The Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to blow a dominant first-half performance by completely collapsing in the second half, wasting a 24-0 second quarter lead. Ultimately, Tampa Bay lost 31 to 30 and made Kirk Cousins look like the second coming of Warren Moon, as he racked up 316 yards and just seven incompletions on the day.
The Bucs looked like by far the best team on the field today in the first half, scoring 17 points on their first three drives and adding another touchdown as Howard Jones ran back a Kirk Cousins fumble to put Tampa Bay up 24-0 midway through the second quarter. Up to that point, Jameis WInston had been near-perfect, Mike Evans looked like his rookie self and Doug Martin and Charles Sims were running all over that Washington defense.
Then everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Louis Murphy and Vincent Jackson both left the game with knee injuries, leaving Winston with only one reliable target to throw to. The secondary went back to blowing coverage after coverage, in part because the inconsistent pass rush disappeared. Washington scored three consecutive touchdowns, and Cousins had just four incompletions through the first three quarters. Making matters worse, Tampa Bay once again could not stop generating flags out of thin air, ending the game with 16 penalties for a ridiculous 162 yards, and a few nullified big plays, including a third-quarter Mike Evans touchdown.
A third-quarter drive that featured two huge third-down catches by Mike Evans and a 49-yard Doug Martin run gave the Bucs a six-point lead, but the defense couldn't stop Kirk Cousins from marching down the field and putting the game away with his third touchdown of the day as the defensive secondary continued their season-long collapse.
First quarter notes
The Bucs got off to a near-perfect start: the defense forced a three-and-out, Doug Martin popped a 23-yard run, and Jameis Winston threw a perfect deep ball to Mike Evans for a 40-yard touchdown. In previous games, Winston's throws and Evans' hands both left something to be desired on those deep shots, but this play was perfectly executed. It also marked the first first-quarter touchdown Tampa Bay has scored this season.
The Bucs didn't take their foot off the gas, either. Their defense stifled Washington throughout the first quarter, and after fifteen minutes the Bucs had a 10-0 lead and 203 offensive yards to Washington's 21. The only negative mark on that absurd dominance was Louis Murphy's apparently serious knee injury.
Second quarter notes
The Bucs didn't stop dominating when they got to the second quarter. Even though Gosder Cherilus got an unnecessary unnecessary roughness penalty to set them back, Charles Sims kept the Bucs' drive going into the red zone, and Jameis Winston had another perfect touchdown throw to put the Bucs up 17-0, finding Donteea Dye for his first catch in the NFL.
Then the defense got in on the action. Jacquies Smith got the team's first sack of the day, forcing a fumble which was picked up by Howard Jones -- who ran into the endzone untouched, giving the Bucs a seemingly insurmountable 24-0 lead.
These are the Bucs and this is the NFL, though, so that kind of dominance couldn't last. The bad version of the Bucs secondary showed up next, with Kirk Cousins running in a touchdown on a designed run, and the Washington defense forcing the Bucs' first punt of the day right after that. Their short rally stopped there, though, as a terrific Chris Conte hit prevented a deep completion on third down and a sloppy procedural penalty on fourth down then stopped Washington for going for it. The Bucs then were content to head into the locker room, despite having three timeouts and 1:20 to extend their lead.
They still headed into the half with their biggest halftime lead since 2013, though.
Third quarter notes
Dominance never lasts for the Bucs. After that terrific first half, the offense came out and was forced to punt for just the second time today, finishing with an unnecessary penalty on Ali Marpet for going after Dashon Goldson, who'd put a late hit on Jameis Winston. And while the defense seemed to make a few plays, a slew of penalties -- including some weak roughing the passer calls -- allowed Cousins and company to keep a drive going and cut Tampa Bay's lead to 24-14.
They then followed that up with a surprise onside kick, which they recovered, and another drive deep into the Tampa Bay red zone. An apparent third-down stop was foiled by yet another defensive penalty, and Kirk Cousins found Jordan Reed in the end zone to bring Washington back to within just a single touchdown.
To make matters worse, Vincent Jackson then left the game with a knee injury, leaving just Donteea Dye and Mike Evans at receiver for Winston to throw the ball to. Despite that depleted receiving corps, Doug Martin and Winston still got the Bucs into field goal range to turn it into a six-point game again. Technically that field goal came in the fourth quarter, though, making the third quarter quite possibly the worst quarter of football the Bucs have played this year.
Fourth quarter notes
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored a field goal and kind of got things together on defense, at least stopping Kirk Cousins from scoring a touchdown for the first time in the second half. Still, a 27-24 lead with 7:33 left wasn't exactly secure, and the Bucs desperately needed to find a way to score and extend their lead.
Mike Evans came up with two huge catches to save the Bucs' subsequent drive from dying on third downs, and then the Dougernaut put up a massive 49-yard run to get the Bucs inside the Washington five-yard line, posting his third consecutive 100+-yard in the process. But the team stalled at the goal-line, as two Doug Martin runs and a toss to Charles Sims couldn't get them into the endzone. Lovie Smith made the -- likely correct -- call to kick a field goal, and Washington had 2:27 to go down the field and score a touchdown. Which they promptly did, as the Tampa Bay secondary collapsed once again.
Wide receiver Louis Murphy left the game after a 29-yard catch in the first quarter. He went down with a knee injury that appeared to be serious.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson suffered a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return.
The Buccaneers head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons as they look to salvage some dignity.