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Buccaneers vs. Titans recap: Predictable

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Tampa Bay lost a game it should’ve won, which means it was just a typical Sunday.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers, losers of two straight before their Week 7 bye, returned to the field Sunday afternoon to take on the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

For the last two weeks, most of the talk surrounding Tampa Bay has been about the future of quarterback Jameis Winston. His six-turnover day in London back on Oct. 13 undid all of the good he did in the previous 12 games dating back to last season, so the conversation once again returned to whether or not the Bucs could really justify paying him big money after the 2019 season.

So, Winston came into Sunday’s game needing a bounce-back effort to quiet some of that talk. The defense was also getting a much-needed boost with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul. There were a lot of reasons that the Bucs needed to get back in the win column, really, because with two weeks to stew over the loss in London, the team and its fan base needed something to enjoy. Plus, a win would get Bruce Arians and his team back within striking range of .500 before this long road trip comes to an end next week.

The Titans won the toss and deferred, meaning the Bucs would start the game with the ball at their 25. After a short run by Peyton Barber, Winston found Cameron Brate for a first down on his first throw. After another decent gain from Barber, Winston found Chris Godwin for another first. On the following play, Winston looked deep for Mike Evans, and Evans drew a defensive pass interference flag. With the ball at the four, the Bucs couldn’t find the end zone. Barber was stopped on first down before two straight incompletions gave way to a 22-yard field goal by Matt Gay. With 11:28 to go in the first, Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead.

The Titans started their first drive at their own 25, with Ryan Tannehill under center. After Derrick Henry was stuffed on first down, Jason Pierre-Paul made his presence felt. Shaquil Barrett got some pressure and Pierre-Paul pushed through for his first sack of the year. On his first snap. After needing just five months to return from a neck fracture. Welcome back, JPP.

The strong start for the Bucs didn’t last any longer. A penalty on the punt and then a false start backed them up before things got really bad. With Winston going through his pre-snap signals, Ryan Jensen snapped the ball. He wasn’t ready for it, which led to a fumble that was recovered by Tennessee. From there, it was an easy five-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Jonnu Smith to give the Titans a 7-3 lead.

On the following possession, the Bucs went run-heavy. Ronald Jones II picked up some tough yards before Barber returned to fight for some hard-earned yards of his own. Winston and Godwin then connected for a first down across midfield on a play that looked sure to be a sack. The Tennessee defense then got Tampa Bay to 3rd & 7 before a Brate drop forced a Bradley Pinion punt that was downed at the one by Ryan Smith.

The Buccaneer defense didn’t take advantage of the great special teams play, allowing a 34-yard run to Henry. But the unit responded after that, with a tackle for loss and pass defended by Lavonte David and a nice pass breakup by Sean Murphy-Bunting forcing a Titans punt.

After a false start on first down, the Bucs turned the ball over yet again. This time it was an overthrow as Winston was looking for Godwin. It looked to be a miscommunication, as Godwin was talked to on the sidelines immediately after, according to Bucs Nation’s Gil Arcia:

The Titans took advantage of the turnover again, with Tannehill finding Tajae Sharpe for a six-yard touchdown. After the PAT, it was 14-3 Titans.

Mike Evans hauled in his first catch of the game right as the first quarter came to an end. The Bucs trailed 14-3 despite outgaining the Titans by a significant margin. As is the standard these days, it was the turnover battle making the difference.

Tampa Bay built a nice drive early on in the second, with Winston making some sharper throws before using his legs to pick up a 4th & 1 in Tennessee territory. He continued to scramble well, putting the Bucs within field goal range. He looked to have thrown his second interception of the game on another miscommunication with Godwin, but after reviewing the play, the catch was not completed.

The Bucs caught a break and had a chance on 3rd & 8, only Winston was sacked. A 16-play drive that lasted 7:33 ended in a 48-yard field goal by Gay, which cut the deficit to 14-6 midway through the second quarter.

The Buccaneer defense continued to hold strong on the next drive, keeping Henry to one yard on the first two plays. A false start backed the Titans up to 3rd & 14, then Tannehill had a pass broken up by Andrew Adams.

After Vernon Hargreaves III was back to return punts early in the game, T.J. Logan took over on the next one. And it’s a good thing he did, as he took it back 40 yards to the Tennessee 34. And no flags!

Starting the drive in field goal range, Tampa Bay badly needed to find the end zone. On first down, Winston hit Evans for 29 yards to the five. Then, hilarity ensued. Barber got nothing on first down, Winston threw incomplete to Dare Ogunbowale on second down and well, this happened on third down:

A 24-yard field goal from Gay cut the Titans’ lead to 14-9 with under four minutes to go in the first half.

The Titans started their next drive with great field position after a 45-yard return. Tannehill then connected with Smith for a 26-yard gain. A couple of plays later, Barrett came up with his 10th sack of the season to set up a long field goal attempt for Tennessee. Cody Parkey delivered from 51 yards out to put the Titans up 17-9 with 1:09 left in the half.

The Bucs started to move well with little time to go in the half thanks to completions of 13 and 14 yards to Evans, but he had to leave the field temporarily after the second catch. While Evans was on the sideline, Winston was sacked before throwing an incompletion. When Evans returned, the two connected again. Winston avoided pressure, moved in the pocket and threw one up to Evans near the sideline for a gain of 46 yards to the Tennessee 9-yard line.

Following incompletions to Tanner Hudson and Ogunbowale, Winston went back to his guy. Evans made a heck of a move to get separation, getting open for a nine-yard score. The Bucs failed to get the two-point conversion when Breshad Perriman couldn’t control his feet near the sideline, so Tampa Bay went to the locker room down 17-15. The scoring drive for the Bucs: 8 plays, 75 yards in 0:54.

Tennessee got the ball to start the second half and quickly faced a 3rd & 11 that Tannehill converted. But on the next play, the defense made a big play as Adams forced a fumble that was recovered by Vernon Hargreaves III.

Going from their own 44, the Bucs went right back to what worked at the end of the first half. Winston delivered a perfect deep ball to Evans, who hauled it in for a gain of 43. That catch was the 430th of his career, which tied him with James Wilder for the most in franchise history. A few plays later, he caught a two-yard touchdown, which gave him sole possession of the record and put the Bucs ahead. Winston then found Godwin for the two-point conversion, putting Tampa Bay up 23-17 early in the third.

The Tampa Bay defense continued to play well, with Carlton Davis breaking up a pass near the sideline on first down before Carl Nassib came up with a third-down sack. The Bucs got the ball back, already leading 23-17 and looking to go up two scores.

The offense moved near midfield quickly on its next drive, with Jones picking up some yards on the ground and Godwin bringing in an excellent third-down catch. But the drive eventually stalled in Tennessee territory, leading to a Pinion punt that was caught by Adam Humphries for a fair catch at the 8.

The Titans put together a wild drive, with Davis intercepting Tannehill on back-to-back plays only to be called for pass interference on both. Tennessee eventually stalled right outside the red zone, thanks in large part to a nice pass breakup in the end zone by Davis and a good open-field tackle by Devin White. Parkey’s 42-yard field goal made it just a three-point lead for the Bucs as the third quarter drew to a close.

The Bucs started the fourth quarter by going three-and-out for the first time all day. That’s not the best time for that, to say the least. But after a holding call on the punt, Tennessee was backed up to its own 10.

The Titans, who struggled to move the ball all day, proceeded to expose the Bucs. The defense that had played so well all day reverted to its normal self, allowing a 12-play, 90-yard drive that took 6:54. It ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to A.J. Brown that gave Tennessee a 27-23 lead with 6:55 to go.

On the first play of the next drive, Winston found Jones for a gain of 17. But two plays later, Donovan Smith was badly beaten, which led to Winston getting hit as he threw. Tennessee recovered in Bucs territory, meaning the defense needed a stop to give the offense another chance.

The drive started well for the defense, stopping Henry behind the line of scrimmage twice. But on 3rd & 14, the Titans picked up 12 to make the field goal more manageable. EXCEPT Tennessee tried a fake and Devin White was having none of it. He decked poor Brett Kern, with the ball coming loose, but the officials inexplicably blew the play dead early. No advancement. The Bucs got the ball back at their 28, down four, with 3:41 to go.

With one last chance to make something happen, the Bucs drove into Titans territory, thanks in large part to a 20-yard run by Winston. After passes to Godwin and Ogunbowale and then a couple of completions, Winston ran for nine more to set up 4th & 1 at the Tennessee 32 after the two-minute warning.

Coming out off the two-minute warning, the Bucs went with the most predictable thing possible. It was a give to Barber up the middle, and he was stuffed behind the line.

The defense got the ball back with 50 seconds to go, but Winston couldn’t do anything with it. He threw his second interception of the day on a deep ball to Breshad Perriman, who gave up on the ball awfully early, from the looks of it. Ball game. Titans 27, Bucs 23.

The Bucs did a lot of things right. The defense was largely impressive. Mike Evans had a fantastic day. Matt Gay kept them in it early. For the most part, they outplayed the Titans. But they found just enough things to do wrong in order to lose. Four turnovers? Check. Nine penalties for 87 yards? Check. Mismanaging the chances they had late in the game? Check. Even when things were going well, you just knew it would all come crashing down eventually. It could not have been more predictable.

With the loss, Tampa Bay fell to 2-5 ahead of the trade deadline. It’s not unreasonable to expect some moves to be made to start blowing up this roster. If not, then what’re we even doing here?

Quick Stats

  • Mike Evans had seven catches (on eight targets) for 137 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. He finished with 11 catches (on 12 targets) for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Evans now owns the franchise’s all-time records for receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions.
  • Jameis Winston was the Bucs’ leading rusher, gaining 53 yards on eight carries. He threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns on the day, but four more turnovers won’t quiet the criticism. Even if they weren’t all necessarily his fault, they go under his name. And the talk will continue.
  • The Bucs outgained the Titans 215-70 in the first half, but trailed 17-15 after 30 minutes as a result of two turnovers. They ended up outgaining them 389-246 overall, but being minus-three in the turnover battle made the difference.
  • Tampa Bay held possession for 20:36 to Tennessee’s 9:24 in the first half.
  • Lavonte David was the team’s leading tackler, with 12 (six solo). He had a tackle for loss and a pass defended as well.
  • Shaquil Barrett finished with one sack (his 10th) and two total tackles for loss on the day. He also forced a fumble on the sack, but it was recovered by the Titans.
  • In his first game back after recovering from a neck fracture, Jason Pierre-Paul also tallied a sack and three total tackles for loss.
  • Carl Nassib added a sack of his own in the loss.
  • The Bucs had eight passes defended, with three coming from Carlton Davis.
  • Matt Gay was three-for-three on the day. He has made 18 straight kicks over the last four games.

The Bucs (2-5) return to the field next Sunday (Nov. 3) in Seattle against the Seahawks. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m.