Buccaneers squander golden opportunity because they can't seal deal vs. Saints

NEW ORLEANS -- The table was all set for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to turn around their season.

Then it all fell apart.

Despite holding an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Bucs lost 37-31 to the New Orleans Saints in overtime Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"We had every opportunity to win this football game," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. "We had the Saints right where we wanted them. We didn't finish. We allowed things to slip out of our hands. We've got to learn how to finish football games. That's tough to come in here and have the opportunity we had and let it slip away."

It's tough because, with a win, the Bucs would have been nicely positioned. They would have been right in the NFC South race and they would have been coming home with a two-game winning streak and growing confidence for next week's game with Baltimore.

Instead, they're 1-4, in sole possession of last place in the NFC South and coming home angry. There was more anger in Sunday's locker room than there was after a 56-14 loss to Atlanta in Week 3.

"Somebody's got to make a play," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "You've just got to make a play. We let that one go. We let that one go."

The Bucs let this one get away in regulation and in overtime. They took a 31-20 lead when rookie receiver Robert Herron caught a touchdown pass from Mike Glennon with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Plenty of teams have blown leads to Drew Brees and the Saints in their home through the years. But shouldn't you expect to hold on when you have an 11-point lead and your offense and defense have been playing well?

"Yes, we do," coach Lovie Smith said. "There's no other way around it. You're up by 11. With our defense, simple as that, you don't let them score and you win the football game."

That's not what the Bucs did. Two series -- one by the offense and one by the defense -- quickly turned the course of the game. On a New Orleans drive that featured three Bucs penalties, Pierre Thomas scored on a 27-yard run to cut the lead to 31-26.

The Bucs followed that with one of the worst offensive series in franchise history, which is saying a lot. The Bucs started with a first-and-10 at their own 20. They quickly got backed up by three penalties and a fumbled snap by Glennon. Stuck at the 1-yard line, Glennon was sacked for a safety by Junior Gallette to cut the lead to 31-28.

The Saints followed that up with a field goal to send the game to overtime. But that's where things got even worse for the Bucs. On a third down, the Tampa Bay defense appeared to force a New Orleans punt. But cornerback Johnthan Banks was called for illegal use of hands. That gave New Orleans new life and the Saints wound up winning on an 18-yard run by Khiry Robinson.

The Bucs, who finished with 15 penalties for 113 yards, have no one to blame but themselves. They had this game there for the taking and they didn't finish it off.

"It was a key game for us," Smith said. "We put a big emphasis on it. On the road and a division game, that itself says quite a bit. To be able to steal one would have put us in pretty good position. But we seem to do it the hard way. I'm still encouraged by a lot of the things I saw. Disappointed in the loss, but encouraged by some of our play. We're getting better as a football team and eventually our record will show it."

But, despite the golden opportunity, the Bucs aren't there yet.