For much of the first half Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens played a field-position game, with neither defense allowing a sustained drive. Then Todd Heap found a seam and the Ravens suddenly had control of the action.
Heap's 65-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter untied a 3-3 affair, and the Ravens were able to tack on one more score before halftime with a 55-yard two-minute drill ending in a 10-yard TD catch by WR Derrick Mason.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco completed 14 of 21 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the half. He was picked off by Buccaneers CB Aqib Talib in the second quarter, leading to the Bucs' one score of the half, Connor Barth's 22-yard field goal.
Baltimore's defense limited the Buccaneers to 95 yards of offense in the first two quarters, including 64 of eight-of-19 passing by QB Josh Freeman. RB LeGarrette Blount ran nine times for 25 yards and RB Cadillac Williams led the team with three receptions for 24 yards.
The Buccaneers also sustained two injuries of note in the first half, losing starting guard Davin Joseph and safety Cody Grimm to foot and ankle injuries, respectively. Neither is expected to return.
The Bucs won the toss but didn't exactly get off to a good start, as LB Niko Koutouvides was flagged for holding on the opening kickoff return, pushing the opening drive start back to the 12. Tampa Bay opened in a three-TE set and ran with Blount on first down, but the play gained only three yards. However, Freeman's first pass was a 12-yard strike over the middle to TE Ryan Purvis, producing the game's first first down. Two more Blount runs made it third-and-six, but a little release by Cadillac Williams resulted in a 15-yard gain. Freeman went to C. Williams again on the next play for eight more, just into Baltimore territory, but a receiver screen to Arrelious Benn lost a yard. On third-and-three, Freeman took a shot to Mike Williams deep but it was incomplete.
Baltimore's first play from scrimmage was a quick out to Mason, which picked up 13 yards. Blitzing LB Geno Hayes forced an errant pass on the next play, a play-action rollout by Flacco and Rice's first run gained only two yards. However, Flacco made an impressive play on third down, scrambling around for extra time before lobbing a pass down the left sideline that WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught with a toe-dragging effort. Two plays later, DE Tim Crowder sacked Flacco for a loss of five, making it third-and-14 at the Baltimore 49. Flacco dumped off to Rice on third down but the play was stopped well short of a first down. Sam Koch's punt was fair caught by Micheal Spurlock at the eight.
Freeman took another deep shot to start the next drive, but his throw was just a bit long for Benn. A four-yard run by Blount made it third-and-six but TE Kellen Winslow was called for a false start and that cost the Bucs five yards. Freeman was forced to scramble out of trouble on third down but got only two yards, and Robert Malone's 53-yard punt was returned to the Bucs' 47.
Rice slipped past a diving Barrett Ruud on a sweep left to start the next possession, gaining eight yards. Mason was flagged for holding on the next play, pushing the ball back to the Ravens' 48, and Grimm caught Rice after a gain of just two on second down. On third-and-nine, the Bucs blitzed and Flacco threw incomplete under pressure. Another penalty on the ensuing punt forced Tampa Bay's offense to start the next drive at its own four.
Freeman's rollout pass on first down was incomplete, and Blount burrowed up the middle for four yards on second down. An attempted release pass to Cadillac Williams failed to work and the Bucs had to punt again, this time getting it back only to their own 41. A four-yard run by Willis McGahee and a shot pass to McGahee gained only two. CB E.J. Biggers had very good coverage on Houshmandzadeh on a slat on third-and-four but Flacco's pass was perfect and the play gained 13 yards to the Bucs' 22. After a three-yard Rice run ended the first quarter, the teams switched sides and Rice ran again for three more. On third-and-four from the 16, McCoy split a double-team and sacked Flacco for a loss of 11. Billy Cundiff still turned the drive into three points with a 45-yard field goal.
Freeman improvised a sidearm throw to Mike Williams for a nine-yard gain to start the next drive, after a touchback. Blount's power run gained four and moved the chains, but the Bucs faced third-and-seven three plays later after an Ed Reed pass breakup. Freeman tried to work the ball through traffic to Mike Williams but it was a bit high and the receiver couldn't haul it in. Malone's 43-yard punt and good coverage put the ball at Baltimore's 21.
After a false start by Michael Oher, Rice was flattened by DE Michael Bennett after a run of just two. The Bucs blitzed on second down but Flacco found Mason for a gain of 10. Flacco and Mason hooked up again on third down for 13 more, creating a new set of downs at the 41, and the very next play was another Mason grab for 15 more to the Bucs' 44. Flacco went to the well yet again on the next snap, with a quick slant to Mason, but Talib knocked it away. CB Ronde Barber nearly intercepted the next pass, meant for WR Anquan Boldin. On the next play, Talib cut in front of Houshmandzadeh at the last second, tipping the ball and then catching it between his legs as he rolled. Untouched, Talib got up and returned the pick to the Baltimore 36.
Two short passes, one to Cadillac Williams and one to Benn, gained only one yard each but Freeman enjoyed good protection on third down and was able to find Winslow over the middle for a gain of 15. Blount ran for three yards, then the Bucs called timeout before the next snap. A pass into the end zone for Benn on second down was just tipped away by Ed Reed, but Freeman was able to scramble up the middle for eight yards and a first down. A play action pass to Mike Williams in the back of the end zone failed, and Blount was stopped for no gain on second down. Freeman tired to lob over the top to Winslow on third down but it was tipped away. The Bucs settled for Connor Barth's 22-yard field goal and a tie game with 4:32 left in the half.
Flacco dumped the ball over the middle to McGahee on first down from his own 24 to start the next drive, getting eight. McGahee's carry on second down gained just enough to move the sticks. Mason dropped a pass on the left sideline on the next play. On the next snap, Heap released off the left edge of the line and came out uncovered. Flacco hit him on the run and no defenders could catch him, resulting in a 65-yard score.
The Bucs got a nice start to the ensuing drive with Spurlock's 37-yard return, but the offense failed to gain a first down and Malone's punt went just 23 yards, with a penalty tacked on the end. As a result, the Ravens had the ball again at their own 45 with two minutes to play.
Short completions to Rice, Mason and Mason again got the ball down to the Bucs' 34, where the Ravens used a timeout with 42 seconds left. Flacco threw deep on the next play and rookie CB Myron Lewis was flagged for pass interference on a play that the Bucs appeared to disagree with vehemently. With the ball now on the 10-yard line, Flacco threw over the middle to Mason for the score on the next play, making it 17-3 with 32 seconds left in the half.
A kickoff and a kneel-down by the Bucs ended the first half.