The Tampa Bay Buccaneers keep finding themselves on the wrong side of the final play of football games in 2012. On Sunday, Greg Schiano’s team lost 35-28 to the New Orleans Saints after an illegal touching penalty negated what would have been a game-tying touchdown by Mike Williams.
The loss marked the team’s fourth loss this season, all by one score.
At least this time it didn’t involve the do-or-die defense against the victory formation that has become Schiano’s signature play.
Something needs to change for the Bucs and it needs to change soon. After four close losses, there is no more room for moral victories. They are just blown opportunities.
The Bucs had a 21-7 lead over the Saints with just over 13 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The Bucs defense was completely unable to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense as they scored 21 unanswered points to close out the half leading 28-21.
New Orleans' shortest second quarter drives were all 72 yards and longer, with no drive needing more than nine plays to score. The Bucs couldn’t get any penetration against Drew Brees, resulting in no sacks or quarterback hits.
Thanks to Josh Freeman’s 420 yards and three touchdowns, the Bucs were in the game until the final moments. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to seal the deal due to the illegal touching penalty that by the letter of the law was correctly called.
The last play is perhaps the one that will most be remembered, but it wasn’t the most devastating play for the team.
Here are four other plays that were more costly to the Bucs on Sunday in their loss to the Saints.
Connor Barth had been the most valuable and consistent player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last week, he snapped his streak of 25 consecutive field goals when he missed a 55-yard attempt off the upright.
On Sunday against the Saints, Barth missed a 42-yard attempt wide left in the third quarter. The kick would've trimmed the Bucs' deficit to 28-24.
Vincent Jackson set a new Tampa Bay Buccaneers team record with his 216 receiving yards against the New Orleans Saints.
In the third quarter, Jackson took a Josh Freeman pass 95 yards before getting caught by Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins at the 1-yard line.
The offense would ultimately not be able to score after four attempts at the goal line.
It's hard to completely blame Jackson in this situation. Yes, he was stopped short of scoring, but he made an incredible play to put the team in position to get points.
It's not his fault the play-calling and execution at the goal line couldn't gain the one yard necessary to put the seven points on the board. However, if he doesn't get caught, that failure doesn't have the opportunity to occur.
The failed goal line attempt was by far the worst play of the game for the Bucs' offense.
With the ball on the 1-yard line, the Bucs handed the ball on three straight attempts to LeGarrette Blount. They were denied three straight times.
Blount has many strengths, but his performance in short yardage is not one of them. He far too often tip toes to the line instead of running at full speed.
Even after Blount's failure to move the ball a net three feet forward, the Bucs elected to go for it on fourth down.
They were unable to fool the defense that seemed more than prepared for Josh Freeman's play-action pass play and the drive ended at the Saints' 5-yard line with no points scored.
The Bucs' unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the beginning of the fourth quarter was their most costly error in the game.
They trailed the Saints by a touchdown when Garrett Hartley lined up for a 50-yard field-goal attempt. Hartley has only made 2-of4 field goal attempts from 30 yards and longer this season.
Then, for whatever reason, the defense tried to get the Saints to false start on the attempt.
The plan worked, but the Bucs were charged a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Five plays later, Pierre Thomas ran the ball in from five yards out to give the Saints a 35-21 lead.
At most, the drive should've resulted in a 10-point lead for the Saints. If the kick is missed, the Bucs would've had great field position to tie the game at 28.
Even if everything else played out the same, the four-point shift at that point would've been the difference between needing a touchdown or a field goal to send the game to overtime.
Jamal Wilburg is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.