Despite operating against the NFL's most charitable rushing defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't get running back Doug Martin going against the New Orleans Saints.
Tampa Bay kept getting behind in down and distance, and soon the Bucs were way behind on the scoreboard in a 41-0 loss that left them with no chance to finish with a winning record.
"When it's Sunday, you've got to perform,'' said left tackle Donald Penn. "We didn't and we got our butts kicked. I can't sugarcoat it, I can't say it any other way. That's not Buccaneer football and it's not something we want to put on film. We're not proud of that. I made a couple of mistakes on some runs early and we've got two more games to get this thing fixed. It's gut-check time for this football team.''
Martin, who had been averaging 95 rushing yards per game, gained only 16 yards in nine carries against a defense that had been yielding 5.1 yards per rush attempt.
"The Saints played hard and they played well today,'' said Martin, who was often hit a split-second after getting the handoff from Josh Freeman. "It got away from us. I thought it would be a back-and-forth battle, but it ended up being an uphill battle. They really made us one-dimensional … and that's not Buc football.''
With Martin repeatedly swarmed at the line of scrimmage, the Bucs failed to control the clock or the tempo, unraveling their plans to keep Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees stewing on the New Orleans sidelines.
In the first half, Freeman faced seven third-down snaps, converting twice.
On only two of those seven critical plays did the Bucs need less than 7 yards for a first down. On three of those occasions, they needed at least 10 yards.
"We've got to do a better job of staying on the field and getting more manageable third-down situations,'' said left guard Jeremy Zuttah. "We've got to make things easier for ourselves by doing a better job on those early downs.''
Since Martin burst on the national scene in midseason, opposing defenses have been committing more defenders in the box in an effort to contain the first-round draft pick out of Boise State.
During Tampa Bay's 4-game tailspin, Martin is averaging only 3.3 yards on 76 carries, with a long run of 14 yards.
"Our guys played well and they played smart,'' said Saints coach Joe Vitt. "We had to protect the football and win the turnover battle. We wanted to win the rushing battle, the third-down battle and the pressure battle -- and we were able to do that today against a good football team, a team we have a lot of respect for.''
One of Tampa Bay's prime objectives in the final two weeks will be to finish off Martin's rookie season in style.
He is averaging 127 rushing yards in Tampa Bay's six wins and 61 yards in the eight losses.
"We had to pass instead of focus on the run, and that led us to keep getting behind and not do what we normally do on offense,'' Martin said. "That's not how we played this year and it was really tough out there for us today.''