Tampa Bay Recap Week 12

Raheem Morris (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Read on to find out how the Buccaneers graded out against the Falcons, the latest on Arron Sears and injury updates from Sunday's loss.

Raheem Morris defended two critical fourth-down decisions that might have cost his team in a 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Morris said his failed fourth-quarter decisions to fake a punt and attempt a 51-yard field goal with the lead at Atlanta Sunday was "aggressive play" and a trait he wants to instill in his team.

Punter Dirk Johnson was unable to complete a pass and tore his left hamstring on the play, landing him on injured reserve Monday.

After Conner Barth missed a field goal wide right, Atlanta drove 59 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left Sunday in the Bucs 20-17 loss to the Falcons.

"I don't know if a long field-goal attempt is outside the box. I don't know if a faked punt attempt is outside the box," Morris said. "I think it's aggressive play. We were a 1-9 football team. I think you have to teach this team how to insert a dagger in somebody and win the game. That's part of the learning, part of the curve and part of what we're going through. For me, too."

Morris said he didn't second-guess his decisions after he made them Sunday.

"During the game, no," Morris said. "But right now, it didn't work, so yes, I'm second-guessing myself. But if it worked, I wouldn't be. If it worked, we got the ball back, run the clock out and the game's over. Bucs win."

According to Morris, those two fourth-quarter decisions will be made easier with the continued development of rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, who connected on 20 of 29 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

The Bucs had forced Atlanta to use its final timeout and faced third-and-7 from the Atlanta 36-yard line. But rather than have Freeman attempt to pick up the first down passing and potentially run out the clock, the Bucs got a 3-yard run from Derrick Ward before Barth missed from 51 yards.

"He took a step back the previous week but it's about the kid's character and about bouncing back," Morris said of Freeman. "With that, it's going to bring about more aggressive decisions with your quarterback. Having that type of flow and that type of feel, that's just going to build naturally. Yesterday? I kind of felt the Conner Barth love and I kicked a 50-yard field goal. I didn't ask him to make three this game, you go make this one. We kick the ball off, they get the ball inside their 20 or the 20-yard line. We go out there on defense and play the way we've been playing the whole day -- fast, hard, physical and together -- we get out of here with a win. It just didn't work out that way.

"Those decisions are going to come with (Freeman). I think he's starting to develop into what we all think he can be or what he's convincing us he can be. That's just going to come with him and time. Those decisions with him, those become more quarterback orientated when he comes to you on the sideline and tells you, 'I'm doing this.' And you just kind of back away because you know he knows what he wants to do. And that's how you make fourth-and-2 decisions when you've got Tom Brady and you're backed up."

Morris also said he had confidence in Barth after watching him kick three field goals of 50 yards or more at Miami two weeks ago. Playing indoors at the Georgia Dome only buttressed his decision.

Other times this season, Morris has erred on the side of caution and wound up losing the game.

Trailing 16-10 and facing fourth-and-goal at the Washington 4 late in the fourth quarter, Morris declined to take another shot at the end zone and opted for a Mike Nugent field goal. The Bucs got the ball back at their own 19, but Clifton Smith fumbled at the Tampa Bay 28 with 48 seconds remaining in the game.

How does Morris believe he has fared with some critical coaching decisions this season?

"Not good, because we haven't won a lot of them," Morris said. "We've lost a couple of them, a couple of them we've won, a couple of them we've got what we wanted but haven't been able to capitalize. You've just got to do better. You've got to win them all. It's easy the next day to second-guess yourself in a decision, because you can always go back and say, 'What if, what if, what if?' But at the time you've just got to make the decision and go with it."

NOTES, QUOTES:

--The Bucs placed punter Dirk Johnson (hamstring) and cornerback Torrie Cox (hip) on injured reserve, ending their seasons, head coach Raheem Morris announced during Monday's weekly news conference.

Both players were injured during Sunday's 20-17 loss in Atlanta.

--Guard Arron Sears was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list. He'll remain with the Bucs the rest of the year and can work out but will not be able to practice or play.

Sears was recently reinstated to the Bucs after leaving the team in March to deal with "personal issues." Asked about Sears' progress toward returning to the field, Morris said, "It's on the up."

--The Bucs will work out three punters in an effort to find a replacement for Dirk Johnson, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a torn left hamstring.

Sam Paulescu, Ricky Schmitt and Durant Brooks will compete for the job on Tuesday.

Paulescu, 25, punted one game for the Washington Redskins this season. He punted three times for a 50-yard average.

Brooks, 24, won the Ray Guy award as the nation's top punter from Georgia Tech in 2007. He was a sixth-round pick by the Redskins in 2008. He was replaced after six weeks after a disappointing 39.6 gross average and 32.1 net average. He spent some time on the Green Bay Packers practice squad.

Schmitt, 24, was an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals in 2007 and has been in camp with the 49ers, Steelers and Raiders.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Torrie Cox suffered an injured hip in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at Atlanta and was placed on injured reserve.

--CB Aqib Talib suffered a hamstring injury and did not finish Sunday's game at Atlanta. His status will be updated Wednesday.

--WR Michael Clayton suffered a knee injury on the first play of Sunday's game at Atlanta and his status is day-to-day.

--WR Antonio Bryant was only targeted four times but had three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown Sunday at Atlanta.

--P Dirk Johnson suffered a torn left hamstring and was placed on injured reserve Monday.

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Rookie QB Josh Freeman had his best overall game, completing 20-of-29 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns with no INTs. If anything, the Bucs need to trust their young QB more and get the ball to Antonio Bryant.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Bucs rotation of RBs Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward is not working. Neither player is on the field long enough to get a rhythm. Tampa Bay averaged just 2.8 yards per carry Sunday.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Bucs sacked Falcons QBs six times. But they allowed veteran backup Chris Redman to pass for 248 yards with two TDs, including the game-winner with 23 seconds left. Losing CB Aqib Talib late in the game hurt and the Bucs had no answer for TE Tony Gonzalez.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Returning to a one-gap defensive scheme produced immediate results. The Bucs had 10 tackles for loss and they knocked out running back Michael Turner. The Falcons averaged 2.9 yards per carry.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The punting of Dirk Johnson wasn't very good. He netted 36 yards per punt before pulling a hamstring on a fake that did not work. Conner Barth missed a big FG from 51 yards.

COACHING: D -- Bucs coach Raheem Morris did a good job as defensive coordinator but made some questionable coaching decisions, faking a punt and attempting a 51-yard field goal with the lead in the fourth quarter.

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