to the lineup, Jeremy "False Start" Trueblood.)
Ultimately, it doesn't matter whose fault the loss is. The Bucs are now all but eliminated from the playoff hunt, and frankly would likely be massacred if they make it.
Still, with at least 8 wins this year and some unreal young talent on offense, these young Bucs have been pretty effing fun to watch.
Cross published at Chicks in the Huddle.