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Pressure, lack of protection doomed Bucs in fourth quarter vs. Dallas

David Irving helped the Cowboys close out Sunday night's win by blocking a pass by Jameis Winston during the Buccaneers' final drive. Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter insisted Monday that his offensive line was not solely to blame for Sunday's 26-20 loss to Dallas. But the offensive line's struggles were most-glaring in the fourth quarter, when the game was tied 20-20.

The Bucs had overcome a 17-6 deficit to take a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, but in the fourth, the offense produced a whopping five net yards compared to 166 in the third. The difference-maker there was painfully obvious -- the offensive line and quarterback Jameis Winston had no answers for Dallas' pressure.

"We’re having some trouble in multiple spots. We’re too inconsistent overall on offense," Koetter said. "So, everybody gets credit when we do well and everybody gets to share in the blame -- including the coaches, including me -- when we don’t do well. So, I’m not one to pin all our woes on our offensive line. We all took turns."

Winston was pressured on 10 of 16 snaps in the fourth quarter, the second-most pressures he's seen in the fourth quarter all season. He had a 14.3 percent completion percentage on those plays with two interceptions. During the other three quarters? He was pressured six times.

With 13:26 remaining, on first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 25, Dallas' 6-foot-7, 284-pound David Irving exploded off the edge, shoving backup right tackle Gosder Cherilus onto the ground and tossing Ali Marpet out of the way, too, to sack Winston for a 6-yard loss. Maliek Collins collapsed the pocket there, too.

Two plays later, on third-and-14 at the Tampa Bay 21, Irving was putting heat on Winston again, pushing his way past Cherilus and hitting Winston’s elbow, which changed the trajectory of the ball, sending it up into the air and over the head of Adam Humphries. Safety Jeff Heath swooped in at the 40 yard line for the interception. It should be noted that the Cowboys did not blitz on this play. The Cowboys would then score on a 38-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

At the 9:35 mark, on second-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 23, Irving looped inside and maneuvered his body completely around center Joe Hawley, batting down a pass from Winston for an incompletion. On third-and-2, linebacker Justin Durant rushed the "B" gap and was unaccounted for on the blitz, batting down another pass. Irving’s pressure of Winston was a standard four-man rush, as was his sack. Only four of Winston's total pressures in the game came from blitzing.

Things only got worse when Cherilus, who has filling in again this week for concussed Demar Dotson, suffered an injury at the 7:54 mark, when Charles Sims caught a screen pass from Winston for a 6-yard gain. "He suffered a groin injury," Koetter said. "He tried to gut it out. That’s the best I can tell you."

Irving was not done. He'd sack Winston for an 8-yard loss with 2:58 to go, again, rushing from the left and completely overpowering Cherilus. He got in Winston's face on the next pass attempt, an incompletion to Cameron Brate. Cherilus even tried to jump out of his stance to get to Irving as he tried to play through the injury. Rookie Leonard Wester stepped in on third-and-18, and Winston was able to step away from the pressure and climb into the pocket, but could not hit Mike Evans downfield on an out-and-up route, overthrowing him.

Wester stepped in for the next and final offensive series and did a decent job, on first-and-10, along with Sims, who was brought in for extra protection. Winston was able to connect with Brate for an 11-yard pickup. On second-and-10, as the pocket closed, Winston could not find an open receiver downfield. As he was scrambling to his right, he was hit from behind by Collins, who knocked the ball loose. Wester recovered it, but the play clock was still running.

On third-and-12, Winston dropped back deep, surveyed the field, but didn't have enough time. Brate was in on the play to chip Irving, but the downside there is that Brate was delayed getting into his route, and he had been the team's leading receiver that day. Irving got to Winston, bending around Wester, but Winston was able to fire the ball off to a diving Evans. Incomplete. On the next play Winston was able to move outside the pocket, but coverage was holding up downfield and he was intercepted by Orlando Scandrick.

In previous games, when Winston was able to scramble outside the pocket and improvise, Evans, in particular, was finding ways to get open. Dallas made it difficult for Winston to move outside the pocket, and when he did, Evans was covered downfield -- often times double-covered. The Cowboys truly respected the tandem's ability to improvise, something other teams haven't necessarily done this season -- at least not successfully.

This is the first time all season the Bucs have surrendered three sacks in the fourth quarter. Only one other time this season had they given up two or more -- against Denver.

The team will have to make some adjustments if Cherilus is still injured this week and Dotson remains in the protocol, which he was as of Monday evening. Wester was the offensive tackle they used previously for extra protection. They can chip more with Brate, or they can adjust the playbook and look to attack more underneath against New Orleans.