Bucs waste hot start in 34-23 loss to Bengals
After a 35-7 defeat by the 49ers in the west last week, the Bucs returned home for another big test on Sunday against Joe Burrow and the high-flying Bengals. They seemed well on their way to bounce back and took a 17-3 half-time lead. Instead, they turned the ball over four times and were outscored 31-6 in the second half en route to a 34-23 loss.
Tampa Bay started as best it could have asked for, with Keanu Neal tapping a Burrow pass into the hands of Carlton Davis to end the first Cincinnati drive. Tom Brady and forward capitalized on the turnover by converting a pair of third downs before getting to the Bengals’ 4-yard line. But they couldn’t take full advantage of Davis’s interception and settled for a 21-yard field goal from Ryan Succop after a 13-game, 67-yard drive that took 6:20 off the clock.
The Buccaneer defense continued to pressure Burrow on Bengal’s next possession, with Anthony Nelson and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka splitting a third sack to force a punt. And the complementary football continued, as Brady and the Bucs offense went 59 yards in 11 plays to extend their lead. The 45-year-old quarterback connected with Russell Gage for a 1-yard touchdown on 4th & Goal—the drive’s second fourth down conversion—to go 10-0 in less than a minute in the second quarter.
The Tampa Bay defense really was the story of the first half a layoff of Lavonte David that ended another ride in Cincinnati before it started before Davis came on another pass breakup on third to force another punt midway through the second quarter. That gave the Bucs a chance to build their lead before getting the ball to open the second half.
Brady engineered yet another methodical drive, hitting Godwin three times for double-digit gains and finding Leonard Fournette for 12 yards. Then to complete a 10-play, 85-yard drive, Brady found Godwin for a five-yard touchdown to put the Bucs up 17–0 with 1:39 left in the half.
Before the break, however, the Bengals had time to get started and they made good use of it. After a 28-yard return on the kickoff, Burrow completed four consecutive passes to move the ball down the field. That set up a 41-yard field goal from Evan McPherson to cut the deficit to 17-3.
For the first 30 minutes it was all Bucs. They led the Bengals in first downs (16-6), total yards (261-83), turnovers (1-0), and possession (20:27-9:33). In addition, the defense held Cincinnati to an 0-for-3 run on third downs.
Whatever momentum the Bucs had after the first half, it stayed in the locker room the rest of the way. After a three-and-out, which seemed to be easy for Giovani Bernard from point formation, failed. That gave the ball to the Bengals in the red zone at the 16-yard line.
To its credit, the Buccaneer defense was ramped up. Logan Ryan and Carlton Davis broke out passes on back-to-back plays to force a 21-yard field goal from McPherson. Given the situation, it was a big win for the Bucs to hold the Bengals to three, who held onto a 17–6 lead.
However, the Tampa Bay offense continued to put the defense in bad situations from there, with Brady throwing an interception to Tre Flowers at the 31-yard line on the next drive. The Bucs looked to get another big stop with a team dismissal of Burrow on 4th and 3 that would have been a loss of 26 only Lavonte David was called up for holding. That gave Cincinnati another run of downs, then another stop was nullified by a facemask on Davis.
With the help of two critical penalties, the Bengals conceded. Burrow hit Higgins for a five-yard touchdown to bring them within 17–12. But Dee Delaney made a great play on the ball to break up the two-point conversion attempt, leaving it a five-point game with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
The implosion continued for the Bucs on their next drive, with a Gage drop on second leading to a fumble on Brady a game later. That gave the ball to Cincinnati on the 13th and five plays later the Bengals took the lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Tyler Boyd. With a successful two-point conversion, their lead was 20-17 with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
A couple of solid runs from Fournette secured the next drive for the Tampa Bay offense, only for a bad transfer that turned into another turnover – and another short field for the Cincinnati offense. An eight-play, 39-yard drive then ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to huntextending the visitors’ lead to 27-17 thanks to 27 unanswered runs.
There was no miraculous comeback this time either. Brady threw another interception on the Bucs’ next drive, turning four turnovers in the second half. The Bengals cruised the rest of the way, with Burrow adding a fourth touchdown pass to make it a 34-17 before a consolation touchdown from Brady to Gage made it a 34-23 final.
Brady’s stats eventually turned disastrous, as he finished the night 30 of 44 for 312 yards and three touchdowns to four turnovers. Evans was a big part of the team’s first-half success, getting four passes for 71 yards in the first two quarters. He finished the game with five catches for 83 yards. It was Gage (twice) and Godwin who found the end zone for Tampa Bay.
Defensively, Tampa Bay could do little. Cincinnati had only 36 yards to go for its final drive of the first half and although the Burrow-led offense took over in the second half, the Bengals continually gained favorable field position from the Bucs. In the end, the Bucs even won the Bengals by more than 150 yards.
The loss drops the Bucs to 6-8, but maintains their lead over NFC South. They will try to get back on track next Sunday in a Christmas night game against the Cardinals (4-10) in Arizona. Kick-off is set for 8:20 PM
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