Another week, another four touchdown performance.
After a scintillating victory against the Saints in Week 1, many wondered if Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs could continue the torrid offensive pace they began in New Orleans or if they would come back down to earth against the reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles.
That question was quickly answered as Fitzpatrick continued his excellent play from the week earlier when he hit a wide-open DeSean Jackson on a play-action pass for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game to give the Bucs the lead, 7-0.
The Bucs defense came right out and forced a three-and-out on the Eagles’ first possession after the Jackson touchdown. What was even worse for Philadelphia was the fact that left tackle Jason Peters limped off the field with an apparent injury.
Tampa Bay couldn’t have scripted a better start to the game.
A Fletcher Cox sack stalled the next drive for the Bucs, but the defense held their own again on the next drive.
The Eagles couldn’t get out of their own way early on in the first quarter. Penalties destroyed what may have been an effective drive, but left them with a 3rd and 41 in their own territory.
The Bucs fell victim to their own circumstances as well. After the first touchdown, an unnecessary roughness call on center Ryan Jensen killed a promising drive after a tough run on first down by Peyton Barber.
But again, the defense came through. A blitz by middle linebacker Kwon Alexander forced a strip-sack on Foles by Alexander himself and rookie Carlton Davis recovered the ball for Tampa Bay.
But the Bucs gave the ball right back after O.J. Howard couldn’t control a pass from Fitzpatrick enough to complete a catch over the middle and the end result was tipped ball that was picked off by the Eagles’ Ronald Darby.
Fortunately it was Jason Pierre-Paul who came through for the Bucs and recorded his first sack of the season on the next drive. The defense had come to play at this point, allowing just 61 yards of total offense, with one sack and one turnover.
An uncharacteristic drop by Mike Evans led to a Bucs’ punt on Tampa Bay’s next series. Soon after, the Eagles were able to convert a huge 3rd-and-7 at midfield on a pass from Foles to Nelson Agholor for a gain of 12 yards.
Philly went on to convert two more third downs and even one fourth down attempt on the drive as Corey Clement took a handoff off the left side for a 15-yard scamper into the endzone. It gave the Eagles their first touchdown of the game and tied it up, 7-7.
All of a sudden, the defending champs were back in business.
Or were they?
Just two plays later, Fitzpatrick found O.J. Howard over the middle and well, let’s just say Howard did the rest.
OJ Howard turning on the after burners! 13-7 TB leading the defending champs pic.twitter.com/VF1BeNdhkw— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) September 16, 2018
Credit also needs to be given to Chris Godwin for holding the block downfield to finish the play.
Despite all the fun, an old demon crept back around right after the touchdown. Chandler Catanzaro missed the extra point attempt and instead of seven, the Bucs lead only increased by six, 13-7.
But the Bucs put that behind them and the defense forced yet another three-and-out, giving the offense the ball with under three minutes to go in the first half.
Fitzpatrick hit two quick passes to get the Bucs down to the Eagles’ 33-yard line just as the two-minute warning hit. Four plays later he found Godwin all alone in the endzone for his third touchdown pass of the game and it pushed the lead to 20-7.
The Eagles got the ball back with :42 seconds left, but everyone knows that’s plenty of time for points with Doug Pederson’s squads.
A beautiful sideline throw from Foles to Ertz for 34 yards automatically put the Eagles in Bucs territory. Philadelphia was in business, but a great play by Kwon Alexander on the next play forced the Eagles to use a timeout early.
Lavonte David made an excellent and possible touchdown-saving tackle on Clement in the open field on the next play that left the Eagles in field goal range.
The 42-yard attempt by Josh Elliot dinged off of the right upright and the kick was no good. The Bucs went into halftime still holding on to their 13-point lead.
Expectations were that the Eagles would come out of halftime ready to play and that appeared so as Jay Ajayi took the first handoff of the second half and rumbled down the field for 20 yards.
The Bucs were able to hold the Eagles to a fourth down and when you play any other team in the league, that’s a victory. But not when you play the Eagles.
Foles completed a pass to Ertz on 4th-and-4, but he was tackled just shy of the marker and the Bucs were ready to go at the their own 46.
Jackson came through for the Bucs again on the next drive, making an incredible, acrobatic catch on the sideline for a 28-yard gain to take Tampa Bay inside the Philly seven. Evans caught his second touchdown pass on the season on a four-yard slant to push the Bucs’ lead to 27-7.
Gerald McCoy nabbed his first sack of the season on the Eagles next drive and another three-and-out was forced by Tampa Bay, but Philadelphia fired back and forced a three-and-out of their own on the next drive.
Foles hooked up with Agholor on the next drive for the Eagles’ biggest play of the game. Agholor took a short crossing route and outran M.J. Stewart for a 50-yard gain down the sideline. The Bucs were able to get another third down stop, but in usual Eagles fashion, Pederson went for it again on fourth down and converted on a Foles quarterback sneak.
A great double-team tackle by Ryan Smith and rookie Jordan Whitehead helped keep Ertz out of the endzone, but a powerful run by Ajayi brought the Eagles back within two scores, 27-14.
It was time for the Bucs to respond and put this game out of reach. They were on there way to doing until Evans fumbled the ball in Eagle territory as the team was driving. It was the second big mistake of the game for Tampa Bay - could they recover like they did after the Howard turnover?
In a short answer, yes. The Eagles found some offensive success, but were forced to go for it yet again on fourth down. This time, the Bucs had the perfect coverage dialed up and the defensive line forced Foles to scramble enough to throw the entire play out of whack.
The result was incomplete pass.
Philly couldn’t convert and the Bucs took over. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do much as they went three and out. It was up to the defense to find a way to stop the Eagles’ offense again.
Things got off to a terrible start. Foles completed his first three passes of the drive for three first downs and 58 yards to three different receivers. Within moments, Philly was deep into Buc territory.
An amazing defensive goal-line sequence saw the Bucs stop Ajayi on three straight runs inside the eight yard line. With the Eagles down by two scores, it was obviously four-down territory.
Foles hit Agholor on an amazing fade into the right corner of the endzone. Say what you want about the Eagles’ backup quarterback, but the dude can throw dimes when it matters and he did exactly that over Carlton Davis to make the game a one-score matchup, 27-21.
Incredible throw by Foles… even better hurdle by Agholor pic.twitter.com/RlNc822Evk— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 16, 2018
All of a sudden, it looked like the defending champs had figured it out.
Would the Bucs come out and simply attempt to run the clock out or would the new-look offense take some shots like they have done so far thus season?
It didn’t take long to find out after Fitzpatrick hit Jackson for a huge 17-yard gain along the right sideline. The only downside of the play was that Jackson stepped out of bounds, which stopped the clock and saved a timeout for the Eagles.
But that didn’t matter as Fitzpatrick hit Evans on gutsy play call to convert the 3rd-and-3 and ice the game just a few plays later.
The Eagles received the ball with under :30 seconds to play and had to resort to the backward-lateral Hail Mary that every desperate team employs in the waning seconds of an obvious loss.
It was a hard-fought victory that will no doubt be an even larger stepping stone than the victory over the Saints in Week 1.
The Bucs take on the Steelers next Monday night in Tampa Bay.
Stats from the game:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick was the player of the game again. He finished 27/33 for 402 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He is just the second player in NFL history to start the season with consecutive 400-yard games and four touchdowns.
- Mike Evans tied Jimmie Giles for the most receiving touchdowns in franchise history (34).
- DeSean Jackson is now tied with Jerry Rice for the most 60+ yard touchdowns in NFL history (23).
- The Eagles led in time of possession, were even in turnover margin, and doubled the Bucs’ rushing yardage. That usually equals a win the NFL.
- Kwon Alexander was everywhere. He finished the day with seven total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and three tackles for loss.
- The Eagles were 5/15 on third down, and were 3/5 on fourth down.