The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unapologetic for playing what they describe as good, tough, physical football. They just want to get better at it.
Three members of the team's defense were penalized for hard hits during an 18-17 season-opening loss to the New York Jets, and coach Greg Schiano reiterated Monday that although he wants players to comply with NFL rules he also doesn't want to do anything to discourage them from being aggressive.
The last of the personal fouls, assessed to linebacker Lavonte David for shoving Jets quarterback Geno Smith as the rookie scampered out of bounds after a 10-yard scramble, set up New York's winning field goal.
Schiano insisted, though, that undisciplined play did not cost Tampa Bay the game.
"We've got to play on the edge. That's the way we play," Schiano said a day after the Bucs were flagged a total of 13 times for 102 yards, including major penalties on safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron for big hits.
"We've got to be smart about it. The strike zone is decreasing in the National Football League, and we've got to make sure we stay within the rules," Schiano added. "It doesn't mean you can't be as physical, but we have to try to be better that way."
The Bucs set the tone for a long day on their first offensive series, which ended with delay of game penalties on consecutive plays, followed by a sack, a flag for a false start and a penalty for an illegal formation that the Jets declined.
Part of the problem was a malfunctioning headset in quarterback Josh Freeman's helmet, but the sequence also was a continuation of sloppy play — particularly on offense — from the preseason.
"There was a communicator issue. But you know what, that needs to be overcome. We have mechanisms in place for that, which we didn't employ efficiently," Schiano said.
"Delay of games, false starts are inexcusable. The physical penalties, those you better be careful. ... Some are very obvious, and you say that's going to be a penalty 10 out of 10 times. Others you look at and you say: 'I'm not so sure.' But it doesn't matter," Schiano added. "I tell our team and tell our coaches, and I tell myself, if the flag is thrown, it's a penalty. It doesn't matter what we think."
David said Sunday that he thought Smith was still inbounds when he hit the New York quarterback at the Bucs 45. The penalty moved the ball to the 30, when Nick Folk kicked a 48-yard field goal on the next play.
Teammates didn't fault the second-year linebacker, who had eight tackles, a sack and an interception.
"You can't play cautious," cornerback Leonard Johnson said.
"That's just players playing hard," defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said of the penalties on David, Goldson and Barron. "It's a split-second between hitting somebody in the head and in the chest."
Several players approached David with words of encouragement in the locker room following the game. Schiano also spoke to the disappointed linebacker.
"The guy's a great player and a great teammate, and he cares. He feels like he made a mistake that cost the game," the coach said. "As I told him, it's one play. We had plenty of opportunities to win that game. Am I pleased with the play? Is he pleased with the play? No. But he's one of our finest players. I fully expect Lavonte to rebound. That's the fighter he is. He'll be fine."
Besides cutting down on penalties, the Bucs also need to find a way to get a sputtering offense on track if they want to avoid falling into a deeper holes.
Tampa Bay hosts New Orleans next Sunday and visits New England the following week.
Despite having a rookie in his first pro start at quarterback, the Jets outgained the Bucs 304 yards to 250. Defensively, New York shut down the run, limiting Doug Martin to 65 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Schiano expects other teams to try to do the same.
"That's going to be the formula to stop our offense. It's not a mystery. We have to throw and catch. We missed open guys and then we dropped some passes," the coach said. "We have to protect better. We had three sacks, we also were hurried. If people are going to do that, you have to be able to throw the ball effectively."
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