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SEATTLE - On special teams, it's often all or nothing, and the Bucs got the latter in their season-opening loss to the Seahawks when two plays that could have provided big lifts resulted in even bigger disappointments.
The Bucs, who have never returned a kickoff for a touchdown and last returned a punt for one in 2004, turned in punt returns of 37 and 40 yards by Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, respectively. But both were nullified by careless penalties, leaving the Bucs in the shadow of the goalposts both times.
And when Seattle got an opportunity to make an impact on special teams, Nate Burleson wiggled 56 yards with a punt return to the Tampa Bay 14 in the second quarter. That set up the Seahawks' go-ahead touchdown.
It was hard to determine which hurt more.
"Penalties on special teams kill you," said cornerback Ronde Barber, whose holding call negated Galloway's return and pushed the Bucs back to their 10. "The field position changes. We lost the field position battle terribly because of it. It's not something you can clean up. We don't have time to clean up. You have to avoid them."
Rookie Sabby Piscitelli was guilty of an illegal block that wiped out Hilliard's return, one that would have put the ball in Seattle territory with the Bucs trailing just 10-6. Instead, they were backed up to their 7.
"It is a matter of discipline," said Piscitelli, a rookie safety. "You have to compete, but you have to compete within the rules. There's no excuse. I should have been smarter."
Piscitelli was one of several players who was unable to stop Burleson on his long return.
"I could have made that play on the long return," Piscitelli said. "I blame myself."
Part of the Bucs' problem was inexperience with young players playing key roles in a critical phase of the game. Several rookies are being counted on heavily.
"You've got a lot of new guys playing when you cut the roster down to 53," coach Jon Gruden said. "The 10 or 11 guys in the huddle might be in there in a game for the first time."