Morris says Bucs will learn from loss to Falcons

AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Raheem Morris refuses to second-guess himself or his young Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A day after falling a yard short of taking over sole possession of first place in the NFC South, the NFL’s youngest coach focused on the encouraging aspects of the team’s performance during a 27-21 loss to Atlanta instead of a goal-line play the Falcons stuffed in the closing minutes.

Morris acknowledged Monday that rookie LeGarrette Blount made a mistake by bouncing outside, rather than running up the middle, on fourth-and-1 from the Atlanta 2 with the game on the line. Television replays showed a gaping hole where the play was designed to go.

Rather than picking up the first down, and maybe even scoring, the 247-pound Blount was tackled by Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud for no gain.

“He didn’t run the wrong play, he just made the wrong cut,” said Morris, who stressed the defeat could not be pinned on Blount’s decision.

“We’re all great running backs the next day. He bounces out there and runs over DeCoud and we’re all having a pool party. But he stuck his foot in the ground, he made a cut, his vision at that time was different than ours would be today looking at tape. He should’ve gone downhill, but he didn’t. That happens. That’s part of having a young football team, making a mistake, but we’ll come back and get better from it.”

Blount said Sunday that the hole that was “supposed to be there” wasn’t, so he cut the play off right tackle. DeCoud made a nice stop, however the rookie out of Oregon felt he gained enough for a first down.

Out of timeouts, the Bucs were unable to challenge the spot.

Tampa Bay started six rookies, and played 12 overall, against the Falcons. Morris refused to cite youth and inexperience as a factor on the crucial play.

“That can happen with a vet. That can happen with anybody. That’s just playing the game, and you can’t second-guess players that way. That’s just not a good road to go down,” Morris said.

The loss dropped the Bucs (5-3) into third place in the division and, at least for now, forced Morris to back off his claim that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NFC.

The 34-year-old coach reiterated that he and his players didn’t take solace in playing the Falcons (6-3) tough on the road. In their other two losses, the Bucs were outscored at home by a combined 69-19 by Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

“There’s no consolation. Every week, there are lessons to be learned from every game … something you can use for your football team in the future,” Morris said.

Atlanta scored on its first three possessions to build a 17-7 lead, and Tampa Bay trailed 27-14 in the third quarter before Micheal Spurlock returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown that gave young quarterback Josh Freeman another chance to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback.

The second-year pro has rallied the Bucs from behind in four of the team’s five wins.

“We go down 14-0 and Freeman’s looking at me like, `just give me the ball back, I’ll fix it,'” Morris said, adding that one of the keys to the success of a team that finished 3-13 a year ago is “just a never die, never quit, no-nonsense type of mentality when we’re in those situations.”

Tampa Bay started 0-7 before winning Freeman’s first pro start last November. That’s one of the reasons this year’s fast start has been so gratifying.

“We’re 5-3, and you’re in a meaningful game yesterday versus the Atlanta Falcons. That’s where everybody in the National Football League wants to be right now. They want to be in meaningful games,” Morris said, assessing where the team stands in a rebuilding project that began when he replaced Jon Gruden following the 2008 season.

“When you’re at the midway point, and you’re still playing meaningful games instead of being worried about draft status, you’re feeling much better about where you are and what you’re trying to do.”

Received 11/08/10 07:04 pm ET