After benefitting from a mini bye week that came after their Thursday Night Football win over the Eagles on Oct. 14, the Buccaneers (5-1) returned to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon to host the Chicago Bears (3-3).
The story of Tampa Bay’s season, to this point, has been about fighting through key injury after key injury and somehow still managing to win. Coming into a matchup against the Bears, who came away with a 20-19 win when these two teams met in Chicago last October, the Bucs didn’t get much reprieve from the injury bug. Antoine Winfield Jr. did return after clearing concussion protocol, but Rob Gronkowski (ribs) and Lavonte David (ankle) remained out while Richard Sherman (hamstring) and Antonio Brown (ankle) were sidelined as well.
Not to mention, the secondary still has Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow) and Carlton Davis (quad) on injured reserve. And just to make matters that much worse, defensive backs coach Kevin Ross was missing on Sunday due to COVID-19 protocols. So, Week 7—just like the several weeks before it—was bound to test the depth of the defending Super Bowl champions.
One of the bigger storylines ahead of Sunday’s contest was the age gap between the respective starting quarterbacks. At 44 years old, Tom Brady is in the middle of his 22nd year of professional football. On the other hand, at 22 years old, Fields is in his 22nd year of, well, life. That made for the largest age gap between two starting quarterbacks since... Week 4, when Brady squared off against Mac Jones, New England’s rookie quarterback. Then again, when the Bucs play the Jets later this season, Brady and Zach Wilson will reset the mark.
Despite the way their injury report and inactives list looked, the Bucs were still heavy 12-point favorites over the Bears, with ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor giving the home team an 81.2% chance to come away with its fourth straight win.
The game was never a close one. Tampa Bay’s special teams and defensive units were phenomenal from the start, giving the offense great field position time and again in the first half. The Bucs went on to score 35 points and force three turnovers in the first half before taking a 35-3 lead into the locker room. The offense couldn’t quite match its first-half performance over the final 30 minutes, but the defense forced two more turnovers and continued to dominate, allowing the team to cruise to a 38-3 victory that improved their record to 6-1 on the year.
After the pregame rain came to a halt, the Bucs and Bears took the field under mostly cloudy skies with the potential for more rain to come. Chicago won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, beginning its first drive from the 25-yard line after Bradley Pinion delivered a touchback. Khalil Herbert got the first carry of the game on a pitch play before being promptly dropped for no gain by Jordan Whitehead. The defense kept the pressure on from there, with Antoine Winfield Jr. coming in on a blitz to light up Justin Fields for a sack-fumble. Chicago recovered, but that put them well behind the sticks, meaning a short gain on third down brought the punt team out on fourth.
Rookie Jaelon Darden didn’t take long to electrify the crowd in his first home game, taking Pat O’Donnell’s punt 43 yards to the Bears’ 32-yard line, setting Tampa Bay’s offense up with outstanding field position. After a defensive pass interference call brought the ball up to the 17, Leonard Fournette took over, getting 15 yards on first down and then two more on second to get in the end zone. With Ryan Succop’s PAT, it was an early 7-0 lead for the Bucs, just over three minutes into the game.
Starting their second drive from the 25-yard line once again, the Bears got a big play on first down as Herbert picked up 29 yards to the Bucs’ 46-yard line. But that was as far as Chicago got, with back-to-back one-yard runs bringing up a 3rd & 8. Fields looked for Cole Kmet on third down, but the tight end couldn’t come up with the catch, bringing the punt team out again. This time, O’Donnell stayed away from Darden, dropping his kick out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 16.
The Bucs opened up their second offensive series with a four-yard run by Fournette and an incomplete pass, bringing them to their first third-down attempt of the day. The Chicago defense stood tall on 3rd & 6, as Giovani Bernard caught Tom Brady’s pass only to be dropped for a loss of four. Pinion’s first punt of the day was a good one, going 49 yards before Rashard Robinson made a great tackle Jakeem Grant for no gain. With that, Fields and co. came back out to start their third possession from the 35.
Fields and Kmet connected for a gain of five to start the next drive before an incomplete pass brought up a 3rd & 5 at the 40. Fields somehow escaped a Jason Pierre-Paul sack on third down, but his throw on the run sailed downfield into the arms of Dee Delaney, who took the interception back for 26 yards to original line of scrimmage. Just like that, the Buccaneer offense had great field position for the second time in three drives.
After Brady found Chris Godwin and Tyler Johnson on back-to-back plays for a first down to the 30, Godwin made an excellent diving catch for 21 yards to the 9-yard line. An incomplete pass intended for Cameron Brate and a five-yard run by Fournette then brought up a 3rd & Goal at the 4. This time around on third down, Brady and Godwin connected for a touchdown that put the Bucs up 13-0. After Succop’s PAT, it was a 14-0 lead with 4:37 to go in the first quarter.
The Bears opened their next possession with some strong running by Herbert, who picked up 10 yards on two carries to move the chains. Fields then found Herbert for a four-yard gain out of the backfield, but the rookie running back was dropped for a loss on the next play to set up a 3rd & 7. Tampa Bay’s defense continued to bring the pressure on third down, with Shaquil Barrett picking up another sack-fumble. This time, Vita Vea recovered the ball, giving the Tampa Bay offense another short field to work with.
Going from the Bears’ 35, Brady hit Mike Evans for an 11-yard gain to the 24. Ronald Jones II then got his first carry of the game and picked up 12 yards to the 12-yard line. He got three more on the next play before an incomplete pass brought up a 3rd & 7 at the Chicago 9. But once again, Tampa Bay converted a third down in the red zone. This time, it was Mike Evans who came up with a big nine-yard touchdown catch to put the Bucs up by three scores with six seconds left in the first quarter. The touchdown pass for Brady was the 600th of his career.
After another Pinion touchback and a five-yard pass from Fields to Kmet, the first quarter came to an end with Tampa Bay leading 21-0.
Fields opened the second quarter with a three-yard pass to Damien Williams, but a dropped pass on third down meant yet another punt for Chicago. O’Donnell’s 38-yard punt went out of bounds at the Bucs’ 29, which is where the Buccaneer offense took over with a chance to go up by four scores early in the second quarter.
Jones remained in the backfield to start Tampa Bay’s next drive, getting nine yards on first down as the sun began to make its presence felt over Raymond James Stadium for the first time all afternoon. Jones then got four more yards to give the offense a fresh set of downs before three straight incompletions brought Pinion out for his second punt of the day. A 42-yarder combined with a 13-yard return by Grant meant Chicago’s next drive would start at its 29-yard line.
The Bears remained committed to the run to start their next possession, with Herbert continuing to find his gaps. He got six yards on first down before a play-action pass from Fields to Jesse James moved the chains. But two plays later, the Buccaneer defense came up with another takeaway. Jason Pierre-Paul got to Fields for a strip sack, with Shaquil Barrett recovering. During his return, Barrett fumbled the ball away, but Devin White recovered and got 15 more yards to set the offense up at the Bears’ 25.
The Bucs, for their part, remained committed to the pass on their next drive—and it didn’t work out. Three more incompletions in a row brought Succop out for a 43-yard field goal attempt. His kick went wide, which meant Tampa Bay came away empty-handed after its defense provided the offense with starting field position just outside the red zone. Nonetheless, the home team still had a 21-0 lead with 10:01 left in the first half.
Fields found Darnell Mooney for a 17-yard gain on the opening play of Chicago’s next possession, then Herbert picked up 13 more yards on the ground to get inside the Tampa Bay 40. Fields ran for five more yards on the next play before another 13-yard pickup by Herbert, putting the Bears in the red zone for the first time all day. Two plays later, it was another first down for the Bears and another injury for the Buccaneer secondary. Jamel Dean was shaken up, but he walked off the field quickly.
After a Bears timeout, Barrett stopped Herbert for no gain before pressure forced an incompletion from Fields that brought up 3rd & Goal at the 10. Jesper Horsted couldn’t come up with a third-down catch thanks to tight coverage from Dean, who had returned to the game. Rather than going for a touchdown from the 10, Bears head coach Matt Nagy elected to kick, and former Buc Cairo Santos got the visitors on the board with a 28-yard field goal. Just over six minutes before halftime, the Bucs had a 21-3 lead.
Brady, whose streak of six straight incompletions had tied a career high, came back out with the offense to start the next drive from the 25. Darden got an end-around and took it 11 yards to start the drive, then Fournette picked up six more yards. Tampa Bay’s 44-year-old quarterback snapped his incompletion streak on the next play, finding Godwin for 10 yards to get the ball across midfield as the clock approached four minutes in the second quarter. Just for good measure, Brady followed that completion up by dropping a dime to Evans for 46 yards to the 2-yard line.
And on the next play, he hit his No. 1 receiver again for a two-yard touchdown. With Succop’s PAT, the Bucs had a 28-3 lead with 3:35 to go before halftime.
Herbert got six yards to start Chicago’s next offensive series before Fields connected with Allen Robinson for 12 yards to the 43. A fumbled snap then led to a loss of two before an incompletion brought the Bears to a 3rd & 12. Fields escaped the pocket on third down and ran for eight yards to bring up a 4th & 4 at the 49, with the two-minute warning giving Nagy a chance to decide his next move as his team trailed by 25.
After the timeout, Pierre-Paul got to Fields for his second sack of the day. That gave the ball back to Brady and the Tampa Bay offense right around midfield with 1:54 left before halftime.
A Brady incompletion and a nine-yard pass to Bernard led the Bucs to call their first timeout with 1:41 on the clock before facing a 3rd & 1 at the 39. With an empty backfield on third down, Brady threw an incomplete pass. However, a defensive holding call gave the Bucs a fresh set of downs. A 14-yard pass from Brady to Godwin got the ball inside the red zone with more than a minute to play in the quarter. An incomplete pass and a completion for no gain led to another 3rd & 10 and this time, Brady found Fournette for nine yards to set up a 4th & Inches at the 11. After a measurement, Tampa Bay lined up to go for it on fourth down, which led to a Chicago timeout.
Fournette pushed forward for two yards to pick up the conversion, then Brady threw the ball out of the back of the end zone on the ensuing first down to stop the clock with 19 seconds left. He did the same on second down from the 8, bringing up a 3rd & Goal with 14 seconds to play in the half. After thinking about leaving the pocket on third down, Brady looked to Evans in the end zone again—and he hit him again. The duo’s third touchdown of the half—plus Succop’s PAT—meant the Bucs would take a 35-3 lead into halftime.
After a short return by Darden on the opening kickoff of the second half, Brady—still in the game—threw a nine-yard pass to O.J. Howard before runs of eight and 12 by Fournette got the ball near midfield in a hurry. Two plays later, it was Brady and Godwin connecting again for seven yards to the Bears’ 45. But on 3rd & 1, Fournette was stopped for a loss of one to bring up a 4th & 2. Rather than risk anything while up by 32, the Bucs elected to punt. It ended up going for a touchback, though, giving Chicago possession at the 20-yard line for its first second-half drive.
After a third-down conversion and a 22-yard pass from Fields to Mooney, the Bears got inside Buccaneer territory. Herbert continued his impressive day on the next play, getting 20 more yards to the Bucs’ 23. Williams then ran for two yards before a six-yard catch by Kmet brought up 3rd & 2. The defense got the stop, but decided to accept a holding penalty to set the Bears back to a 3rd & 12 rather than a 4th & 2. It paid off beautifully, with Fields’ next pass getting tipped and intercepted by Jordan Whitehead, who returned it to the 33.
The ensuing Buccaneer possession belonged to the backfield, as Jones had runs of one and 12 yards before breaking loose for a 19-yarder to the Chicago 33. Fournette then came through with a 12-yard pickup to the 21, an eight-yarder to the 13 and a six-yarder to set up 1st & Goal at the 7. After a Jones run to the 4-yard line, Bilal Nichols threw a punch at Ryan Jensen and was disqualified from the game. But with three tries from the 2-yard line and one try from the 1, the Bucs couldn’t find the end zone to extend their lead. Instead, the Bears came up with a goal line stand and took over deep inside their own territory.
Devin White stopped Herbert for a loss of one on the first play of Chicago’s next drive, bringing up a 2nd & 11 from the 1-yard line once the fourth quarter began. Through three, the Bucs had a 35-3 lead.
To open the game’s final quarter, the Bucs brought the blitz and Fields unloaded a pass down the sideline that was intercepted by Pierre Desir. Tampa Bay’s fifth takeaway of the day gave the offense another short field to work with, as the unit took over at the 37-yard line.
Two plays into the drive, Brady hit Godwin for a 34-yard gain to the 1-yard line. The goal line struggles continued, with Fournette losing three yards on first down to bring up 2nd & Goal from the 4. Brady’s second-down pass was knocked down at the line by Mario Edwards, then a third-down incompletion brought the field goal unit on for a chip shot. Succop’s 22-yarder attempt was successful, extending Tampa Bay’s lead to 38-3 with 12:51 left in the game.
A 22-yard pass from Fields to Kmet got the Bears moving on their next possession, but after making its way into Tampa Bay territory, the offense stalled. A couple of big stops by White and Vita Vea forced a 4th & 16 punt that went for a touchback, giving the ball back to the Buccaneer offense at their own 20 with 7:58 left.
It was at the 7:58 mark that Tom Brady’s night was done, as Blaine Gabbert came in to relieve him the rest of the way. He threw the ball well and Ke’Shawn Vaughn killed some clock before the Bucs punted the ball away with just over two and a half minutes to go.
The Bears moved the ball well on their final drive as the clock continued to tick down. They got into Tampa Bay territory, but eventually those triple zeroes hit the scoreboard and the Bucs had officially cruised to a 38-3 victory, improving to 6-1 with their fourth straight victory.
6-1 for the first time in franchise history pic.twitter.com/AdY1kc3pNu— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 24, 2021
Quick Notes & Stats
- Tom Brady’s second passing touchdown of the day was the 600th of his career, making him the first player in NFL history to reach that mark.
- In the first half, Brady completed 15 of his 28 passes for 149 yards and four touchdowns. He went on to finish with 211 yards and those four scores on 20-of-36 passing.
- Three of those Brady touchdowns went to Mike Evans, who caught five passes for 76 yards and those three scores in the opening 30 minutes of play.
- Evans’ three-touchdown half was the second of his career. He is the only Buc to accomplish that feat, and this was his first time doing so since Sept. 19, 2019 against the Giants.
- Tampa Bay’s defense was the true catalyst behind the first-half dominance. An interception, two fumble recoveries and a fourth-down stop near midfield were key in putting the offense in good positions to succeed.
- Jaelon Darden was the one setting the offense up for its first touchdown drive, taking his first punt return chance back for 43 yards into Bears territory.
- The Bucs’ 35 first-half points matched the franchise record for points in a half. They previously scored 35 in the second half of a 2012 win over the Raiders.
- For the game, Tampa Bay’s defense forced five turnovers. Justin Fields was under pressure often, with the Bucs getting to him for four sacks and six quarterback hits.
- Jason Pierre-Paul (two sacks, one forced fumble), Shaquil Barrett (one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (one sack, one forced fumble) led the way for the defense.
- Dee Delaney, Jordan Whitehead and Pierre Desir all tallied interceptions on the day.
- Chris Godwin was the Bucs’ leading receiver, posting 111 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions.
- Leonard Fournette finished with 81 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while catching two passes for nine yards.
- Ronald Jones II came in and ran well when given the chance, totaling 63 yards on 10 carries.
- Ke’Shawn Vaugn, to his credit, ran well in mop-up duty, finishing with five carries for 27 yards.
- Devin White was the Bucs’ leading tackler, finishing with 10 (eight solo), with one tackle for loss and a quarterback hit in addition to a fumble recovery.
- With the win, the Buccaneers improved to 6-1 for the first time in franchise history.
The Buccaneers (6-1) will return to the field next Sunday, hitting the road to take on the Saints (3-2) at the Superdome. Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m.