FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — At least they didn’t wait until the end this time.
No, after coming from ahead to lose in the final seconds of their first two games this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasted no time in letting a potential victory slip through their hands against the Patriots on Sunday.
Oh, did they ever let it slip through their hands.
The Bucs gained 126 yards on their first two drives, but when Rian Lindell missed a 38-yard field goal try and rookie tight end Tim Wright let a pass slip through his hands in the back of the end zone, they wound up with only a 3-0 lead to show for their efforts. The failures set the tone for another confounding day for the struggling and staggering Bucs’ offense in a 23-3 loss at Gillette Stadium.
“We certainly had our opportunities,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “I think we had something like 14 plays in their territory at the beginning of the game and came away with three points. We have to get to the bottom of the cause and why it’s not working, but there’s no magic pill.
“We did some things at times offensively today, but we weren’t able to finish. You’re not going to win in this league that way.’’
The Bucs are proof of that. The offense has produced three points in the past seven quarters and 27 points overall. Tampa Bay is 0-3 as a result.
A strong defensive effort allowed the Bucs to take early control of this game. With Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still struggling to develop a good working chemistry with his young receiving corps, the Bucs limited the Patriots to 31 yards during a first-quarter shutout.
New England found its groove in the second quarter, though, rallying for two straight touchdowns and a last-second field goal to take a 17-3 halftime lead.
New England converted a fourth-and-2 play to set up the first touchdown. The field goal, meanwhile, was largely the result of a botched two-minute drill in which Josh Freeman was intercepted by former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib at the Tampa Bay 43-yard line with 11 seconds to play.
“We feel good about our two-minute drill, and we get it going there, we get a little bit of a gain and (the pick comes on a play) we run all the time,’’ Schiano said. “We just didn’t do it well.’’
That wasn’t the only thing Tampa Bay didn’t do well. The Bucs admit they’ve had a problem with dropping catchable Freeman passes, and it continued to be an issue beyond Wright’s early miss inside the end zone. Vincent Jackson, who dropped two balls against the Saints last week and left this game early with sore ribs, dropped a ball near the end zone on a second-and-15 play from the Patriots 33 on the Bucs’ first drive.
That helped force the 38-yard field goal try that Lindell pushed to the right. Three possessions later, Jackson also failed to haul in another catchable ball on a third-and-1 play from the Patriots 38-yard line. After the second drop, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-1, but running back Doug Martin was stopped for no gain.
Despite the offense’s lack of production, Freeman will continue to be the quarterback. Schiano said he never had any thought of pulling Freeman during yet another uneven game, saying he believes Freeman still gives the Bucs the best chance to win.
Wins, though, are becoming increasingly rare under the second-year coach. Since the team’s 6-4 start a year ago, the Bucs have lost eight of their past nine games.
Their 0-3 start this year, meanwhile, is the worst since the Bucs went 0-7 to start the 2009 season under then-rookie coach Raheem Morris.
That was also Freeman’s rookie season, but nothing about this team and this season reminds Freeman of that team and that season.
“No, it’s completely different,’’ Freeman said. “Different faces, different coach. But this is the NFL and nobody worries about the nuances on Sunday. All that matters is wins and losses and we have to find a way to start winning.’’