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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Cincinnati Bengals Recap: Bucs Lose Heartbreaker, 37-34

Another tough loss that will define the 2018 season

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals
Mike Evans had one of his best days against the Bengals
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay came into their Week 8 matchup with the Bengals facing a must-win scenario. A win would drastically improve their playoff hopes, while a loss would all but sink them to the depths of the ocean.

The Bucs just couldn’t put it together for a full four quarters as they came up just short in a tough loss. Jameis Winston was benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the savvy veteran was able to tie the game up despite facing an 18-point deficit coming off the bench.

It was the usual start for the Bucs defense as they watched the Bengals gain 46 yards on their first three plays of the game. It got even worse when Jason Pierre-Paul committed a neutral zone infraction that made a 3rd-and-8 and 3rd-and-3 for the Bengals.

But the Bucs were able to force a 4th-and-1 from their own 20 and Cincinnati decided to go for it. They used quick-tempo in order to catch Tampa Bay off guard, but it didn’t work as Joe Mixon was taken down at the line of scrimmage.

Winston and the offense took the field soon afterward and things were looking promising. They were faced with their own fourth down at around the Bengals’ 45-yard line, but instead of attempting a field goal, they decided to go for it.

A great scramble by Winston gave the Bucs their conversion and they were officially on the move. But a costly red zone interception in the end zone by Bengals’ safety Shawn Williams wiped out any chance at points.

The Bucs’ defense was able to hold the Bengals to a three-and-out on the next drive, but a false start on Ali Marpet helped the Bengals return the favor on Tampa Bay’s next drive.

A 32-yard catch by tight end Jordan Franks and a 28-yard catch by Tyler Boyd helped lead the Bengals to the first touchdown of the game. It took just four plays to punch it in and Randy Bullock hit the PAT to give the Bengals an early 7-0 lead.

Tampa Bay was on the move again. O.J. Howard finally got on the board with an 18-yard catch on first down and Evans later hauled in a 20-yarder to get the Bucs down to the Cincy 27.

This time, it was an absolutely awful decision by Winston while under duress that led to his next interception. Facing down a free defender in Sam Hubbard, he tried to throw one to Evans, but it was picked off by Bengals linebacker Preston Brown and returned to the Cincinnati 42.

The Bengals made the Bucs pay for the interception this time around. A 12-play, 58-yard drive that resulted in four third down conversions and one fourth down conversion ended on a great pass from Dalton to Boyd for a nine yard touchdown to push the lead to 14-0.

A sack on Winston prematurely ended Tampa Bay’s next drive. Cincinnati wasted no time at all and drove right back down the field in four plays as Mixon ran in his second touchdown - he went in untouched this time - of the day to make it a 21-0 lead and a three-score game.

The Bucs received some help to begin their next drive after Hubbard was called for a personal foul penalty against Winston. Then, on the next play, Winston launched a bomb to DeSean Jackson - who had reportedly requested a trade before the game - to get the Bucs on the scoreboard.

But Chandler Catanzaro struck again and missed his fourth extra point of the season. The Bucs now trailed 21-6.

Cincinnati was up against an early 3rd-and-5 while attempting to respond to the previous touchdown. It appeared Alex Erickson had crossed the first down marker, but Dirk Koetter decided to challenge the ruling. The call on the field stood and the Bengals were on the move yet again.

Mixon then made multiple defenders look silly, rumbling 54 yards all the way down to the Tampa Bay 17.

And A.J. Green did his usual thing on the next play, going up and snagging an incredible 18-yard touchdown catch over Carlton Davis for the Bengals’ fourth touchdown of the game. Bullock managed to do his best Catanzaro impression and missed the PAT attempt, but the Bengals still led, 27-6.

A great blitz pickup on 3rd-and-9 allowed Winston to find Chris Godwin for his first reception of the day, along with the conversion. A 29-yard pass to Evans just a few plays later had Tampa Bay in the red zone.

A touchdown here would nearly put the Bucs back in the game considering that they would soon receive the ball to start the second half. Great defense on Cincy’s part held the Bucs to a field goal and cut the lead to 27-9 at the half.

Tampa Bay needed a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, there was no way around it. Cameron Brate came up with a big catch on 3rd-and-6 and Adam Humphries came up with another one on a 3rd-and-13.

Winston then found Humphries again on the left sideline. Using spectacular effort, he was able to fight his way into the end zone, but Cincinnati challenged the call and it was reversed after it was apparent that Humphries’ knee was down before the ball crossed the goal line.

Peyton Barber punched it in on the next play, however, making it look easy as he dove over a litany of Bengals’ defenders. Catanzaro made good on the extra point and the Bucs now trailed, 27-16.

Tampa Bay’s defense came up with a huge three-and-out. Could the offense get this game back within reach?

The answer was a disappointing, anti-climatic, and emphatic “no”.

Winston completely overthrew a wide-open Brate on first down just to see reserve linebacker Jordan Evans come away with the third Winston pick of the game. At this point, it was clear Winston’s erratic play was holding back the offense.

Mark Duffner’s defense came up with another big three-and-out to bail out Winston. He was all out of excuses now and had to do something to get the Bucs back in this game.

Well, he did something, but it wasn’t what the Bucs needed. Facing a 3rd-and-10 from his own 10-yard line, Winston threw a pass behind Humphries that was picked off and returned for a touchdown by Jesse Bates. The pick-six pushed the Bengals lead to 34-16 and all hope seemed lost.

Winston’s fourth interception led to an interesting development - Fitzpatrick came in right after the pick in place of the beleaguered starter.

Fitzpatrick was able to move the offense pretty effectively. He may have had the Bucs inside of the Bengals’ 10-yard line if it weren’t for a holding call on Benenoch, but the Bucs settled for a 38-yard Catanzaro field goal to trim the lead, 34-19.

The defense was lights out again, holding the Bengals to yet another three-and-out. At this point, the defense had allowed just 17 total yards in the second half. The offense had to step up NOW.

Fitzpatrick made it happen, finding a wide-open Evans for a 72-yard touchdown. The quarterback controversy was back on. The lead was now cut to eight points as Tampa Bay trailed, 34-26.

The defense came out with their fourth straight three-and-out thanks to a Pierre-Paul sack and gave the offense the ball back at the Bucs’ 15.

A questionable short pass to Jackson on 3rd-and-5 left the Bucs in a punting situation. It was up to the defense to come up with another stop.

Thanks to another JPP sack and a dropped pass by Mixon, the Bucs forced the Bengals to punt the ball. A good, high punt required Humphries to call for a fair catch and gave the ball to the Bucs at their own 12.

It would take an 88-yard drive to win the game.

A ridiculous 27-yard catch by Evans on 3rd-and-1 helped move the Bucs into Bengals’ territory and before you could say “Who Dey”, Tampa Bay was at the Cincy 18-yard line with two minutes left to play.

A quick completion to Jackson left the Bucs with a very manageable 2nd-and-3, but before the Bucs could blink, they were faced with a 4th-and-3. Fitzpatrick found Howard over the middle and the big man did the rest, scoring six points to give the Bucs life.

Fitzpatrick then made an incredible play, leaping over a defender and found Godwin in the middle of the end zone to make good on the two-point conversion and tie the game, 34-34.

All the defense had to do was what it had done during the entire second half. They just had to get one stop to get this game to overtime.

They weren’t able to do so and it came down to Bullock’s 44-yard field goal attempt into the wind.

It went straight through the uprights as time expired. The Bengals escaped by scoring just three points in the second half on offense and sent the Bucs to 3-4 on the season with a heartbreaking loss on the road.

Tampa Bay travels to Charlotte next weekend to take on the 5-2 Carolina Panthers.