TAMPA — One of the statements Bruce Arians made following the most embarrassing and gut-wrenching defeats in Bucs history would be laughable if it weren’t true.
Minutes after a 32-31 defeat to the Giants when rookie kicker Matt Gay missed a potential game-winning goal from 34-yards, the Bucs new head coach said he took a delay a game penalty before centering the football between the hash marks because the kick is easier when it’s not so close to the goalposts.
“I took it on purpose,’’ Arians said of the penalty. “That field goal is easier back five yards. No sense in hurrying. We wanted to move the ball over, put it in the middle and make an easy field goal.’’
Gay, who kicked four field goals in the game, had already missed an extra point from that same distance wide left and had another one blocked.
What in the name of Roberto Aguayo, Nick Folk and Chandler Catanzaro was Arians thinking?
As it turned out, Gay pushed the kick right and it missed hitting the upright by the width of a football. Five yards closer? Well, the Bucs would be 2-1 instead of 1-2 and not the B-roll to the boffo NFL debut of Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.
It was just one of the many things that went wrong in order for the Bucs to blow an 18-point halftime lead.
Missed field goals are nothing new in Tampa Bay, which can’t seem to reverse the curse no matter how many kickers it drafts.
And as usual, the game wouldn’t have been on Gay’s toe if Arians have left it on Jameis Winston’s right arm or if the defense had accounted for Jones on fourth-and-5 at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line when he scampered into the end zone untouched for his second TD run.
“We’ve just got to finish,’’ Winston said.
The decision to take the delay penalty wasn’t the only one that will be questioned.
Before Jones engineered that drive, the Bucs may have put the game away if Arians didn’t play around his quarterback.
Tampa Bay’s defense allowed the Giants to climb back into the game on the first play of the third quarter when Jones found Evan Engram down the right sideline for a 75-yard touchdown strike.
The Giants cut the Bucs lead to a field goal when Jones found Sterling Shepard on a 7-yard TD pass.
Arians seemed to lose his faith in Winston when he threw behind Evans on third down, and Ryan Connelly intercepted.
The Bucs got the ball right back when Shaq Barrett stripped Jones of the ball that was recovered by Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
Arians took the ball out of Winston’s hands. He ran Ronald Jones six straight times until the Bucs faced third-and 2 at the Giants 5. A field goal would only put the Bucs’ up by six. But he handed the ball to Peyton Barber, who was stuffed for no gain.
Funny, but Arians didn’t take a delay of game penalty then to make the kick easier.
Gay nailed it from 23 yards for the Bucs’ only points of the second half.
Back came Jones, who will own the back page of every New York tabloid.
Jones passed for 336 yards and two scores. But the Bucs had a chance to win the game with another goal line stand. On fourth-and-5 from the 7-yard line,the Giants rookie walked into the end zone.
Said linebacker Lavonte David said. “All our backs were turned to the quarterback so we couldn’t understand what was going on up front. Great decision by him.”
With 1:16 remaining, Arians had no choice but to have Winston let it fly. He hit Chris Godwin for 20-yards before Evans got a clean release and broke behind Janoris Jenkins for a 44-yard completion.
Winston spiked the ball to kill the clock with 13 seconds left. He pumped his fists like Tiger Woods on the 18th hole after winning the Masters.
From the 9-yard line, it would’ve been a 26-yard field goal. But Arians let the play clock run out, taking a penalty. Winston then centered the ball in the middle of the field and called a timeout with 4 seconds left.
When the ball was kicked, Arians raised his left arm thinking the Bucs had won. He dropped his hands to his knees and bent at the waist when he realized Gay had missed.
“This loss is 100 percent on me,’’ Gay said.
Of course, that’s not true. But you have to take a few steps back to see that.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud