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Falcons make their point against Tampa Bay

George Diaz

COMMENTARY

7:03 PM EST, November 25, 2012

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TAMPA — There are lots of ways to spin a one-point loss.

Was the difference an 80-yard catch and run from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones?

A botched but makable 56-yard field-goal try by Conner Barth in the closing minutes?

Having to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns on three drives?

The Tampa Bay Bucs can lament their 24-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon every which way they want to, and they will still come away with that queasy feeling of emptiness.

The one-point differential is not going away.

The Falcons are now 10-1 and rolling into the playoffs, tied with Houston for the NFL's best record. The Bucs are now 6-5 and officially in scramble mode the rest of the season trying to snag a wild-card spot.

It's not a good place to be after seeing a four-game winning streak go plop before a disappointing crowd of 54,400 at Raymond James Stadium. The game was blacked out locally, despite all the momentum of having the NFL's fourth-best scoring offense, playing a top division rival and having the crisp Florida fall temperatures.

It was considerably cooler in the Bucs' locker room.

"It sucks right now, it really does," said Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn. "That's as easy as I can sum it up for you. The fact of the matter is that we're a better team than they are and we lost. And we know that."

The Falcons obviously think differently, and the scoreboard adds validity to their contention that they are the NFL's best team right now.

The Bucs are good, but not great. Fact is, they've only beaten one team with a winning record.

In the big picture, they are far from going into a rebuilding mode under first-year coach Greg Schiano, but they are still trying to reset the business model after the organization fired coach Raheem Morris last season. That included a dismal run of 10 consecutive losses.

It led to the ultimate insult — "quitters" — levied by people like Deion Sanders.

There's a lot of labels you can pin on the Bucs this season. "Quitters" is not one of them.

Schiano imploded the laissez-faire attitude preferred by Morris and replaced it with a boot-camp mentality. He promised to change the culture at One Buc Place, and he spared no feelings doing so.

All one needs to do is look up the YouTube rant by former Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow to get a feel for what practices under Schiano are like. Schiano has no time for nonsense, which is why guys like Winslow, Tanard Jackson and Aqib Talib are no longer employed by the Bucs.

It might take a while before all the troops get his message, but the Bucs are certainly rolling in the right direction despite Sunday's misstep.

"It's a different team out there definitely," Penn said. "Everybody sees that. Last year has nothing to do with this year right now. It doesn't mean [anything]."

They remain a viable entry for the playoffs, which would be their first run since 2007.

All it takes is a play here and there. Like defending the 80-yard scoring play from Ryan to Jones, or turning some of those field goals into touchdowns. The Bucs would eventually lead, 23-17, in the fourth quarter and then missed a chance to regain the lead when Barth missed a 56-yarder with 3:32 left.

"It's hard to win games by threes," Schiano said. "Sevens add up quicker."

It's the hard-knock lesson of a young team on the rise.

The Bucs are close, but not there yet.

A point made by their opponent on Sunday.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or email him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com He is a regular contributor on the Joel Greenberg Show weekdays 4-6pm on 810 AM Yahoo! Sports Radio Orlando.