Lovie Smith met with the press on Monday afternoon, approximately 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Washington Redskins, 31-30, at FedExField. In the interim, Smith and his team had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how a 24-point first-half lead was lost and what the lasting implications might be.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Lovie Smith and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Bucs' trip to the capital.
1. Louis Murphy's season is over and the Buccaneers will need some help at the wide receiver position.
Wide receiver Louis Murphy had the biggest play on Tampa Bay's field goal drive on their second possession of the game, catching a pass over the middle and turning it into a 29-yard gain to the Washington 37. Unfortunately, that was the last contribution Murphy would make to the game because the play ended in an unpleasant way.
Murphy left the game with an obvious knee injury and did not return. Later in the game, Vincent Jackson left with his own knee injury. On Monday, Smith confirmed that the former's injury was season-ending.
"A lot of things came from that game, injuries number one," said Smith. "Louis Murphy sustained an ACL injury that will force him to miss the rest of the season. We also had Vincent Jackson that didn't finish the game with a knee injury. We'll continue to evaluate him. Hopefully we'll get back a few more viable players that we haven't had for a while."
That's a significant blow to the Buccaneers because Murphy had been excelling in his role as the team's third receiver. Though his highest reception total in any given game was three, he had often come up with a big play when the team needed it, as he did Sunday after a penalty on the offense had threatened to short-circuit that second drive. In all, Murphy had 10 catches for 198 yards on the season, averaging just under 20 yards a catch.
Jackson did not return to the game after his injury, leaving the Buccaneers with only Mike Evans and rookie Donteea Dye to take receiver reps. That subtracted some of the Bucs' options on offense, which could also be an issue going forward if Jackson's injury proves significant.
"It hurts, but you have to be able to adjust," said Smith. "There was a time when we dressed five receivers, but with Russell Shepard down, we've been going with four lately. And that affected our game plan a lot. It's about the next guy up, though. Donteea Dye has really stepped up and given us some good reps. With Louis down, of course, I'd say we're going to move another guy up. Adam Humphries has been in that role before, but we'll just kind of look at our options out there and then go from there. Hopefully, too, before long, we'll get another option in our passing game in [tight end] Austin Seferian-Jenkins back. That can also counter the third receiver and what he's been doing, too."
Dye is an undrafted rookie out of Heidelberg who was just promoted to the active roster from the practice squad in Week Five. The Bucs have three other receivers on the current iteration of their practice squad, including fellow undrafted rookies Adam Humphries and Rannell Hall. Both Humphries and Hall have had brief stints on the active roster already, though Hall's ended before the first regular-season game arrived. Given Murphy's injury, Jackson's uncertain status and the fact that wide receiver Russell Shepard has missed three games with a hamstring injury, the Buccaneers are almost certain to add to that position and could do so from within.
2. As much as surrendering a 24-point edge on Sunday hurt, it was the inability to protect the final six-point lead that illuminated the Buccaneers' most pressing problem.
Lovie Smith referred to Sunday's outing as a "tale of two halves." The first-half Buccaneers scored the first 24 points of the game, built a 24-7 lead, gave up just 123 yards of offense and didn't allow a single third-down conversion. The second-half Buccaneers were outscored 24-6, gave up 232 yards of offense and allowed a very damaging five conversion in six third-down tries.
Contending that it takes a team of some talent to build a 24-point lead, Smith said that the Bucs are that powerful team that was on display in the first half. However, fully acknowledging the loss and its stunning nature, he said the Bucs were that second-half team as well. And what that second-half team needs in order to turn the good works of the first half into actual victories is focus and composure in the critical moments.
"I'm going to go all the way down to a six-point lead at the end of the game," said Smith. "[We needed] one stop. So, what it takes, that's what we're missing right now. That's what we're trying to find. Composure or just somebody stepping up and making a play in the situation. As you look throughout [yesterday's game], they made some tough catches on that last drive. And they were almost perfect with what they did. Eventually we are going to get to a place where, yes, where we want that situation, our defensive line wants that. That's the time when you get sacks, strip-fumbles, all of that, and a chance to get some picks. We're not there yet."
Greater composure might have shown up in fewer penalties; the Buccaneers were flagged 16 times for 142 yards, somewhat negating an incredible 479 yards of offense. Some penalties are simply unavoidable – Smith described Gerald McCoy's roughing-the-passer infraction as the result of McCoy stumbling and being shoved into Kirk Cousins – but some are avoidable. Veteran center Joe Hawley agrees with Smith and knows the Bucs have to make big plays instead of mistakes at the critical moments.
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"I thought we were playing hard throughout the game; obviously we just didn't finish," said Hawley. "We had some drives where we had it going but we hurt ourselves with penalties. In the third quarter we had nine penalties or something like that. We've just got to execute and play smarter. Even when we're up that much we've still got to focus. We have a young team, and sometimes you lose focus on the little things. We've just got to focus and execute throughout the game."
The loss dropped the Bucs to 2-4, whereas the win that seemed almost certain in the second quarter would have had them back at .500 with a chance to pull the 5-1 Atlanta Falcons a game closer next Sunday in the Georgia Dome. The Buccaneers playoff hopes have not been extinguished, but they have to prove they are a team that can make those important late-game plays, rather than a repeat of the 2014 squad that lost a series of nail-biters.
"It's such a fine line in the NFL," said Hawley. "A couple years in Atlanta we went 13-3 and we won seven or eight games by less than a touchdown and it came down to the final minutes. And I've been a part of teams that lost seven or eight games by a touchdown. It's such a fine line between the great teams and the okay teams. It's one or two plays a game and that's how small the gray area is. Being able to focus and execute and be locked in every single play, knowing that this play could be the one that makes the difference in the game, is very important. The teams that learn that and focus every play are the teams that [succeed]. The difference between the best team in the NFL and the worst team in the NFL is only a couple plays a season, so that's what matters."
3. As improbable as it may seem, the Buccaneers will be over the Washington game on Wednesday…because they have to be.
The Bucs lost a game in which they led by 24 or more points for just the third time on Sunday, and as both Smith and linebacker Lavonte David said, that leaves a scar. Smith says his team will heal and the scar will fade as it finds more success, but it was certainly still fresh on Monday.
"Today it's miserable around here," said Smith. "We're in a dark place today. But we won't be for long.
"Most of the guys probably haven't had anything that hurts that way, that bad. But guys like me have. I know what it feels like to really be devastated after a loss. But what you do as a coaching staff is you move on. There's a mourning period, though, and today is our mourning period."
When postgame footage captured players interacting with Redskins at midfield – a ritual after every NFL game – and perhaps even congratulating their opponent and cracking a smile or two, some took that as an indication that the Buccaneers were not taking the loss as hard as they should. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, for instance, spoke to Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins at midfield. In reality, Buccaneer players were as distressed about the game's outcome as one would imagine they would be.
"As you look at the NFL, they all know someone [on the opposing team]," said Smith. "So I don't think that if a guy greets someone from the other side, that that guy doesn't really feel bad [about a loss]. Perry Fewell was on my staff for a few years, Joe Barry, when Joe first started out, we're pretty close still. You could have taken a picture of me hugging them after the game. That's what you do. But, believe me, I felt bad, all right? If you caught that [moment] right then, it could say a different story than how it really was. I don't think you should judge anybody based on that. I know how Gerald felt after that game. He felt like the rest of us did: really bad."
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The Bucs still felt bad on Monday as they went through their review of the game. The players will have Tuesday off to recover physically, and by Wednesday they will have turned their focus to the upcoming opponents. It's really their only option, particularly if they want to make sure that don't make the same mistakes again in Week Eight.
"Take the rest of the day to get over this one," said Hawley. "In the NFL, each week comes and goes. We'll move on to the next week on Wednesday and start preparing for Atlanta."
Added Smith: "We're 1-1 in our division, that's where we are, with a chance to get a division road win. If we get that, take care of business, we take care of visiting and get that done there, we'll feel a lot better. So we don't have time to really mope around too much longer."