Photos from Buccaneers vs. Giants at Raymond James Stadium.
Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the NFL's best turnover-ratio team took on a squad that had been dominating in the takeaway-giveaway department for the better part of a month. Something had to give, and unfortunately that something was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' grip on the football…and a chance to get back to .500 on the season.
WATCH: BUCS VS. GIANTS HIGHLIGHTS
The Buccaneers fell, 32-18, to the New York Giants on Sunday, despite having possession of the football with the chance to overcome a five-point deficit in the game's final five minutes. Unfortunately, three fumble recoveries by the Giants led to 17 points and made the difference in a game in which the home team actually out-gained their visitors, 385 yards to 327, and got another impressive performance from their rookie quarterback, Jameis Winston.
New York came into the game with a league-best plus-11 turnover ratio, while the Buccaneers had scored 41 points off turnovers while allowing none over their previous three outings. This time, Tampa Bay opened with a takeaway on the game's first play from scrimmage, as CB Sterling Moore grabbed a tipped Eli Manning pass and returned it 13 yards to the Giants' 13. The Buccaneers would get only three points off that takeaway, however, as missed red zone opportunities proved to be another key factor in the outcome. Tampa Bay took four possessions into the red zone but turned only one of them into a touchdown.
That one TD came on a thrilling goal-line dive by Winston at the end of a 10-yard scramble in the fourth quarter, a score that pulled the Bucs within two points with nine minutes to play. However, the Bucs just missed tying the game with a two-point conversion – WR Russell Shepard tried to pull down a high throw at the back of the end zone but couldn't get both feet down – and the offense would get the ball back just one more time.
"I just wanted it," said Winston of his touchdown scramble, his third rushing score of the season. "The offensive line was protecting their tail off. [The Giants] covered it well and the wide receivers, when I took off they started blocking. That's just want-to. When you see this team, we're improving so much and we're doing so many good things. We've just got to pull some of them out."
A steady rain in the second half didn't help, but the Buccaneers' trouble gripping the ball extended to a series of drops that muted a very good passing day for Winston. Two different drives ended in Giants territory after drops of on-target passes by RB Doug Martin and WR Mike Evans. Evans failed to haul in several passes that appeared to be well-thrown, but he did finish the day with eight catches for 152 yards.
Winston completed 19 of 36 passes for 249 yards and was not picked off for the fourth straight game. He also was not sacked, but he was forced to scramble several times at the end of the Buccaneers' penultimate possession. Trailing by five, Tampa Bay got across midfield with five minutes to play but had to punt after three straight incompletions.
"We're just trying to get the touchdown, just like last week," said Winston, alluding to the team's game-winning overtime field goal drive in Atlanta last Sunday. "We're just trying to drive the ball down and get a touchdown. I've got to make throws when it's crunch time. I've got to come through and make throws and get everyone situated, and I didn't do that."
Winston threw with accuracy and avoided turnovers again despite not getting as much help from the rushing attack as he had enjoyed over the previous three weeks. The Buccaneers did rush for 136 yards and 5.9 yards per carry, but 59 of those came on one breakaway by second-year RB Charles Sims on the drive that led to Winston's touchdown. Meanwhile, Doug Martin was held to 31 yards on 11 carries, and both Martin and Sims lost fumbles that led to New York points.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense had difficulty getting off the field as the Giants built a 17-9 halftime lead. The Giants converted five of seven third downs in the first half and did not punt, and overall were good on nine of 16 third-down tries while racking up 24 first downs. The Buccaneers' defense did adjust in the second half, allowing just a pair of field goals before New York padded their lead on the game's final play with a fumble return for a touchdown on a failed last-second pitch play by a desperate Buccaneer offense.
"First off, we can't put ourselves in a hole at the beginning of the game," said LB Lavonte David, who led the team with 11 tackles. "Dumb penalties, personal-foul penalties, stuff like that. But we fight, we fight. We fought back in the second half, made some adjustments, cut down on penalties in the second half and that got us in the football game."
The Buccaneers committed nine penalties for 79 yards on the day, the last of which was a personal foul on DT Akeem Spence that helped the Giants to extend their final clock-killing drive into Tampa Bay territory. David also had a personal foul and a pass-interference penalty against him in the first half.
"Obviously there at the end we had that big penalty that kind of boosted their momentum a little bit," said David. "But it was a hard-fought football game and you've got to take your hat off to both teams. We fought to the end. Now we've got to find a way to better ourselves. Guys played hard, but we've got to turn that into victories."
CB Alterraun Verner had the Bucs' second interception of the game in the third quarter, with his team down by eight, but that good field position only resulted in a punt. After three weeks of owning the "points-after-turnovers" category, the Bucs were negative-14 in that regard on Sunday, which also happened to be the final margin on the scoreboard. The Buccaneers fell to 3-5, including 1-3 at home, in 2015 and were left feeling as if they were still struggling to reach their full potential.
"We're not far away from being a great team, being the team we want to be, being the elite team we want to be," said David. "There's just small stuff that we have to turn around. We've just got to find a way to turn the tables on our end."
The Buccaneers scored less than two minutes into the game, despite starting on defense. Moore intercepted a deflected pass on the Giants' first play from scrimmage and returned it 18 yards to the New York 13. The Bucs couldn't tack on a first down from there but still got three points on Barth's 25-yard field goal. The Steelers tied the game on their second drive, marching 63 yards on 10 plays to set up Brown's 35-yard field goal.
Evans' 68-yard catch-and-run on the first play of the next drive put the Buccaneers back into the Giants' red zone immediately, but once again the drive failed to find the end zone. Barth's 28-yarder put the home team back on top by three points, but the Giants trumped that with an 80-yard touchdown drive. Manning finished it off on third-and-five with a scrambling eight-yard touchdown pass to Randle near the end of the first quarter.
The Buccaneers' first real turnover in four games, Martin's fumble at the Bucs' 28, set up a second Giants touchdown. Manning converted two third downs on the third drive and completed the drive with a four-yard TD pass to RB Shane Vereen. The Buccaneers closed the halftime score 10 17-9 with a 62-yard field goal drive after a successful stop on fourth down by the defense in Tampa Bay territory. Barth made it a one-score game with a 21-yard field goal.
Having the first possession of the second half failed to pay off for the Buccaneers thanks to a Charles Sims fumble that set up Brown's second field goal, a 35-yarder. Tampa Bay answered right back with yet another field goal drive, this one keyed by Cameron Brate's diving 17-yard catch on third down. The drive fizzled at the Giants' 35 but Barth drove home his fourth field goal in five tries from 53 yards out.
The Bucs finally got the ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter, as Winston capped an 87-yard drive with his own 10-yard scramble and head-long dive over the goal line. Most of the drive's yardage was eaten up by Sims' 59-yard tackle-breaking run and an 18-yard catch in traffic by Evans. The Bucs attempted to tie it with a two-point conversion but failed.
Additional notes and in-game details:
- WR Mike Evans caught a pass over the middle and ran for 68 yards on the Buccaneers' second possession. That stands as the longest reception of Evans' young career and the longest completion to this point for rookie QB Jameis Winston. Evans finished with 152 yards on eight catches for his third 100-yard game of this season and the sixth of his two-year career.
- Rookie QB Jameis Winston threw 36 passes without an interception, marking the fourth straight game in which he has not turned the ball over. Including the last nine passes of the Buccaneers' Week Four game against Carolina, Winston has thrown 122 straight passes without an interception.
- RB Charles Sims' 59-yard breakaway run in the fourth quarter was the longest of his two-year career. It was also the longest by any Buccaneer since Doug Martin ran for 63 yards against Carolina on Dec. 14, 2014.
- K Connor Barth's misfire on a 43-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter snapped a string of 11 straight successful field goal tries since he rejoined the team in Week Five, including his first two on Sunday. Including his last four tries with the Denver Broncos in 2014, Barth had made 15 in a row before that miss. Barth later hit on two more field goals, from 21 and 53 yards, and he is now the first kicker in Buccaneers history to make at least three field goals in four consecutive games.
- The Bucs won the toss and deferred, which proved to be a good decision. Manning tried to hit Beckham on a slant on the first play from scrimmage but the throw was behind the receiver and it deflected off his hands and into those of Moore, who returned it 18 yards to the Giants' 13. Two Martin runs left the Bucs in a third-and-four and a fade pass to Evans failed to connect. Connor Barth came on to kick a 25-yard field goal and he drove it through for the game's first points.
The Giants converted a third down early in their second drive with Beckham's 16-yard catch over the middle, and an unnecessary roughness call against Lavonte David tacked on 15 more. Going to a hurry-up attack, the Giants gained another first down at the Bucs' 28 and Manning found Vereen for another 10 yards and a first down inside the red zone. S Chris Conte broke up a potential touchdown pass to TE Will Tye to make it third-and-nine at the 17, and good coverage on the third-down play led to an incompletion. The Giants settled for a game-tying 35-yard field goal off the foot of K Josh Brown.
Tampa Bay's second drive started in superb fashion, with Mike Evans catching a deep post over the middle and splitting the defense for a 68-yard gain to the Giants' 12. Once again, however, the Bucs fell into a quick third-and-eight and couldn't convert on Winston's scrambling throw. Barth came on to tack on another three points, this one on a 28-yard field goal.
The Giants drove back into Buccaneers territory on the next possession helped by a pass-interference call on David. Beckham picked up 13 yards on a crossing route to put the ball at the Bucs' 13, and three plays later, Manning converted a third-and-five by scrambling forward and finding a wide-open Randle in the left edge of the end zone.
Doug Martin's fumble ended the Bucs' next drive prematurely and put the Giants in scoring range again at the Bucs' 28. The Giants got inside the 20 on a 10-yard catch by Beckham to convert a third-and-seven, but a holding call then backed them up seven yards. Three plays later, New York faced a third-and-three at the Bucs' eight but Manning zipped a quick pass into the gut of TE Jerome Cunningham at the Bucs' two. Manning then completed the drive with a little hook to Vereen just over the goal line.
Charles Sims pounded four a tough yard on third-and-one at the beginning of the next drive, and a 16-yard crossing route to Adam Humphries moved the chains and put the ball at the Bucs' 40. An unnecessary roughness call on S Brandon Merriweather moved the ball over midfield and Humphries' second catch of the drive picked up 11 more to the Giants' 33. Three plays later, on third-and-two, Winston threw an out to Evans but the receiver couldn't quite hold on to the pass and Barth came on to try a 43-yard field goal. For the first time since rejoining the Buccaneers, Barth missed.
The Giants moved back into Buccaneers territory after the miss on a 13-yard sideline catch by Randle but then faced a fourth-and-two at the 35. New York elected to go for it and gave the ball back when DT Henry Melton deflected a pass over the middle intended for Beckham.
Winston enjoyed an enormous amount of time to throw on the first play of the ensuing drive and he found Evans wide open down the left numbers for a gain of 25. Humphries' third catch of the game created another first down at the Giants' 30 as the two-minute warning arrived. After the break, Winston took off on a scramble and weaved for 12 yards to the Giants' 18. A roughing-the-passer call made it first-and-goal at the nine, but Winston's third-down scramble came up short and the Bucs settled for Barth's 21-yard field goal to make it 17-9 at halftime.
The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half and faced a third-and-three at their own 29 after a run and a catch by Martin. Winston converted that one with a tight crossing-route pass to Evans for nine yards. However, Sims fumbled two plays later and the Giants recovered at the Bucs' 24 after it bounced around for a long time. Moore made a nice play on third-and-short to break up a pass intended for Beckham but the Giants still got three points on Brown's 35-yard field goal.
The Bucs got their next drive moving despite a holding call, thanks to a well-executed screen pass to Martin and an impressive 16-yard throw by Winston to Humphries in the face of an all-out blitz. TE Cameron Brate made a diving catch for 17 yards on third-and-seven to get the ball across midfield. Martin dropped a perfect wheel-route pass on third-and-two from the Giants' 34 so the Buccaneers settled for Barth's 53-yard field goal to make it 20-12 at the midway mark of the third quarter.
The Giants drove back into Buccaneers territory on the next drive. Tampa Bay's defense repeatedly forced New York into third downs but Manning converted them with quick, short passes, including an eight-yard curl to Beckham that got the ball over midfield. Three plays later, it was third-and-nine and Manning found Beckham for 12 more to the Bucs' 34. Finally, on the Giants' fourth third down of the drive, Verner jumped a short pass intended for Beckham and returned it 16 yards to the Tampa Bay 43.
The Bucs got the ball across midfield but the drive stalled on a third-down drop by Evans. After a punt, the Giants started again at their own 11. A strong tackle by Moore on a third-down pass to Beckham forced the Giants to kick it back with 12 minutes left in the game, although Brad Wing helped the visitors' cause with a 64-yard punt to the Bucs' 13.
The Bucs got it into scoring range on two plays, with Sims breaking a tackle and hitting the open field for a 59-yard gain and Winston following with an 18-yard strike through traffic to Evans. Three plays later, the Bucs faced a second-and-goal from the 10 and Winston escaped pressure, scrambled right and took a huge dive over the pylon for his third rushing touchdown of the year. The Bucs went for two to tie it but Russell Shepard couldn't quite get two feet down on a high throw in the back of the end zone.
The Giants got back into scoring range on a 24-yard completion to Beckham and an 11-yard run by Andre Williams, but Verner successfully defended a deep third-down pass to Beckham and New York settled for Brown's 53-yard field goal to make it a five-point game.