Tampa Bay Recap Week 13

The Bucs missed out on a chance for a victory on Sunday against the Panthers and will now have to move on to face the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium next Sunday. Read on to find out more about how the Bucs graded out against the Panthers, the latest concerning Michael Clayton's injury and what Raheem Morris had to say about his rookie quarterback's performance.

Josh Freeman's inexperience as an NFL quarterback is not an excuse for losing, coach Raheem Morris said Monday.

"These guys want to win, in particular that No. 5 you just talked about," Morris said of Freeman. "He's not going to give you an excuse for why he lost the football game for his football team, and the guys around him are not going to give you an excuse. This defense, this offense, those guys on the special teams, they go out there to win every week. We haven't had the success you would like, but there's no passive, 'It's OK' type of mentality. Those guys are hurting in there. They want to win those games.

"Just like (Sunday). You say, 'You played better, do you feel like you should've won the game?' No. We didn't win the game. We had an opportunity to win it and we didn't take it. That's where we are."

Morris said Buccaneers players and coaches have not lost confidence in Freeman, who passed for a career-high 321 yards against the Panthers in watching his record as a starter fall to 1-4.

"He made three mistakes in the red zone," Morris said. "He's going to put more pressure on himself. He puts pressure on those guys to run the right routes, he puts pressure on those guys to be in the right spot. He provides the pressure, No. 5. That's part of being the quarterback. I think the days of calling him a young quarterback are over in that room for those guys. He went out there and didn't make the plays he's supposed to make in the red zone. And he has no qualms about coming to the podium and letting you guys know that."

The Bucs have lost 15 of their past 16 regular-season games and are 1-11 under Morris. But Morris said he's not worried about creating a culture of losing in the locker room.

"No, because of the guys that are here," Morris said. "You're talking about the young guys that are going to bring you through this thing. How well Quincy Black is playing these last two weeks and his production speaks volumes. You're talking about young guys who are going to get better and better together and grow together. If we were around here and we were a veteran team and we had this kind of culture and this kind of development of losing, it would be a problem. But right now, we're a bunch of babies that are going to grow up together and get better together.

"Every time we come off the field, and every handshake at the end of these games with opposing coaches, they're getting a little bit easier because I know they understand that, too."

The Bucs have had a good opportunity to win three of their last four games. They took Miami and Atlanta down to the wire and outplayed Carolina on both sides of the ball for much of Sunday. In fact, the Bucs were at or inside the Panthers' 30-yard line eight times Sunday but came away with just six points.

"There's progress in how we're playing," Morris said. "We just have to make better decisions at the end. We've got to make better plays at the end.

"We're still looking for that guy to stand up and be the closer for us. We've got one at quarterback. He just didn't have a good day (Sunday) in the red zone."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Running back Clifton Smith could finish the season on injured reserve after suffering his second concussion in less than two months -- both coming in games against Carolina.

Smith was injured on the opening kickoff in Sunday's game at Carolina. Smith suffered a concussion Oct. 18 against the Panthers when Dante Wesley launched himself into the Bucs' punt returner while he was attempting to make a fair catch. He missed a game the next week against New England in London.

No decision has been announced about Smith's future. But with only four games remaining and the NFL taking measures to reduce the risk of players who have had concussions, coach Raheem Morris said the Bucs are likely to take a more cautious approach with Smith.

"I'm sure there will be," Morris said. "That's a no-brainer. I'll be able to give you more updates on Clifton and what's going on with Clifton on Wednesday. I don't want to speak out of turn, I'm sure there will be (a cautious approach) with what's going on with concussions and what's going on in our society with concussions, period, as far as the NFL."

--The Bucs are happy with the work of wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who is a free agent at the end of the season. His performance will enable the team to keep Michael Clayton fresh when Clayton returns from a knee injury.

"You've got to give Stovall a lot of credit for what he has done," Morris said. "Stovall will continue to play, no matter if he's a starter or not. Those guys started splitting reps (recently) just because I think Michael Clayton is a better player when he plays less snaps because he plays so hard. He's kind of got that Mushin Muhammad kind of mentality that he's going to block you every snap and go so hard that sometimes you go to him in the clutch and he's tired or he doesn't have all his juice, and that's a problem. So I told him, 'You don't need to play more than 30 snaps or 40 snaps anyway.' And that's where he is, and that's where they are. We'll get better at that with Mo."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Clifton Smith suffered his second concussion in less than two months Sunday and could be placed on injured reserve.

--CB Aqib Talib missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury but is expected to return this week against the Jets.

--DT Roy Miller did not play Sunday due to an ankle injury but could return against the Jets.

--CB Elbert Mack aggravated an ankle injury Sunday at Carolina but returned to finish the game.

--WR Michael Clayton, who has a sprained knee, is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Jets.

REPORT CARD VS PANTHERS

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- It's a mixed bag here. Josh Freeman passed for a career-best 321 yards, including three circus catches by Antonio Bryant. But he threw five interceptions in the game, three of them inside the Carolina 8-yard line.

RUSH OFFENSE: B -- The Bucs had one of their better days running the football. Cadillac Williams rushed for 92 yards on 17 carries, and Derrick Ward averaged 6.4 yards per carry. QB Josh Freeman's ability to throw the ball downfield prompted the Panthers to employ fewer eight-man fronts.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Buccaneers did not allow new QB Matt Moore to get into any kind of rhythm. He hit a deep pass to Steve Smith. Other than that, he didn't hurt the Bucs, passing for 161 yards and getting intercepted by Geno Hayes.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Bucs got off to a horrible start, allowing breakout runs to Jonathan Stewart. But they settled down in the second quarter and finished the game strong against the run. Tampa Bay allowed 157 yards on the ground.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The kick returns and coverage were very good. But PK Conner Barth missed two field goals, and his kickoffs were very short. Not their best day to be sure.

COACHING: D -- Raheem Morris is doing a good job calling the defense, and his team is in games late, but the Buccaneers don't know how to close the deal.


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