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NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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Buccaneers’ Road to Super Bowl LV: The Third Quarter

In the week leading up to Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium, we’ll be taking a look back at the Buccaneers’ journey to this point. Today, we continue with the season’s bumpy third quarter.

What a magical year it’s been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers... Last March, they decided to move on from their 2015 No. 1 overall pick, Jameis Winston. And to replace him, all they did was sign the greatest quarterback of all time. From the moment Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay, expectations were immediately high for him and his new team. The roster continued to get even more star-studded as the spring and summer went on and now, in this moment, the Bucs are preparing to play for the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium on Feb. 7.

Leading up to the Super Bowl LV matchup between the Bucs and Chiefs, we’re going to take a look back at Tampa Bay’s journey to this point. Today, we continue with the third quarter of the 2020 season.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

After posting a 6-2 record in the first half of the 2020 season, the Buccaneers returned home for a crucial Sunday Night Football game against the Saints. First place in the NFC South was on the line and unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the primetime woes continued as the team was utterly dominated by New Orleans. The Buccaneer offense never got going and the defense couldn’t hold off Drew Brees and the Saints offense, leading to an embarrassing 38-3 loss, one of the worst defeats in franchise history. By the time the Bucs posted a drive that was longer than three plays, there were less than nine minutes to go in the second quarter and the visitors already led 28-0.

The second half didn’t offer much to write home about either, as the Saints coasted after leading by 31 at the break. They added a fourth-quarter touchdown to push their lead to 38-0 before a Ryan Succop 48-yard field goal with 5:52 helped Tampa Bay avoid the shutout. The Bucs were outgained 420-194 and held possession for just 19:56 to the Saints’ 40:04, and Tom Brady threw three costly interceptions. After a devastating loss that dropped its record to 6-3 on the year, Tampa Bay was left to reevaluate some things before taking on the rest of the season’s second half.

Top Performers: Mike Evans (Four catches, 64 yards); Jordan Whitehead (Eight tackles, five solo, two tackles for loss, forced fumble); Lavonte David (Seven tackles, four solo, tackle for loss, fumble recovery); Shaquil Barrett (Four tackles, two solo, sack, forced fumble); William Gholston (Five tackles, four solo, three tackles for loss, quarterback hit)

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay rebounded from its horrific Week 9 loss to the Saints by hitting the road in Week 10 to beat down the Carolina Panthers by a score of 46-23. It wasn’t a great first half for the Bucs, but things came together for a big second half in which the offense put up 29 points. The defense struggled to stop Teddy Bridgewater early on, leading to a 17-10 deficit with under four minutes to go in the first half. But a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a three-yard Tom Brady touchdown pass to Mike Evans evened the game at 17-17 before halftime.

The Bucs opened the second half with a 14-play, 70-yard drive, but it ended in a field goal. Nonetheless, they went up 20-17 and never looked back. Then, after a Carolina punt on the ensuing possession pinned Tampa Bay’s offense at its own 2-yard line, Ronald Jones II came through with one of the most electric plays of the year. He got some great blocking up front and broke through for a 98-yard touchdown run, the longest offensive play in franchise history. A Brady touchdown run and a touchdown pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski helped seal the deal, getting the Bucs to 7-3 through 10 games. It was a phenomenal response for the team after what was its low point in the season, although it didn’t quite set up a great stretch.

Top Performers: Ronald Jones II (23 carries, 192 yards, touchdown); Tom Brady (28-of-39, 341 yards, three passing touchdowns, rushing touchdown); Chris Godwin (Six catches, 92 yards); Mike Evans (Six catches, 77 yards, touchdown); Shaquil Barrett (Three tackles, all solo, sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits); Jason Pierre-Paul (Three tackles, two solo, sack, two quarterback hits, interception)

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

Tampa Bay’s season-long primetime woes reemerged in Week 11, as the team dropped its home Monday Night Football game to the Rams by a score of 27-24. The Los Angeles offense looked dominant early, with Cooper Kupp proving to be just about unstoppable. But despite allowing a 13-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:52 off the clock in the first quarter, the Bucs responded well. Tampa Bay went 75 yards in 10 plays, with Tom Brady finding Mike Evans for a nine-yard score to tie the game. Then, after a defensive stop, the Bucs put together another 10-play drive, this time going 68 yards before a two-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette. Los Angeles came back and responded well itself, with a game-tying touchdown drive preceding a 38-yard field goal by former Buc Matt Gay to give the Rams a 17-14 halftime lead.

Ryan Succop tied the game early in the third quarter with a 38-yard field goal of his own before a Cam Akers touchdown catch put the visitors out in front again. The Tampa Bay offense ran into all kinds of trouble throughout the second half and looked lifeless at points, but a huge Jordan Whitehead interception late in the fourth quarter got the team back in the game. Brady led a 44-yard drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, tying the game at 24 with 3:53 left. But then, the Rams took control again. They drove and set Gay up for a go-ahead 40-yard field goal attempt, which he nailed to give his new team a three-point lead over his former one with 2:36 to go. One final attempt to win the game went nowhere for Tampa Bay, though, as Brady was intercepted to send the Bucs to 7-4 heading into Thanksgiving.

Top Performers: Antonio Brown (Eight catches, 57 yards); Chris Godwin (Seven catches, 53 yards, touchdown); Mike Evans (Five catches, 49 yards, touchdown); Lavonte David (Nine tackles, eight solo, three tackles for loss, pass defended); Jason Pierre-Paul (Six tackles, four solo, two passes defended, interception); Jordan Whitehead (Seven tackles, four solo, one tackle for loss, interception)

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In what would eventually turn out to be the Super Bowl LV matchup, the Bucs hosted the Chiefs in Week 12 and looked overmatched in the first half before nearly pulling off a second-half comeback. Tampa Bay eventually lost 27-24 to drop to 7-5, but its second-half performance left CBS color commentator Tony Romo saying he wouldn’t be surprised to see the two teams meet again in February. Sure enough, that has come to fruition. But no one could’ve seen it coming by the way the Bucs played in the first half. Tyreek Hill had seven catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter before finishing with 13 receptions for 269 yards and three scores. But the Chiefs’ 20-7 halftime lead nearly didn’t last.

Tampa Bay got within 20-10 early in the third quarter and despite falling behind 27-10 on Kansas City’s next drive, the home team didn’t lose hope. Tom Brady and Mike Evans linked up for a 31-yard touchdown with 12:44 left to get the Bucs within 27-17, then Evans caught a seven-yard scoring pass from Brady with 4:10 left to make it 27-24. However, the Buccaneer defense couldn’t get the stop it needed, allowing the defending Super Bowl champions to hold on for the victory. It was hard not to feel like, had the Bucs gotten the bal back, they may have won the game. Instead, they were 7-5 heading into a Week 13 bye week, needing to regroup ahead of the regular season’s final quarter.

Top Performers: Tom Brady (27-of-41, 345 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions); Rob Gronkowski (Six catches, 106 yards); Mike Evans (Three catches, 50 yards, two touchdowns); Ronald Jones II (Nine carries, 66 yards, one catch, 37 yards); Shaquil Barrett (Three tackles, all solo, sack, two quarterback hits)

Third Quarter Recap

After going 3-1 in both of the regular season’s first two quarters, the Bucs went downhill in the third quarter. A catastrophic blowout loss at home to the Saints was certainly a rough start to the season’s second half, and despite the team bouncing back with a 46-point performance against Carolina, two close home losses to contenders before the bye week had many looking at Tampa Bay as a pretender. The Bucs simply couldn’t get it done in primetime and there was still a disjointed feeling to the offense. As potent as it could be at some points, it would go completely dead at others. Heading into the bye week, the feeling was that there would need to be some adjustments made if the team was going to go anywhere in the playoffs. Even still, the fact that the conversation was about how far the Bucs could go in the playoffs rather than whether they would even make the playoffs was a welcome change. And despite those three-point losses to the Rams and Chiefs, there were hints of life to build off of once the team hit the field again in Week 14.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for the fourth quarter of our “Road to Super Bowl LV” series!

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