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To finish strong in 2015, Buccaneers need to avoid slow starts

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have trailed by double digits in the first half of the last two games. Although the team got going late, it could not overcome the poor starts in those losses, which eventually cost the Bucs an opportunity at a playoff berth.

Playing in their last home game of the 2015 season Sunday against the Chicago Bears, the Buccaneers (6-8) need to come out and not just move the ball, but be able to put some points on the board quickly.

"We've got to finish drives," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Thursday. "We've been playing from behind and from an offensive standpoint, we have to take that on ourselves: 'Hey, get off to a fast start. Let's get the lead and play with the lead. Come out of the gates and get points on the board sooner.' That's one thing we definitely need to get better at."

Two weeks ago, the Bucs fell behind the New Orleans Saints 14-0 early in the second quarter and eventually lost 24-17. Against the St. Louis Rams five days later, Tampa Bay fell behind 14-3 in the first quarter and 21-3 at half. The Rams won, 31-23.

"It's been a big mountain to climb for us," head coach Lovie Smith said of falling behind. "It's about that start. There's no reason why we shouldn't start well. Our guys are excited. Getting to the last home game, you want to play your best ball. We practiced that way so there's no reason why we shouldn't."

But what has caused the slow starts? Against New Orleans, penalties and lack of execution on third downs led to trouble early. Tampa Bay had just one first down (by penalty) and was 0-for-3 on third downs in the first quarter and 1-for-4 in the half. Tampa Bay ran a season-low 52 offensive plays and had the ball for a season-low 22 minutes, 46 seconds.

Against the Rams, the Bucs' inability to convert third downs was again the issue. Tampa Bay went 0-for-3 on third downs in the first quarter and 2-for-7 in the first half.

"We just have to execute," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "On third downs, we have to execute. The first two third downs (against St. Louis), I just missed guys that were open, that's why I took the blame for that. The past two weeks, third downs have been our low point when, after Week 4, third downs have been one of our better situations that we were good at. Obviously, we have to hone in on our third downs this week and just build off of it."