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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers vs Chargers recap: Veteran beats rookie in 38-31 shootout

Tampa Bay got all it could handle from Los Angeles in Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium before coming away with a 38-31 victory.

Despite COVID-19 impacting other games around the NFL in Week 4, the Buccaneers hosted the Los Angeles Chargers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday as scheduled. Tampa Bay came in looking for its third consecutive victory, and it was playing in front of a limited number of home fans for the first time this season.

The Chargers came in at 1-2, with 2020 No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert getting his third straight start due to the (team doctor-inflicted) injury to Week 1 starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Herbert’s offense arrived in Tampa shorthanded, with wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring), tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and guard Trai Turner (groin) all ruled out. Center Mike Pouncey (hip) is also on injured reserve, adding to the team’s woes. And of course, the Los Angeles defense has also been missing some key pieces, with Derwin James (knee), Melvin Ingram (knee) and Chris Harris Jr. (foot) all on injured reserve as well.

Tampa Bay came into Week 4 with some injuries of its own, as Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Leonard Fournette (ankle) were both ruled out. Even still, the Bucs were seven-point favorites, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 78.6% chance to win the game.

Surprisingly, it was all Chargers for much of the first half, as they took a 24-7 lead before the Bucs cut it to 24-14 late in the first half. From there, the home team continued to fight back, eventually taking a 28-24 lead in the third quarter. But right after the Bucs took that lead, the Chargers came right back to take a 31-28 lead of their own. With the pressure on, Tom Brady and the offense stayed cool to finish the game on a 10-0 run. The 38-31 shootout win for Brady and the Bucs improved their record to 3-1 on the year.

Game Recap

The Chargers won the coin toss and deferred, so Tom Brady and the Buccaneer offense took the field first after a touchback on the kickoff. Tampa Bay started its first drive with a heavy dose of Ronald Jones II, with the third-year running back catching a three-yard pass, running for nine yards, catching a seven-yarder and running for another four on the first four plays. Brady then found Mike Evans over the middle for a 24-yard gain to get the ball deep into Los Angeles territory.

After a short LeSean McCoy run, the Bucs entered the red zone with a 17-yard pickup on another pass from Brady to Evans. From the 8-yard line, it took three plays to find the end zone, with Brady hitting Cameron Brate for a three-yard touchdown. With the score, Brate moved into a fourth-place tie for most touchdown receptions in team history (28). Ryan Succop’s PAT made it 7-0 Tampa Bay, capping off a 10-play, 75-yard drive that lasted five minutes.

The Chargers started their first drive of the afternoon on their own 25, going to their talented running back on the first two plays. Austin Ekeler caught a two-yard pass before picking up 10 on his first carry. Justin Herbert then found Keenan Allen for a 10-yard gain before unloading a 53-yard touchdown pass to Tyron Johnson, who got behind the defense with ease. The PAT made it 7-7 just 1:46 after Tampa Bay took the lead.

Kenjon Barner returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to give Tampa Bay pretty good field position, though a false start set the offense back a bit. What set them back even further was Evans leaving the game and heading to the locker room after getting tackled awkwardly. But the drive kept going, with Jones playing a huge role. Gains of seven and eight from No. 27 got the offense near midfield before Brady found Justin Watson for a 15-yard gain to the Los Angeles 33. Rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn then got his first career carry, only to be stuffed for a gain of one yard. The promising drive came to a sudden end there, with Michael Davis jumping a Brady pass and taking it back for a 78-yard pick six. After the PAT, the Chargers had themselves a sudden 14-7 lead.

The Bucs’ downturn in momentum continued on their next drive, with a Donovan Smith holding penalty pushing them back to a 1st & 20. That ended the drive before it even started, with short passes to Jones and McCoy not getting nearly enough for the first down. Bradley Pinion’s 57-yard punt was returned for 44 yards to Tampa Bay’s 34-yard line, but an illegal block in the back brought things back to the Chargers’ 22.

Los Angeles had more hard injury luck on its next drive, with Ekeler grabbing the back of his leg after a two-yard carry. The NFC Defensive Player of the Month, Lavonte David, tipped Herbert’s next pass at the line to force a third down before pressure got to the rookie to force another incompletion and a subsequent punt. After a 40-yarder and a one-yard return, the Bucs started their next drive at their own 37.

Tampa Bay got a boost to start its next drive, with Evans returning to the game after missing a series and a half. But that didn’t help their momentum, with the offense going a quick three-and-out near the end of the first quarter. Pinion’s punt was a good one, as it bounced out at Los Angeles’ 5-yard line. And with a penalty on top of that, the Chargers had to start their next drive at the 3. A four-yard pickup by Gabe Nabers brought us to the end of the first quarter with the Chargers leading 14-7.

Los Angeles opened the second quarter with a false start, but a five-yard pass from Herbert to Nabers got the offense out of its own end zone. Herbert then scrambled for a first down, and the Chargers got a free 15 yards thanks to Jordan Whitehead, who hit the quarterback late out of bounds. After another first down, the drive looked to have stalled, but a pass interference call on Carlton Davis extended it. Great coverage by David on Hunter Henry and an Anthony Nelson tackle for loss set up a 3rd & 11 for Los Angeles, but not before a timeout by Tampa Bay.

After the timeout, Joshua Kelley found himself wide open and Herbert hit him for a 17-yard gain, keeping the Buccaneer defense on the field. A couple of plays later, Herbert fired a perfect pass to Donald Parham Jr. for a 19-yard touchdown. The score made it 21-7 after a 13-play, 97-yard drive that lasted 6:15 and was certainly aided by some Tampa Bay penalties.

The Bucs nearly went three-and-out again on their next drive, but a five-yard pass from Brady to O.J. Howard was good enough for a first down. Runs of seven, 23 and four yards by Jones got things going a bit for the offense, but a drop brought up a 3rd & 5 at the Chargers’ 26. For the first time in the game, Brady looked for Scotty Miller deep, but the pass fell incomplete, forcing a 44-yard field goal attempt by Succop. And to make things even worse, the kick sailed wide left. Despite some hard running from Jones, the Bucs still trailed 21-7 late in the second quarter.

The Chargers picked up two quick first downs on their next drive, continuing to impose their will against the Buccaneer defense. A 17-yard pass from Herbert to Allen put Los Angeles at the Tampa Bay 35. A tackle for loss by David brought things to the two-minute warning, with the Bucs in danger of their deficit growing even more. An illegal block after the two-minute warning pushed the Chargers back to 2nd & 21 before a 3rd & 18 came up short. But the Chargers were still able to add to their lead, with Michael Badgley connecting on a 53-yard field goal to make it 24-7.

The Bucs continued to look lifeless on their next drive, with more drops dooming any chance of cutting into the Chargers’ lead. To make matters worse, Evans got himself flagged for unnecessary roughness after a third-down miss. But a 56-yard punt by Pinion went out at Los Angeles’ 9-yard line, setting up a momentum-changing play for the Tampa Bay defense. Ndamukong Suh forced a fumble that was recovered by Devin White, giving the Bucs offense possession at the 6-yard line.

Two misses by Brady set up a 3rd & Goal from the 6, but he managed to find Evans for a touchdown with 22 seconds left to cut the Chargers’ lead to 24-14.

Los Angeles took a knee from there, content to head into the locker room with a 10-point lead.

Tampa Bay’s defense got out to a strong start in the second half, forcing a 3rd & 6 before Whitehead ended the drive with a sack of Herbert, the Bucs’ first of the day. That forced a punt, giving Brady and the offense a chance to close the gap even further early in the third quarter.

Starting from their 31, Tampa Bay picked up a quick first down. A short run by Jones and a nine-yard pass to Evans got the ball near midfield before an eventual 3rd & 4 was converted with a 10-yard pass to Watson. Brady then connected with Evans for another first down and then a couple of plays later, he unleashed a beauty of a 28-yard touchdown pass to Howard. With the PAT, Tampa Bay got within 24-21. But it was shortly after this that news broke about neither McCoy nor Barner being able to return to the game, leaving the backfield with just Jones and Vaughn for the rest of the game.

The Chargers responded well to the Bucs’ touchdown, with Herbert hitting Henry on a short pass that ended up going for a 30-yard gain. A couple of plays later, the two linked up again for another first down to Tampa Bay’s 35. The drive continued to look good with a great catch made by Allen near the sideline before the Bucs forced a 4th & 1 try, which the Chargers converted. A 2nd & 7 conversion came next, but an illegal chop block pushed things back to 2nd & 22 at the 37-yard line and stalled the drive. An eventual field goal try from Badgley, this one from 47 yards out, went wide, giving the ball back to the Tampa Bay offense in a three-point game.

The Bucs kept momentum on their side from the first play of the very next drive, with Brady and Miller connecting for a 44-yard gain to the Los Angeles’ 19. Then, on the next play, Brady found Miller again over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown and the lead. Succop’s PAT made it 28-24 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

Needing a stop, the Tampa Bay defense took the field with a bit of confidence after Badgley’s missed field goal on the previous possession. Some pressure on first down forced a short three-yard pass before an incompletion led to a 3rd & 7. But the Chargers didn’t go quietly, with Herbert withstanding a heavy blitz to unload a 72-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Guyton. That put the visitors on top, 31-28, after three quarters.

Brady continued to look toward Miller at the start of the next drive, finding him for gains of six and seven to pick up a first down. A 17-yard reception by Howard got the ball into Chargers’ territory, but an offensive pass interference call on Evans pushed the offense back. Evans made up for it a couple of plays later, hauling in a 48-yard catch to get Tampa Bay inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Brady threw for his fifth touchdown of the day, with this one going to Vaughn, the rookie out of Vanderbilt. It was his first career score, and it put the Bucs back on top by a score of 35-31.

The Chargers tried to run a flea-flicker on the opening play of their ensuing possession, but nothing was there and Herbert gave himself up for the sack. A couple of plays later, on 3rd & 9, Kelley caught a short pass and looked primed to pick up the first down, but David stopped him just short, forcing a punt and getting a big stop for the Tampa Bay defense with 8:45 to go.

The Bucs went to work on the clock on their next drive, with Jones getting some important carries. It was announced at this point that Howard would miss the rest of the game with an Achilles injury, adding to Tampa Bay’s injury woes. But the offense kept going, with Vaughn contributing with a nice first-down catch to bring the clock under six minutes. With under five minutes to go, Brady and Rob Gronkowski connected for a big first down. Brady threw a 50-50 ball that his big tight end went up and got for a gain of 29. A 10-yard run by Jones kept the offense clicking from there, with the clock ticking under three minutes now.

After Jones got it down to the Los Angeles 7, the Chargers started calling their timeouts. The first came with 2:52 to go, then the second was called with 2:48 left to bring up 3rd & 6. The Bucs elected to throw, which turned out to be a bad decision, as Vaughn couldn’t come up with catch. That led to a 25-yard field goal by Succop, which gave Tampa Bay a 38-31 lead with 2:40 left.

Starting at their 25 with one timeout and the two-minute warning, the Chargers started their drive with a quick throw to the sideline for a gain of three. But on the next play, Herbert made his first big mistake of the day, and it was a significant one. A bad throw deep over the middle was intercepted by Davis to put a severe dent in Los Angeles’ comeback hopes.

Tampa Bay didn’t give up the ball from there, with Jones going over 100 yards rushing on the day to put the finishing touches on the team’s third straight victory.

Quick Notes & Stats

  • The Bucs totaled just 177 yards on 40 plays in the first half (4.4 yards per play), while the Chargers put up 181 in just 29 plays (6.2 yards per play).
  • After a big second half, Tampa Bay finished the game with 484 yards on 73 plays (6.6 yards per play), outgaining Los Angeles, which had 324 yards on 50 plays (6.5 yards per play).
  • Justin Herbert threw just three completions in the half, going 11-of-14 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He ended up with just five in the game, finishing 20-of-25 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and a costly interception.
  • Tom Brady had his best game as a Buc, going 30-of-46 for 369 yards, five touchdowns and a pick. He connected with five different receivers on those five scores (Cameron Brate, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard, Scotty Miller and Ke’Shawn Vaughn).
  • Ronald Jones II was a huge part of the Bucs’ offensive success, running for 111 yards on 20 carries while adding six catches for 17 yards as well.
  • Mike Evans, playing through an injury he picked up early in the game, caught seven of his eight targets for 122 yards and a score.
  • Scotty Miller caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, putting up a huge second half.
  • Lavonte David was Tampa Bay’s leading tackler, putting up 11 (10 solo), with one tackle for loss and one pass defended.
  • Shaquil Barrett and Jordan Whitehead both tallied sacks in the victory.
  • Bradley Pinion had himself a nice day, punting three times for 171 yards (57 yards per punt). He had two downed inside the 20.
  • Tampa Bay was penalized eight times for 90 yards in the game, while Los Angeles was totaled 60 penalty yards after getting flagged seven times.
  • The Bucs held possession for 34:55 to the Chargers’ 25:05.

Tampa Bay (3-1) has a short turnaround this week, as it will head to Chicago to take on the Bears on Thursday Night Football in just a few days. Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m.

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