We’ve already discussed the first turning point of Tampa Bay’s 2020 season. Up next is the Bears, who handed the Bucs their second loss of the year in Week 5.
The 2020 season, like any other, was a roller coaster of highs and lows. Hot and cold streaks. Sometimes we get so focused on the results that we lose sight of the key plays that helped shape the season. That’s what this series will focus on: the plays that helped shape the Bucs’ 2020 championship run.
If you missed the first key turning point against the Chargers, you can check it out here. The second key play in this series happened in the fourth quarter of the Bucs’ Thursday night tilt at Chicago on October 8, 2020.
The Bucs entered the Thursday night showdown with the Bears at 3-1. They looked every bit of the better team through most of the first half. A Tyler Johnson 35-yard pass set up a Tom Brady to Mike Evans 2-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead. After the Bears drew to 13-7, Ke’Shawn Vaughn caught a third down pass and was absolutely blasted with under two minutes to play in the half. The play was originally called an incompletion, but after review it was reversed to a fumble. The turnover set up the Bears at the Tampa Bay 27. Chicago capitalized, with Nick Foles completing 3 passes – the last to Jimmy Graham for a 12-yard score – and the Bears went from scoreless to a halftime lead in a matter of minutes.
The teams traded field goals and punts in the second half before the Bucs finally put together a steady fourth quarter drive. From their own 27-yard line, Brady led the Bucs into field goal range by looking the way of his old teammate, Rob Gronkowski. A pass interference call and 23-yard catch put Tampa Bay in field goal range, and a 9-yard completion to Cameron Brate set them up 1st and 10 at the Bears’ 16-yard line.
On the following play, Brady faked a hand off to Ronald Jones and dropped back to pass. Bears DE Khalil Mack got his shoulder inside Bucs tackle Donovan Smith and drove his way into the backfield. Brady braced and dropped down, taking sack number two on the day from Mack. Mack added three additional quarterback hits in the game, so he was a problem for the Bucs all evening.
The sack dropped put the Bucs in a 2nd-and-17 situation. A third down completion to Gronkowski left the Bucs a long yard short of the sticks. Bruce Arians opted for the short field goal and a 19-17 lead with just under 5 minutes to play.
Everyone knew what that field goal meant, and what was coming. Sure enough, after Chicago and Tampa Bay exchanged late punts, the Bucs defense was asked asked to keep the Bears offense from moving from near midfield to field goal range in the game’s final two minutes. They could not.
A third down completion to Anthony Miller put Chicago in field goal range. The Bears’ Cairo Santos banged through the winning points with just over a minute left. A 12-yard Mike Evans reception got the Bucs to their own 41-yard line. Then, the famous fourth down incompletion happened, with Brady holding up his four fingers after fourth down. Fortunately, it’s something we can laugh about now, but it was fodder for talk shows the following week.
I chose the Mack sack of Brady as the key play of this game. Had the Bucs continued their march to the end zone, the chances are strong they would have finished off the game with a win. You could absolutely make the argument that Vaughn’s fumble at the end of the first half was equally big. I even toyed with making that the turning point (which would have been the second RB fumble in as many posts). However, I picked the sack based on the impact on what could have been a game-swinging drive deep in the game.
The result was the Bucs dropping a game that really feels like one they shouldn’t have. The Bears proved to be abysmal offensively, and were one of the more toothless playoff teams in years. As such, this was a game where one big, largely-forgotten play left the Bucs searching for answers in the still-early part of the season.