After fullback Jameel Cook's 11-yard touchdown reception brought the Bucs to within two of the Falcons on Saturday, the season came crashing down when defensive end Travis Hall blocked a pass from Brad Johnson to Charles Lee. But that wasn't the end of it. Replays on the stadium's Jumbotron showed defensive back Kevin Mathis tackling Keenan McCardell as he ran past him in the end zone.
Despite the ball not crossing the line of scrimmage, holding could have been called but was not, and that did not sit well with McCardell and some Bucs coaches.
"You're really trying to get me in trouble right now," McCardell said when asked by reporters what he thought about the call - or no-call - at the end of the game. "I have some real choice words for our officials. But I'm going to be a gentleman and not say them.
"When he looks at the film, he'll see. I believe I was tackled. But we'll let it go. I'm not going to blame the officials, this, that, the other. I'll look at it and see if I could have run a better route. I don't know how I could have run a better route when a guy has his arm, both arms, around my waist. So that's it. I'm done with that one."
McCardell said he spoke to the officials but didn't get an explanation.
"I'll let that be," he said. "I think they'll see it on their review and we'll get an apology. Oh, I said something to them, but they were closed-lipped as usual. So that's how it goes in this league. When they make (a mistake), they have to stand up to it, and they'll stand up to it during the week. But it's too late then."
The incomplete pass and the no-call in the end zone typify so much of what has happened to the Bucs this season and so much of what has happened to McCardell.
McCardell finished with six catches for 122 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown reception. He has 83 catches for 1,171 yards and career-high eight TDs. But all - some in dramatic fashion - have come in losses.
"I don't know why we were flat," McCardell said. "I don't know why we were down. Sometimes you just need a spark to get you going, and we got a spark late and got going.
"But it was one of those tough games where we were almost there and just couldn't get over the hump."
While teammates said McCardell got mugged in the end zone, they admitted the game never should have come down to a last-minute desperation play.
"I saw it, and he got tackled," Lee said. "But as a ref, it's kind of hard to make that call. It shouldn't have come down to that. We played terrible. Anything anyone tells you other than that is a pack of bull. We were terrible. We can cry about it and say Keenan got tackled, but it's irrelevant. What happened on the other 60 plays of the game?"
Added Johnson: "Are you going to call a foul on the last jump shot of the game?"