The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trotted to the locker room up 17-3 in what was one of their most inspiring and productive halves of football of the season. With the Falcons and Panthers having already lost earlier, it seemed like a perfect day for Tampa Bay fans was playing out.
18 game minutes later, the Bucs trailed by two scores.
The Buccaneers not just failed to execute on offense, defense, or special teams in the second half. They failed to execute the basic fundamentals of football. Handing the ball off. Catching easy interceptions. Simply being on the same page on a fourth down play resulting in a turnover.
In what could be Brady’s final season, the second half reminded Bucs fans of what football was like before the arrival of the greatest quarterback of all time. In fact, it was a perfect homage to it. It was a little bit of Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, and Dirk Koetter football, rolled all into one half. In all the days of watching the Bucs play during those regimes, it’s hard to think of a worse half of football. Maybe the 2014 game at Atlanta would qualify, as would the 2015 collapse in Washington. However, those teams were far inferior to this Super Bowl hopeful group, so those disappointments pale in comparison to this.
The first five possessions of the second half ended as follows
- On 4th and 1 from their own 26 yard line, Todd Bowles called a fake punt. Giovani Bernard did not appear ready for the snap, and the ball bounced to the turf and Bernard was tackled for a loss. The Bengals got a field goal after a defensive stop. TB 17, CIN 6
- On 3rd and 8 from their own 23, Brady’s pass to Cameron Brate was picked off by Tre Flowers. It looked like either Brate turned the wrong way or Brady’s throw was just off. Either way, the Bengals found the end zone for the first time after Burrow connected with Tee Higgins. TB 17, CIN 12
- On 3rd and 10 from their own 21, Brady was sacked and fumbled after Logan Wilson punched the ball out as Brady was going to the ground. Five plays later, Burrow found Tyler Boyd for the Bengals’ first lead of the game. CIN 20, TB 17
- On 1st and 10 from their own 38, Brady extended the ball to Fournette for a handoff, but the ball slipped out of his hand before reaching Fournette, who bobbled the ball forward. Cincy recovered and pushed its lead to 10 after Burrow found his third different receiver for a touchdown – this time Ja’Marr Chase. CIN 27, TB 17
- On 1st and 20 from their own 41, Brady was hit as he threw and a wobbly ball was picked off near the ground by Germaine Pratt. The Bengals punted 4 plays later.
5 Possessions, 5 Turnovers
That’s really, really hard to do in the NFL, but this franchise continues to find a way to surprise its fans with futility over the years.
And the frustrating thing is that the Bucs were really solid in the first half on both sides of the ball. At one point close to the end of the first half, Jim Nantz stated that the Bucs had 13 first downs compared to 14 total offensive plays run by the Bengals. The Bucs’ defense also forced a rare turnover, with Carlton Davis picking off a pass deflected by Keanu Neal on the game’s opening drive. Burrow was later pressured and banged up, bleeding from his throwing hand. It was all going Tampa Bay’s way.
And credit (I suppose) to Byron Leftwich for getting a little bit more aggressive with the play calling from the start. Yesterday, I called for the Bucs to get more aggressive and throw more on first down while implementing play action, and the first two plays of the game from Tampa Bay were play action passes. Tony Romo also noted and complimented the Bucs’ use of motion in its first half offense.
And while they settled for a couple more field goal attempts than they should have, the Bucs and their fans will take 17 points in a half all day, every day in this points-starved season.
And then the second half began. Unfortunately we all know just how that went down.
The Buccaneers return to action on Sunday night in Arizona against the Cardinals, who were eliminated today from playoff contention.