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Joe Henderson

Bucs still lack 'signature win' after loss to Ravens

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Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 02:56 AM
BALTIMORE -

If you define a "signature" moment as something that creates a lasting impression, this game was filled with them for the Buccaneers.

You could start with the head coach displaying the kind of closing speed he expects of his defensive players when he took off after the officials at the end of the first half. If you didn't see it live, you'll surely see images on TV of Raheem Morris screaming at the officiating crew over a pass interference call that badly hurt his team.

You could include cornerback Aqib Talib, who surely has the attention of the National Football League's discipline cops after a profanity-laced shouting match with those same zebras in the stadium tunnel after the game. It's about time. We haven't had an Aqib controversy for, heck, weeks.

For the benefit of our more squeamish readers, Talib suggested that perhaps the officials had made an error in judgment on the play in question. One of the gentlemen in stripes responded that perhaps Aqib could have played the game with more vigor.

The league will handle it from here.

Ah, but to lay this on Talib and say he didn't play well would take the sacrificial sword from quarterback Josh Freeman. Josh wants that sword. He seemed about ready to fall on it as often as possible after the Bucs' 17-10 loss to Baltimore, saying, "I played extremely poorly."

He then repeated that in various ways about a dozen times.

Well, by his standards, he had one of his worst games as a pro.

But all that, while interesting, shouldn't blur the essential fact about the Bucs. Sunday's loss adds fuel to the argument that the Bucs don't have the kind of "signature" victory that separates the big boys from the playoff wannabes.

At 7-4, they still haven't beaten a team with a winning record and 9-2 Atlanta is coming to town next Sunday. As is his way, Morris rejected the notion that beating an AFC power like the Ravens would have put some positive spin on the legitimacy of the Bucs as a postseason contender.

"We don't consider litmus tests," he said. "We don't hold anyone in the National Football League in higher regard. Fortunately enough, we don't play in the BCS. We don't play lower opponents. This is the National Football League, where everybody comes out to play every single week."

At some point, though, that particular single week needs to arrive and as Sunday wound on, this game had a "not going to happen today" feel to it.

Example: Trailing 3-0, the Bucs had first-and-goal at the 4 midway through the second quarter but got only a field goal. Freeman missed two passes and LeGarrette Blount was stuffed for no gain. That's what is known as a missed opportunity, and it blew up four plays later when a breakdown in the secondary left Ravens tight end Todd Heap completely open for a 65-yard touchdown.

The real breaking point came at the end of the half, though. On third-and-3 at the Bucs' 34, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco missed a connection with T.J. Houshmandzadeh. That was a victory for the Bucs - or it was until a flag came fluttering toward rookie defensive back Myron Lewis.

Pass interference.

Zebra said Lewis used his arm to shield the receiver.

"I didn't know how they'd call PI with a man jumping over my back," Lewis said. "I did everything a DB is supposed to do and the ref threw a flag on me. Everything was against my will. I had inside position and he tried to jump over my back - from out of bounds, too. But he made the call and it's something we have to live with."

One play later, they died with it. Baltimore had a touchdown, the Bucs were in a 17-3 hole, and Morris was doing his Usain Bolt impression, rushing toward the refs for what he called "a healthy conversation."

"I'd call it asking for an explanation," he said. "I disagreed with it at the time, but it is what it is. My opinion doesn't matter in that case. The call was made, you've got to move on and get ready to play."

That's as fine a stopping-off point as you could ask because the Bucs, indeed, have to move on. Beating Atlanta would throw the NFC playoff race into turmoil. Losing would mean the Bucs have to win three of their last four to get to 10 wins, and even that might not be enough.

Losing by a touchdown to a team like Baltimore is no disgrace. It's still a loss they can't afford. The Bucs bristle at that whole "signature win" notion and I guess I can't blame them, but it's getting hard to ignore that the teams they have beaten are a combined 18-46.

Coming close? Not good enough for a team with larger aspirations than earning the almighty respect. That stuff came weeks ago. The Bucs aren't a cute little surprise anymore.

"There are no positives," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "I said this all year long when we were winning with last-minute comebacks, the ultimate outcome of the game is the only thing that matters. There are no positives. You find a way to win or you don't."

They didn't.

For this game, there's your signature - with a flourish.

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