As head coach Todd Bowles explained, “it’s a tale of two halves.” Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the first half with an aggressive defense and an explosive offense locking in a 17-3 lead.
On the opening drive, Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow completed a 12-yard pass to Tee Higgins, before finding the receiver again for a 7-yard gain. They switched to the run game, as Joe Mixon rushed the ball up the middle for 5 yards and another first down. An 11-yard pass to Mixon moved the chains once more. However, on a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase, the ball was tipped by safety Keanu Neal and intercepted by cornerback Carlton Davis on the Buccaneers 30-yard line.
Quarterback Tom Brady led the Buccaneers down the field, with short passes to Chris Godwin and Russell Gage, and 1-yard rushes by running back Rachaad White. The offense kicked it into high gear with explosive plays, including a 16-yard pass to Mike Evans over the middle.
Brady’s next pass found tight end Cade Otton, who gave a stiff arm to the defender and turned upfield for a 20-yard play. The series continued and the Buccaneers eventually faced 2nd and 3 from the 4-yard line. Brady’s pass intended for Russell Gage was incomplete, and he scrambled on the next down for just 1 yard. They settled for Ryan Succop’s 21-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay’s defense shut down Cincinnati on their next series forcing the Bengals to go three and out. Burrow threw a screen pass to Chase for 5 yards, and Samaje Perine rushed for 1 yard. On 3rd and 4 outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka circled Burrow as the line collapsed, allowing Anthony Nelson to tackle low and assist Tryon with the sack.
Brady opened the next series with a short pass to Evans over the middle, which he turned into a 33-yard play. A blindside block penalty on Godwin cost them15 yards, and moved the Buccaneers back to the 50-yard line with 1st and 1.
After Leonard Fournette’s 1-yard rush gave them the down, Brady threw an incomplete pass to Godwin. He found Godwin on the next play for 9 yards. However, Brady missed Evans on 3rd and 1, and the Buccaneers went for it on 4th and 1. Evans made the catch, as he dove to the ground carrying cornerback Eli Apple on his back. The momentum kept up and another explosive 24-yard pass to Evans moved the Buccaneers down to the 9-yard line.
Expanding The Lead
The drive continued into the second quarter. After two short rushes, on third down, Brady looked to Russell Gage just inside the goal line. The pass was incomplete, but the Buccaneers went for It again on 4th and 1. Brady found Gage in the back corner for a 1-yard touchdown pass and expanded the score 10-0.
The Bengals went three-and-out on their next two offensive drives. The credit given to safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and cornerback Carlton Davis who broke up Burrow’s passes on critical third down plays.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers tacked on another scoring drive. They combined Fournette’s short rushes with pass plays to Godwin, including a pass over the middle that Godwin turned into an 18-yard gain into the red zone. From the 16-yard line, Brady connected with Godwin for another first down.
On 1st and 10 from the 5-yard line, Brady completed a pass to Godwin at the front pylon. Godwin ran through two defenders into the end zone for another Buccaneers touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Up to this point in the game, the Bengals had only 36 yards offensively, but were given the ball back with 1:39 left in the half. Jake Camarda punted the ball 63 yards and it was returned by Trayveon Wiliams for 28 yards to the 30-yard line. With a no huddle offense, Burrow drove down the field completing 5 plays for 47 yards. He spiked the ball with :03 on the clock, and kicker Evan McPherson’s 41-yard field goal was good.
Then It Was Halftime
The score at the half was 17-3. The Buccaneers had both a comfortable lead and momentum on their side. However, the tide quickly turned in the third quarter and the Buccaneers all but gifted the win to the Bengals. Brady said, “we had a good first half, were in good position and we literally just gave them the ball.”
The Buccaneers received the ball first. White rushed for 4 yards, before Brady threw an incomplete pass to Evans. White took the ball out again on third down, but it was not enough for the first.
The Beginning Of The End
On 4th and 1, at the Bengals 26-yard line, special teams took the field in punt formation. The ball was snapped directly to running back Giovani Bernard for the fake, which Bowles believed could have picked up another four or five yards against the Bengals’ front. However, the ball hit Bernard’s arm and he fumbled.
Despite appearing surprised by the ball, whether it was the timing of the snap or the fact that it went a little high, it was a play they had practiced and Bernard was ready for. “We had it and we practiced all week, we just didn’t handle the football,” Bowles said, “he missed the ball.”
The Bengals took over on downs at the Buccaneers’ 16-yard line. The defense held Burrow off, with the help of Carlton Davis breaking up a pass intended for Chase in the end zone. However, the Bengals added 3 points on a 21-yard field goal.
Bad To Worse
The game quickly went from bad to worse, as the Buccaneers turned over the ball three more times in the third quarter, including an interception, a strip sack, and Brady’s fumble on the handoff to Fournette. Each of those turnovers occurred in Tampa Bay territory, and each one resulted in a touchdown for the Bengals.
Following the interception, Burrow found Higgins in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown. They went for a two-point conversion and failed, so the score remained 17-12. However, after his 3-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd, Burrow converted for two points and took the lead 20-17. After the fumbled handoff, as the game went into the fourth quarter, the Bengals finished their drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Chase.
With the score now 27-17, the Buccaneers’ offense still had plenty of time on the clock in the fourth quarter to take the game back. However, an offensive holding penalty on guard Nick Leverett cost the Buccaneers 10 yards.
On 1st and 20, Brady intended a pass to Evans, but his arm was hit as the ball released and it went short. The pass was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt at the 47-yard line, for the fifth turnover of the game. The defense held off the Bengals from another score and moved them off the field in three plays. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers also went three and out.
Burrow then ran almost 7 minutes off the clock in a 13-play drive. He eventually threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mitchell Wilcox in the end zone to expand the lead 34-17.
With only a few minutes left in the game, Tampa Bay drove down the field with a no huddle offense, short rushes, and deep passes to Gage and tight end Cameron Brate. Brady connected with Gage in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Their pass to Evans for the two-point conversion was incomplete.
Despite holding the Bengals to only 36 yards for the majority of the first half, and putting up several scoring drives on offense, the Buccaneers handed the win to Cincinnati in the third quarter.
“We’re pissed off,” Bowles said, “it’s the same old song it’s Bucs vs. Bucs. You know, we play a good first half and the second half we come out and we shoot ourselves in the foot, either by turnovers or penalties or field position on special teams. It’s a tale of two halves and the half we played in the second half was Bucs vs. Bucs.”
Brady added, “I think we have the ability to play [well]. I don’t think we lack confidence in playing [well], it’s just consistency. Two good quarters [don’t] win you any football games and five turnovers [don’t] win you football games.”
Facing back-to-back losses, the Buccaneers now head to Arizona for a matchup against the Cardinals on Christmas day.