ATLANTA — The longest drive of the season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended with three points and a powerful sense of regret.
Trailing Atlanta 31-17 early in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay converted a third down and a pair of fourth-down situations to reach the Atlanta 5-yard line with seven minutes remaining.
Then a holding call against left tackle Donald Penn and a face-mask penalty against wide receiver Vincent Jackson pushed the Bucs back to the 30.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 13, rookie Mike Glennon sidestepped a furious rush and found Tiquan Underwood for an apparent touchdown, only to have the score nullified by an illegal use of the hands call against guard Davin Joseph.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano settled for Rian Lindell’s 41-yard field goal, leaving Tampa Bay 11 points down and understandably dejected after an 18-play march that consumed more than nine minutes.
“That should have been a seven-point game at that stage, not 11 points,’’ right tackle Demar Dotson said. “I guess that’s been our story all year — finding new ways to lose. That drive hurt us a lot, coming away with only three points.
“It’s getting old ... same old story of shooting ourselves in the foot.’’
The Bucs actually generated four flags within a two-minute span on that fateful drive, but Glennon’s illegal forward pass was declined as the Falcons chose to accept Jackson’s face-mask call.
Eight of Tampa Bay’s 11 accepted penalties came on offense, including a pair of 10-yard flags against Joseph.
“When we get into the red zone, we have to score touchdowns, period,’’ Joseph said. “If we plan on being a good team, we have to be efficient in the red zone.’’
Glennon’s 6-yard pass to Underwood on fourth-and-2 sustained the drive and running back Brian Leonard rumbled 3 yards behind Joseph on another fourth-and-2 before Tampa Bay’s comedy of errors.
“We were knocking on the door and their guys were tired with five yards to go to get back in the game,’’ Glennon said. “Unfortunately, penalties happen and that’s not what you want. That’s definitely not a situation that you want to be in.’’
For Jeremy Zuttah, who shifted from center to left guard on Sunday, Tampa Bay’s problems are self-inflicted.
“We’re doing it to ourselves,’’ Zuttah said. “Same story every week.’’
The weary Falcons were jubilant to see Lindell come on the field at the end of a marathon march.
“I could have sworn it was more plays than that (18), but it was good for our defense,’’ said safety William Moore, who set up Atlanta’s first touchdown as a blitzer by forcing a Glennon fumble. “We went out there and held our own and then we held them to three points.’’