TAMPA — Blame it on the defense.
That’s a popular refrain in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers have surrendered late fourth-quarter leads in half of their games en route to an 0-8 getaway.
The trend began in Week 1 against the Jets, then New Orleans staged a late comeback in Tampa Bay’s home opener. The Cardinals rallied from a 10-0 deficit after three quarters in Week 4 and the Seahawks erased an early 21-0 deficit last week, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter before winning 27-24 in overtime.
In all four setbacks, Tampa Bay’s offense stood by helplessly as opposing quarterbacks made key plays in crunch time.
But as each crushing loss ended, those same offensive players knew they could have done more to avert the latest disappointment.
“It’s a team sport and we share the responsibility for every outcome,’’ Bucs guard Davin Joseph said Thursday. “We’ve got to sustain drives in the second half because when you give a good team like Seattle too many chances to win, especially in their house, it’s hard.’’
Although the Bucs converted a season-best 53 percent of their third-down opportunities at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, their success rate varied wildly between halves.
In grabbing a 21-7 lead, Tampa Bay was 7-of-8 on third down in the first two quarters. The only time the Bucs failed to convert in the opening half was on a third-and-18, following a sack of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
But after Glennon found running back Brian Leonard for 13 yards on third-and-4, setting up a Rian Lindell field goal on the opening possession after intermission, the Bucs failed to convert any of their six third-down situations the rest of the way.
“In the first half, we had things going,’’ said rookie tight end Tim Wright. “We felt really good on the sideline and everybody was excited. We were playing together. Some plays that we didn’t have going for us earlier in the year, they were going for us.’’
Tampa Bay’s second-half offensive woes at Seattle continued a season-long pattern.
Heading into Monday night’s home matchup against the Dolphins, the Bucs have scored 88 points before intermission and 36 points in the final two quarters and overtime.
A key culprit in the second-half struggles is the inability to sustain drives.
On the season, Tampa Bay’s success rate on third down plunges from 46.7 percent (28-of-60) in the opening half to a mere 29 percent (18-of-62) after intermission.
That discrepancy has been a major factor in Tampa Bay’s late fades, placing too much of a burden on a defense struggling to make key stops with the game on the line.
In the second half at Seattle, Glennon was sacked twice on third down and Tampa Bay punted on its final five possessions after going up 24-7 on Lindell’s 33-yard field goal.
“We had guys open and unfortunately, on two occasions, we weren’t able to hold up from a protection standpoint,’’ said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. “While on the surface, 53 percent is a good number, most of that was in the first half. At the critical junctures, that’s when we needed to get the job done and unfortunately we didn’t.’’
Halfway through their worst start since 1985, the Bucs have struggled to counter adjustments made by opposing defenses.
In their four narrow losses, the Bucs failed to score an offensive touchdown in the final half and overtime -- a span of nearly 127 minutes.
“We’ve got to keep our offense on the field and convert third downs down the stretch,’’ Joseph said. “Then, it’s a little different story. Then, you’re making it harder on the other team to come back. We weren’t able to do that on Sunday in the second half ... we were too flat.’’
Glennon’s poise has been impressive in his first five pro starts, but the third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State is struggling in the clutch. His average yards per pass attempt (4.14) in the fourth quarter ranks last among the 42 quarterbacks listed by the NFL.
Yes, even below Josh Freeman (5.04).
“The first half, I don’t think we had many third-and-longs at all,’’ said Glennon. “Just execute each down and stay on schedule.’’