Lovie Smith: Young Bucs didn't handle prime-time exposure well

TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed to be at their best, they could not deliver. Lack of maturity was a factor as penalties, turnovers and lack of focus cost Tampa Bay the last two games.

Head coach Lovie Smith said disappointment is part of the process for a young team.

"As you're a young football team, you have to go through it," Smith said Friday, in the wake of a prime-time loss in St. Louis. "You have to get on center stage, see how you react. Then we have to get a reaction from us on how we need to handle the situation next time around. We didn't handle center stage as well as we will in the future. That's all of us. Everybody had a part in that.

"We act like, in some parts, a young football team that makes young-football-team mistakes," Smith said. "You have to go through it. You have to get your hand burned, so to say. What I've seen from our young football team is that we do learn from these situations. We haven't handled some situations well, but I've seen improvement from that. Of course, this will be a learning experience for us."

In a span of five days, the Bucs went from the fringe of the NFC playoff picture to possibly being out on Sunday.

Tampa Bay (6-8) committed 21 penalties over the past two games and was outscored 21-3 in the first quarter.

"Everybody wanted to play well," Smith said. "Not just that -- we say we're getting better and most of the country hadn't had the opportunity to see us play. We're a better football team, but we didn't play that way completely last night."

Although the Bucs finished with 30 first downs and 509 yards in their 31-23 loss to the Rams, most of those yards came in the second half. At the end of the third quarter, the Bucs were down 28-6.

The Bucs are the most penalized team in the NFL and continued the trend Thursday. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus had two illegal-formation penalties for not lining up on the line of scrimmage; defensive tackle William Gholston was called for unnecessary roughness for kicking a St. Louis player; and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins got a penalty for delay of game for tossing a ball out of the end zone. The play moved the ball from inside the 1 to the 6 and Tampa Bay ended up kicking a field goal.

"When we correct those things we'll become a championship team," Smith said. "Until then, we're going to continue to talk about them. We'll continue to try to eliminate them, but before we can really get to where we want to go, we're going to have to take care of these things.

"We've gone (over) that a few times, but we haven't gone over it enough," he said. "When you're with a young football team, you have to keep pounding it. But eventually we'll get it."