The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the red zone only twice on Sunday afternoon.
When it mattered, they failed.
For a moment, wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe had his hands on Josh Freeman's fourth-and-2 fade pass to the end zone. Just for a moment. Then, Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson stripped it away with 1:39 remaining in the first half.
One play didn't determine the Texans' 37-9 victory against the Bucs, but the inability to score from inside the opponent's 20-yard line again was a haunting reminder of a season quickly going bad.
"The red zone is our weakness right now,'' Bucs guard Davin Joseph said. "No question about that.''
There's certainly no question on the stat sheet.
The Bucs entered Sunday's game as the NFL's worst red-zone team, converting 22 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line into just eight touchdowns, a 36.4 percent success rate.
"It's starting to become a repeated saying – we shot ourselves in the foot,'' Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "We were looking for something to work and nothing did.''
The Texans led 16-0 when the Bucs gained possession at their 37-yard line with 5:37 remaining in the half. Freeman moved the Bucs crisply, even overcoming a 10-yard holding penalty on Joseph, by completing three straight passes for 50 yards and scrambling for 12.
Once the Bucs reached Houston's 13, though, the offense bogged down.
Freeman threw incomplete on short pass attempt to running back LeGarrette Blount on first down and Briscoe on second down. An eight-yard completion to Preston Parker set up the pivotal fourth-down play.
"It's a big deal to get points on the board before halftime,'' Parker said. "We're making plays, but we're not making them down deep,'' Parker said.
"It could've been a momentum-shifter,'' Briscoe said. "Maybe we go into halftime trailing 16-7 and we get the ball to start the second half. It could've been a different game."
Briscoe said he "should have made the play'' on Freeman's fourth-down pass from the 5.
Familiar words for the Bucs.
"I don't care if we're running it in the red zone or passing it, we've got to get better,'' Joseph said. "It's ridiculous. None of this falls on one guy, but we need better protection, better execution, something.
"Our job on offense is to score points, especially when we get down close. If we want to win, we have to score. We have to help our defense and we're not doing that right now.''
Freeman, who was 15 of 35 for 170 yards with three interceptions – including two that deflected off his receivers' hands – said the play to Briscoe could've changed momentum. But in the overall picture, he acknowledged a disturbing trend.
"We have not played nearly up to our potential,'' Freeman said. "As a young team, you have to understand that this is the NFL," Freeman said. "You see some success and you can't rest on that.
"There are moments in the game that can alter the outcome. You can't let that moment catch you off-guard.''
For the Bucs, that moment was Freeman's fourth-down floater to Briscoe late in the first down, a play that might have shifted some momentum.