It wasn't that long ago that talk of exceeded expectations and playoff scenarios were making the rounds in the Tampa Bay area.
Back then, the Buccaneers were in the midst of a four-game winning streak and in prime position to clinch one of the six available playoff seeds. Their offense was flying high, and the defense was getting by. For a few brief weeks, they played with our hearts and imaginations.
But now that they find themselves in a three-game slide, the postseason chatter has all but ceased—reality has crashed down around the Bucs.
And undoubtedly landed somewhere in their porous secondary.
At 6-7, the Bucs have played themselves right out of the playoff picture. Of their seven losses, six have been by a difference of seven or fewer points; three losses have been by two or fewer points.
Worse yet, those three razor-thin losses have all occurred at home, where the Bucs are 3-4 this season and an embarrassing 11-20 since 2009. In fact, 2008 (6-2) was the last time the Bucs had a winning home record.
Fixing that issue will go a long way to getting fans back into the stands, but I digress.
Most seasons are filled with the "coulda-shoulda-woulda" moments that stand out as difference-makers in close, tough losses. Suffice it to say, the Buccaneers have more than their fair share this season.
That said, I've highlighted one play from each of their three closest losses—versus Washington (24-22), Atlanta (24-23) and Philadelphia (23-21)—that ultimately cost them a possible playoff berth this season.
Fred Davis' 20-yard, fourth-quarter reception for Washington
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, the Bucs held a slim 22-21 lead over the 'Skins. As the ball is snapped, safety Ronde Barber (circled in red) comes in on a blitz, leaving rookie safety Mark Barron with the responsibility of defending Davis (circled in yellow).
Under pressure, rookie quarterback RGIII finds the veteran tight end Davis all alone on a short out route. At the snap, Barron (circled in red) inexplicably takes off in the opposite direction of Davis, thus leaving him undefended and available to pick up crucial yards after the catch.
After Davis (yellow) hauls in the catch, Barron (red) takes a bad angle to the ball-carrier and misses a critical tackle near midfield. Davis is finally brought down at the 45-yard line. Four plays later, kicker Billy Cundiff kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal.
Failed fourth quarter, third-down attempt versus Atlanta
Trailing 24-23 with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bucs found themselves with a manageable 3rd-and-7 from Atlanta's 38-yard line. From a three-receiver set, Freeman took the shotgun snap.
The Falcons sent three blitzing defenders after Freeman, forcing him to rush his delivery, which resulted in an overthrow of receiver Tiquan Underwood.
Kicker Connor Barth trotted out to attempt a 56-yard field goal, but missed wide and short of the uprights. The Falcons would take over possession with three-plus minutes left and all but run out the clock on their way to a one-point victory.
Jason Avant's 22-yard, fourth-quarter reception for Philadelphia
The Bucs had the Eagles down to a 4th-and-5 attempt with just 16 seconds left in the game and no timeouts available.
Cornerback E.J. Biggers was lined up across from slot receiver Jason Avant. At the snap, Avant, running a post route, runs past Biggers and finds himself several yards behind the corner and in front of the approaching safety Mark Barron.
Rookie quarterback Nick Foles delivered a perfectly-placed pass, finding Avant in stride before the receiver is tackled by Barron at the 2-yard line. Two plays later Foles connected with receiver Jeremy Maclin as time expired to give the visiting Eagles a 23-21 come-from-behind win.