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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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As misery mounts for Bucs, defeats are in the details

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie tight end Tim Wright saw the ball all the way, tracking it from the high point of quarterback Josh Freeman's long throw toward the back of the end zone right to his outstretched hands.

“I just left my hands spread out a little too wide to make the catch,'' Wright said of the first-quarter pass and scoring opportunity that slipped through his gloved mitts and all but defined the Bucs' 23-3 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

“It's tough, because it really just comes down to executing the fundamentals. If we can do that we're going to be fine.''

Bucs coach Greg Schiano and his players might not see eye to eye on everything, but on that point they definitely agree. In the wake of his team's third loss in as many outings, Schiano said Monday the defeats are in the details.

“There are schematic issues that we have to be more precise with,'' said Schiano, who would not go into detail regarding what those issues are. “But if we all do our jobs we'll score a lot of points.''

History suggests Schiano could be right. Running the same system a year ago with largely the same group of players, the Bucs scored a team-record 389 points in 2012.

So far this year, though, points have been at a premium. The Bucs offense has scored a league-low 27 points overall, including just three in their past seven quarters of play.

Plays such as the one Wright failed to make at the end of the Bucs' second drive against the Patriots on Sunday are a big reason for that, but not the only one. The Bucs had a 73-yard touchdown pass wiped out by an illegal formation penalty two weeks ago against New Orleans and kicker Rian Lindell has missed two of his past three field-goal tries, including one Sunday at New England.

“Yeah, I agree with that 100 percent,'' left guard Carl Nicks said of Schiano's belief that details are hurting the Bucs offense. “It's the little things that we're not doing. And I don't want to get into specifics about all of it, but we really need to fine-tune our craft and make sure that everybody is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, me included.''

In at least one key area, the Bucs are actually doing a pretty good job of that. Running back Doug Martin ranks second in the league in rushing with 297 yards and Schiano said the running game has been solid so far.

The team's basic offensive play operation improved against the Patriots, he said. Also, he was pleased that after committing 10 pre-snap penalties the first two games the Bucs lowered that number to one on Sunday.

The passing game, though, is another story. Though Bucs pass catchers haven't always helped Freeman — they dropped what the Bucs deemed four catchable passes Sunday — he was inconsistent. Especially when it mattered most.

Against the Patriots, Freeman completed just 4 of 19 throws from inside the New England 40-yard line, and the reasons have confounded Schiano and his staff.

“We are working like crazy to figure that out,'' Schiano said.

Schiano feels good about Freeman's performance in the tight red zone, inside the opponent's 20-yard line, but is looking for improvement just outside the red zone.

“In that extended red (zone), we had plenty of opportunities and we made some mistakes,” Schiano said. “You have to give credit to New England. They defended well. But when you make a mistake and they defend, it's a double whammy.''

Despite Freeman's inconsistent play — he ranks last in the league with a 45.7 completion percentage and 59.3 passer rating — Schiano said again Monday he has no plans to change quarterbacks.

“He understands what we are trying to do with our offense,'' Schiano said. “And I think when he's in the pocket and he feels comfortable he's delivering the ball well. It's when things break down a little bit that it hasn't been as good as it's been before.

“And it will be (good) again. One of his strengths is extending plays, but again, when you have variables where we're not sharp enough on the details it's hard to be the trigger-man. You know, there are 10 other guys out there, and so everybody has some of the responsibility for us not scoring points, starting with me.

“But it wouldn't be right to (blame Freeman). There's a whole bunch of us that have got to get our stuff straight.”

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