The Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to lose a perfectly winnable game, the Chicago Bears walking out with a 26 to 21 victory in Tampa. The Buccaneers could easily have won this game in multiple ways. If they hadn't turned it over three times, if the defense had managed to force a takeaway(they have just one over the past five games), if Jameis Winston had been a little more accurate on deep passes, if, if, if...
With the potential to grab hold of the rushing title against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, Doug Martin had arguably his worst game of the year. Not only did he rush for just 49 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown, he added two lost fumbles that may have lost the Buccaneers the game. Meanwhile, backup Charles Sims managed 45 rushing yards on just four carries.
Jameis Winston struggled in the first half but turned it on in the second, with a few scrambles leading to big plays including a fifty-yard Charles Sims touchdown -- but also an ugly interception in field goal range. The rookie quarterback finished the game completing 15 of 29 passes for 295 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, including four completions for 61 yards to Mike Evans.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers defense surprisingly struggled to stop the Bears' running game, despite their being one of the best run defenses in the NFL facing one of the worst running games in the league. The Bears managed 174 rushing yards on a whopping 39 carries, complemented by Jay Cutler consistently completing short passes for little yardage -- he finished the game with 20 completions on 27 attempts for just 156 yards.
With a third straight loss and a tough game in Carolina next week, Lovie Smith's team has opened the door for questions about his continued employment by the Glazers. It's unlikely he'll be fired, but this won't make for a calm offseason in Tampa.
First quarter notes
The Bucs started on defense, and they did well to force a punt early. Keith Tandy made two stops on wide receiver screens in his first start this year at safety, as the Bucs used the game to get a look at some players toward the bottom of the roster. The Bears were obviously missing Alshon Jeffery, with all of Jay Cutler's passes within a couple yards of the line of scrimmage.
The Bucs offense didn't do that much with it, despite converting a third-and-thirteen. Doug Martin was stifled and Jameis Winston's two scrambles couldn't get the Bucs a first down. It didn't take long for the Bucs to get on the board, though: a three-and-out forced by Keith Tandy (again) led to a blocked punt and a four-yard Doug Martin touchdown to give the Bucs the lead.
Second quarter notes
The Bucs did two good things at the start of the second quarter: get a routine first down on third-and-short, and deflect a Jay Cutler pass into the air for an interception. Both were called back for easily preventable penalties, as we've seen so far, and instead of being up two or even three scores, the Bucs saw the Bears tie the game. Jameis Winston and Doug Martin then seemed to get things going, getting past midfield for the first time in the game, but the Dougernaut fumbled the ball away to end that hope.
The Bears then proceeded to run the ball all the way down to the five-yard line, where Gerald McCoy got the team's first sack of the game to force a field goal. Jameis Winston got sacked to end the Bucs' subsequent drive, giving the Bears the ball at midfield after a punt. They turned that into a field goal and a 13-7 lead after running the ball over and over again, only to stall in the red zone again to end the first half.
Third quarter notes
The offense struggled in the first half, but they turned it on in the second half. Jameis Winston led the Bucs to a touchdown on his first drive, finding Charles Sims on a scramble for a 50-yard touchdown after five Doug Martin runs. With the defense forcing a punt (aided by Lovie Smith's second correct challenge of the day), the Bucs got another chance. After missing a deep ball to an open Mike Evans, Winston then hit that same Evans for a big first down and found Cameron Brate deep for a 46-yard pass on another improvised play.
That didn't help the Bucs, though. First Jameis WInston threw an ugly interception under pressure, just throwing the ball up into coverage. When the Bucs then forced a three-and-out, Doug Martin fumbled the ball away.
Fourth quarter notes
Having gotten the ball in the red zone, the Bears found their way to seven points by finding Ka'deem Carey in the endzone and taking a 20-14 lead.
The Bucs tried to get it back quickly, but two poorly thrown deep balls to Donteea Dye and Mike Evans, the latter going off Evans' fingertips, prevented them from doing so, instead forcing a punt. The Bears then managed another field goal, while the Bucs got into field goal range on their end -- only to see a horrible snap lead to a sack and a missed 52-yard field goal, his fifth miss since week 12. The Bears then ran out most of the game to kick a field goal -- though the Bucs actually managed a touchdown on Hail Mary with one second on the clock.
The Buccaneers head to Carolina to take on the 14-1 Panthers who have surprisingly not clinched home field advantage yet.