The Bucs suffered five consecutive turnovers in a nightmarish second half of their 34-23 loss to the Bengals in Week 15. After taking a 17-3 halftime lead, everything unraveled for Tampa Bay in a third quarter where the offense had four turnovers – all on their side of the field. Those came after a botched fake kick that led to a turnover on downs at the Tampa Bay 16-yard line.
Those turnovers on downs began the Bucs’ downfall at 1:34 in the third quarter when head coach Todd Bowles called for a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 26. The only problem was that upback Giovani Bernard apparently didn’t. I didn’t know the Bucs would fake it and admitted that after the game. Yet the other 10 players on the punt team knew it was a fake punt, including long snapper Zach Triner, who snapped the ball straight to Bernard.
The ball bounced off Bernard’s hands and he fell on the loose ball for a 2-yard loss at Tampa Bay 16. The Bucs defense held the Bengals to a field goal and Tampa Bay still led 17-6 after that blunder. But that botched fake kick triggered an avalanche of mistakes that allowed the Bengals to outscore the Bucs 17-0 in the third quarter and take a 20-17 lead. Cincinnati would beat Tampa Bay 31-6 in the second half.
“He missed the ball,” said Bowles. “We needed a garden and we had it. We practiced it all week. We just couldn’t handle football.”
When asked if Bernard knew the fake punter’s name was Bowles, he said, “Yes. … He knew it was coming.”
Bowles and Bernard have different take on Bucs’ botched fake punt
In the locker room after Bowles addressed the media, Bernard tried to evade the media, not wanting to answer questions, but finally gave in.
“Miscommunication, that’s all it was on my part,” Bernard said. “I take full blame for that.”
When asked by the media if a fake punt had been mentioned, Bernard said, “I don’t know. It was a complete mistake – my mistake – that’s it. I pay. I am it all. That’s something I did wrong.”
Bernard saying he didn’t know a fake punt had been mentioned was in direct contradiction to what Bowles said moments before.
The media continued to press Bernard for more details, to which the veteran running back repeatedly said, “I messed up.”
After the turnover on downs, the Bucs’ next two drives ended with an interception at the Tampa Bay 31-yard line and a Tom Brady fumble at the Tampa Bay 13 in the third quarter. At the start of the fourth quarter, Brady threw another interception at the Cincinnati 47 and the rout was on.
“We’re pissed off,” Bowles said. “We can’t have, you know… it’s the same old song – Bucs vs. Bucs. We play a good first half and we come out in the second half and shoot ourselves in the foot – either through loss of the ball, or through penalties or position in the field of special teams. It was the story of two halves, and the half we played in the second half was Bucs vs. Bucs.”
The offense generated no points in the second half until a last-minute touchdown pass from Brady to Russell Gage that made the final score 34-23.
“We turned it around, in six possessions we probably played them all on the plus-50 that came in in the second half,” said Bowles. “Field position from that standpoint, turnovers, not getting red zone stops with some penalties had a lot to do with it.”
Despite Sunday’s loss, the 6-8 Bucs still lead the downtrodden NFC South division as both the Panthers and Falcons lost on Sunday. Both Carolina and Atlanta are tied with New Orleans at 5-9 – one game back from Tampa Bay.
Bowles said his team has to be smart enough not to lose the revenue battle 4-1.
“We play hard and we play tough,” said Bowles. “We have to play smart for four quarters.”
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