Did they or didn't they tank?
That's the question many are asking the day after the Tampa Bay Buccaneerssecured the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft after blowing a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in a 23-20 loss to New Orleans.
Not that this terrible 2-14 Tampa team isn't capable of such a collapse, but there was enough evidence during the game that made it look more suspicious than coincidental, including the pulling of most starters in the second half:
» Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, who each passed 1,000 yards this season, were benched.
» Three starters on the offensive line were pulled in favor of a trio that had a combined two years of NFL experience.
» LB Lavonte David, whom Bucs coach Lovie Smith has called the best outside linebacker in the NFL, was a healthy second-half scratch.
» Quarterback Josh McCown, who completed 12 of 20 passes in the first half, had only three attempts in the third and fourth quarters.
Any one of the above items could be legitimate, but all put together, there was probably something a little more devious at play. After Sunday's game, Smith and others were predictably in full-denial mode.
"Yeah, we didn't have some of our best players there right in the end," Smith said. "But the guys we had in there we felt like we could move the ball and be able to win."
"I don't think anybody tanked it," quarterback Josh McCown said. "We played the guys we played to rotate guys in to give them a look. As far as players are concerned, the draft and that stuff isn't relevant to us."
To most players, the draft isn't relevant. To most. But to some who could directly benefit from the fruits of the No. 1 pick, it most definitely is. Perhaps that's why Jackson, who would love a quarterback who could more consistenly get him the ball, left the field Sunday with a finger in the air representing the No. 1 sign.
It was the first time in their last 25 games in which they had a lead of at least 13 points going into the fourth quarter that the Buccaneers did not walk away with a win. In this case, they walked away with something much more valuable.