Struggling Buccaneers still searching for answers
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-7 at the season's mid-point and concede they're running out of opportunities to turn themselves around.
The team found yet another way to lose a close game in their latest outing, squandering a fourth-quarter lead for the third time in five weeks before falling to the improved Cleveland Browns.
The Bucs undermined themselves with two turnovers, several costly penalties and a pair of blunders on special teams, including a blocked field goal that cost them points early and a deflected punt that led to Cleveland's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 22-17 setback.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy questioned whether teammates are upset enough about losing, and cornerback Alterraun Verner noted the club is beginning to run out of games to get themselves straightened out.
Nevertheless, Coach Lovie Smith remains hopeful, reiterating Monday that there's still time to salvage season, particularly in the NFC South, which doesn't feature a team that currently has a winning record.
''We're at the halfway point, and we're still within range if we can get it fixed,'' Smith said.
McCoy, who last month signed a six-year contract extension that could be worth up to $98 million, called Tampa Bay's struggling defense ''soft'' two weeks ago. After Sunday's game at Cleveland, he questioned whether losing bothers the Bucs enough to pull out of their funk.
Tampa Bay hasn't made the playoffs since 2007 and hasn't won a postseason game since the franchise's Super Bowl run 12 years ago.
''Everybody's frustrated, but I don't think anybody's upset enough with losing,'' the fifth-year pro said after the team's fourth straight loss.
''It's like: `OK, we had a lot of good plays and they came back and won, now onto the next one,''' McCoy added. ''No, we've got to stop that. I've been dealing with this for five years now, and I'm tired of it.''
Smith stopped short of saying he agreed with McCoy. At the same time, he was supportive of the team captain, who had two sacks against the Browns.
''I don't tell guys what to say, but I want our captains speaking for our football team. That's why they're in those positions,'' Smith said.
''No one likes losing. Once we get to a point where we really hate losing, we're going to do something about it,'' the coach added. ''We have to go on what we've done right now, and it's not good enough. I think that's probably what Gerald is saying.''
McCown has not played since hurting the thumb on his throwing hand during a 56-14 loss to the Falcons on Sept. 18. He practiced and was active the past two weeks, but did not get off the bench.
''It's always week to week with what we do,'' Smith said.
''I look, we look, at who we think gives us the best opportunity to win this week,'' the coach added. ''Mike would be the first guy to tell you he's played a lot better than he played last week. Josh is healthy and ready to go, right now. ... We'll see who's available in a couple of days and go from there.''
Five of the team's seven defeats have been by six of fewer points, including overtime losses to New Orleans and Minnesota. They led in the fourth quarter of both those games, as they did Sunday.
Verner said the team can't take solace in playing opponents close.
''There's no bright side on losing games. When you lose, especially a game that you know you could have won two weeks in a row, it's frustrating,'' Verner said.
''Yeah, you can say maybe we're making improvements, we're making strides. But at the end of the day, it's all about the W,'' the cornerback added. ''It can be an ugly win, but that's more important than having a pretty loss.''
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