You could talk about this one for a week, but the Bucs don't have that long, in fact, this is a horrible week for them. They face Minnesota in the Great North on Thursday night. No rest for the downtrodden.
This was the big one that got away.
It started even better than you could draw it up. It completely fell apart shortly thereafter, then over the final 30 minutes, the Bucs were in it, out of it, back in it. For all intents and purposes, this one was headed to overtime when Mike Williams caught a pass from the rambling, scrambling Josh Freeman with nothing but zeroes showing on the scoreboard time clock.
Just when it looked like 35-all and a comeback to remember, it was 35-28 and another one got away, another close one, another one they should have and could have won.
There was so much good, so much to be so very positive about, but also so much bad, so much to shake your head over.
Leave Freeman alone right now, lay off, because he's starting to show us what he can do. What more could he have done? Doesn't 420 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 24-for-42 afternoon earn him your respect?
Free did all he could. He wasn't in the best of spots, forced to rally his team from behind after the worst 13 minutes of the season there in the second quarter when someone decided it would be a great idea to rush Drew Brees with three guys.
Three guys? Take it from former Buc John Lynch, who was the Fox broadcast analyst on this one, who saw what happened when you try and rush Brees with three men up front. "When you keep giving Drew Brees time, he will shred you up," warned Lynch.
Still, there was the three-man rush that made mush of the Bucs early 21-7 lead.
"He will eat you up if you give him time," Lynch warned again as Brees shredded and then ate up that three-man front. He did it better than he ever has in a first half during his storied career. By halftime, the Saints were up 28-21 and Brees already had a full day. He threw for 313 yards, four touchdowns and completed 20-of-25.
Rush three guys? Really? Don't tell us that worked at Rutgers.
Despite that bright idea, the Bucs fought and scratched their way back into this one and when you look back at this, there is one painful sequence that will probably go down as the game-changer.
With about seven minutes left in the third, Freeman, from his own four-yard line, found Vincent Jackson open down the left sideline. Jackson broke free and there was nothing but green grass between him, a touchdown and a tie ball game at 28-28.
Then something happened, it was as if Jackson was low on fuel. He looked like a 4.9-second 40 guy by the time he reached the 20, and Saints defender Malcolm Jenkins, who started nearly 25 yards behind Jackson, ran him down at the one.
No problem, right? They sent in your favorite running back, the one too many of you believe deserves more carries, and that would be LeGarrette Blount. First and goal from the one. Blount tip-toes into the line, loses a yard. Second and goal, Blount tip-toes into the line, one yard. Third and goal, Blount slouches his way into the line, no gain. Fourth down, Freeman bootlegs and we all wonder who the heck called that play?
No score, no nothing. Saints take the ball, drive the entire field and go up 35-21 in the fourth quarter.
Talk about the sequence that changed this game. That was it.
The defense managed to plug the holes that Brees found so easily in the second quarter, held the Saints scoreless in the third, and then that lone TD after the disaster that was V-Jax and Blount.
There was no quit in Freeman or the offense. By the time this nonsense ended, Freeman had put up 420 yards, third-best day ever by a Buc quarterback. Jackson caught seven from him for a franchise record 216 yards. Problem is, he needed that extra yard, the 217th.
Freeman hit eight different receivers and Doug Martin showed why he's the man, and Blount isn't.
If offense sells tickets, then the big crowds should return.
In the end, the Bucs fell victim to those 13 incredible minutes by Brees and to the NFL rule book.
Even Lynch thought that the touchdown strike to Williams would count.
"If you're pushed out and you come back in and establish yourself..." Lynch was getting ready to tell us that the TD would count, but he caught himself as he saw the flag and then realized he didn't understand the rule.
No, the catch didn't count.
Now the Bucs are 2-4, just like the Saints. But they have no momentum, unlike the Saints.
Worst part is they head to Minnesota to play the Vikings in just 72 hours.
And you wonder how they get it back together after a loss like this?
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