TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has frequently provided unneeded reminders that he was out of football the past season.
It's his way of reminding the world he was fired by the Chicago Bears. But in Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it looked like Smith forgot the formula that brought him success with Chicago -- or, at least, the offensive side of it.
The Bucs, who are supposed to be a good running team, struggled to move the ball on the ground right from the start. Doug Martin, whom Smith has referred to as his “bell cow," was bottled up. Martin finished with nine yards on nine carries.
The Bucs finished with 102 rushing yards, but 54 of those came on a surprising run by fullback Jorvorskie Lane that didn’t lead to any points. The Bucs fell behind 10-0 in a first half in which they had only 15 plays, while the Panthers ran 42. The Bucs had only two first downs in the first half.
“It was just all areas," Smith said. “We weren’t able to get anything going. You need to establish the run. We never were able to do that. Of course, when we tried passing the football, they got pressure on us. They just controlled the play early on. They dominated the time of possession in the first half. It was just really hard to get anything going that way."
Smith’s Chicago teams ran the ball well and made life easy for the quarterback. But the Bucs didn’t make things easy for Josh McCown. The veteran quarterback was intercepted twice. McCown’s final numbers (22-of-35 for 183 yards and two touchdowns) were respectable.
But the game was decided in the first half, when McCown’s numbers were dismal. He completed three of eight passes for 36 yards. McCown admitted he was forcing things.
“I have to trust our system and realize everybody has a part in it," McCown said. “Everybody makes plays. I don’t have to try to force it. I think part of the reason we got going maybe was because I started to sit back a little big, trust those guys and get them the ball."
The two second-half touchdowns weren’t enough. McCown’s a veteran who isn’t supposed to make mistakes, but he made two on interceptions that weren’t pretty.
“Those things can’t happen," McCown said. “They absolutely can’t happen. It’s 100 percent on me. We’ve got to do better in that area, and we will do better in that area."
It was only one game, and there are 15 remaining. McCown can do better in that area, but he needs the Bucs to have a more potent and consistent running game.