One man too many, one point too few.
Considering some of the painful ways in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen close games slip away this season, it says quite a bit that Sunday's 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals might be the most agonizing one yet. A 21-yard catch by Louis Murphy in the game's final 30 seconds appeared to set the home team up for a 39-yard game-winning field goal attempt, but a replay review caught the Buccaneers with 12 men on the field and pushed them just out of field goal range. They never got back within striking distance.
It was Murphy who made the big catch in the closing seconds to set up the winning touchdown in Tampa Bay's first win of the season, at Pittsburgh in Week Four, and he appeared to come up big again. However, the Bengals threw their replay flag to challenge the play, which teams are not allowed to do in the final two minutes of the game. While that illegal move cost Cincinnati their final timeout, it also led to an official booth review and the ball being moved back to the 46. Two incompletions and a short pass on fourth down kept the Bucs out of field goal range.
That flag was one of 13 the Buccaneers drew on the day, for a loss of 94 yards on a day in which the offense was held to 263 net yards.
"We ran up to clock the ball and they stopped it," said QB Josh McCown, describing the game's deciding sequence. "I understand if we had 12 on the field and the booth stops it…I understand that. But I don't understand how [the Bengals] should be rewarded for stopping it. That being said, we can't allow that to happen, the personnel system, we've got to get guys in and out. We've got to make sure we have the right people in the game. It's unfortunate because Louis made a heck of a catch on the play to set us up to win the ballgame."
The Buccaneers switched up their Thanksgiving Week practice schedule to give their players more time at home on the holidays. If only the Buccaneers' Sunday home was as inviting. The loss to Cincinnati dropped Tampa Bay to 2-10 on the season and 0-6 at Raymond James. It also marked the second straight week that the Buccaneers rushed out to a 10-0 lead in the first half only to see it slip away. While the story in Chicago in Week 12 was turnovers, this time Tampa Bay's offense couldn't sustain drives and most of the second half was played on the Buccaneers' side of the field.
In fact, it was the Bucs who won the turnover battle on Sunday, picking off three passes while giving it away just once. CB Johnthan Banks intercepted QB Andy Dalton's first pass of the game and returned it to the nine to set up a Patrick Murray field goal. An eight-yard touchdown run by Martin early in the second quarter put the home team up, 10-0, but the Bengals closed the halftime gap to three points with a 64-yard drive that ended in Dalton's five-yard TD scramble after a holding penalty on Isaiah Frey made it first-and-goal at the five. Cincinnati's offense moved the ball well after a slow start, finishing the first half with 156 yards to the Bucs' 135, but second and third interceptions by Brandon Dixon and Alterraun Verner kept the Bengals from scoring again.
Tampa Bay's defense, which had been allowing just 19.0 points per game since the bye week, had another strong outing, keeping the Bengals from scoring on four of the six drives that reached Tampa Bay territory. However, a third-and-11 conversion by the Bengals with 2:37 left in regulation allowed the visitors to slip field position before Tampa Bay's final drive, even if the defense did eventually get the stop it needed. In addition, Cincinnati turned both of its red zone possessions into touchdowns, a week after the Chicago Bears were three-for-three in that regard despite gaining just 204 total yards.
"That was big, but we didn't get the ball back when we needed to get the ball back," said Banks. "They converted on a third down they shouldn't have converted on. We did our job the second time around and got the ball back, but it's a team thing. We've just got to be better as a team.
"You've got to credit them; they get paid, too. They did what they were supposed to do. They scored in the red zone and we didn't stop them in the red zone. He's one of the best in the game and we've got to respect that."
It wasn't an easy task for the Bucs' defense. With Tampa Bay's offense sputtering after halftime, most of the third quarter was spent in Tampa Bay territory and that eventually led to the go-ahead points for Cincinnati. After forcing a punt from the three-yard line, the Bengals drove 63 yards on 10 plays, converting two third downs along the way and eventually taking the lead on Dalton's 13-yard laser to Green in the end zone. An ill-advised surprise onside kick attempt gave the Bucs an instant scoring opportunity after Green's touchdown, but the home team had to settle for Murray's 42-yard field goal.
Neither team cracked 300 total yards on the day and neither passing attack could get much going downfield. The Buccaneers' longest play of the game was a 29-yard screen pass to RB Bobby Rainey that put the team into scoring range on its final drive. Rainey was dragged down at the Bengals' 36 and an offside penalty on Cincinnati made it first down at the 31; had the Bucs simply stalled at that point, they could have tried a 49-yard field goal. Instead, the fateful play to Murray led to a wild swing of emotions in just a few seconds.
"It was a screen to Bobby, a good play call, and we were able to get a huge chunk out of it," said McCown of the play that appeared to put the Bucs in the driver's seat. "They were rushing us all day and we were able to do a good job on our screens, probably the best job we've done all season. That's a good thing. That got us a chunk and we got kept moving it down there, but the penalties killed us and that was kind of the story of the day."
Of course, injuries to all three of their usual tight ends forced the Bucs into some unusual solutions on offense. Rookie TE Cameron Brate, promoted earlier in the week from the practice squad, was involved but largely as a fullback in the backfield, taking over for the injured Jorvorskie Lane. The majority of the tight end snaps went to reserve offensive lineman Oniel Cousins, who obviously didn't present much of a two-way threat to the Bengals' defense. The Bucs also had several procedural calls on offense on plays that involved Cousins in a new role. And while Martin ran hard all day and scored his first touchdown of the season, he had an early 28-yarder called back on one of those procedural calls and Tampa Bay's rushing attack gained just 75 yards and 3.0 yards per carry.
The Bucs were seeking a fast start and couldn't have done much better, at least on defense. Dalton sailed his pass over Green's head on the first play from scrimmage and Banks was there to haul it in. The second-year corner then tacked on an impressive 32-yard return through traffic down to the Cincinnati nine.
The Bucs' offense wasn't as quick out of the gates, however. Despite starting with a first-and-goal, the Bucs had to settle for a field goal after two short Martin runs, a false start and a broken play in which C Garrett Gilkey essentially rolled the ball back to McCown. McCown had no time to set up and was taken down at the 14. Murray still got three points out of the turnover by drilling a 32-yard field goal.
The Bucs' defense got the ball back quickly, with a tackle for loss by DT Akeem Spence and a third-down sack by DT Gerald McCoy forcing a three-and-out and a punt. The next drive started with a hard-charging 10-yard run by Martin and seemed to get another 28 on a breakaway jaunt by the same back, but that second play came back due to an illegal formation call. McCown followed with a pair of comebackers to Evans and Jackson to put the Bucs into a third-and-one. The Bucs brought out a jumbo package and opened up a hole for Martin to just get past the sticks. The drive stalled there, however, and the Bucs settled for a punt that special teams ace Russell Shepard downed at the Cincinnati one.
Cincinnati got out of that hole in a hurry with a 15-yard run by Bernard and a 20-yard catch-and-run by Green on consecutive plays. The Bengals did face a third-and-five at their own 41, which became a third-and-10 after a false start. McCoy again ended the drive by clipping Dalton's arm as he threw, forcing an errant incompletion.
The Bucs started at their own 29 after the punt and got into Bengals territory on the strength of a 17-yard catch by TE Cameron Brate (his first NFL reception) and a perfect deep out to Jackson for another 15. A six-yard run by Martin down to the Cincy 30 brought the first quarter to a close. The first play of the second quarter was another six-yard run by Martin, creating a first down at the 24. An attempted lob to Evans into the end zone failed as Evans caught the ball just out of bounds. A well-executed bubble screen to Sims picked up eight, but McCown went down in an apparent sack on third down. However, a facemask penalty kept the drive alive, making it first-and-goal at the eight. A false start cost five yards, which Martin got back on a first-down run. Martin got the ball on second down and darted through a hole over right tackle for his first touchdown of the season.
The Bengals got over midfield quickly thanks to a 17-yard screen to WR James Wright and a 10-yard run by Sanu out of the Wildcat formation. A hands-to-the-face penalty on CB Alterraun Verner created a first down at the Bucs' 26 and Bernard took a first-down cut-back run down to the 20. However, Dalton tried to lob a fade to Green in the end zone on the next play and Dixon was there to make a leaping interception just past the goal line.
Two Martin runs made it third-and-three at the 27 after the touchback, but an attempted out to Evans failed to connect on third down, leading to a punt. Return man Adam Jones, who virtually never calls for a fair catch, paid the price for that decision as he was hit hard at the catch by LB Orie Lemon. The Bengals still took over at their own 36 with five minutes left in the half.
Dalton dropped a 14-yard pass down into the hands of TE Jermaine Gresham in a hole in the zone to get the ball a yard past the midfield stripe. Two Hill runs move the chains again, and then the Bengals opened up their bag of tricks, with Sanu taking a lateral and then throwing back across the field to Green for 11 yards to the Bucs' 27. Bernard then ran for seven and 14 yards to create a first-and-goal at the six. The Bengals tried a tricky underneath pitch to Sanu on first down but Lansanah was ready, dropping Sanu for a loss of three. Unfortunately, CB Isaiah Frey was flagged for defensive holding on a pass that sailed well over Sanu's head in the end zone, creating another first-and-goal at the five. This time Dalton ran it in himself on a heady scramble to cut the Bucs' lead to three points.
The Bucs had a minute to work with and did get a first down on a crisp screen play to Rainey. However, McCown's efforts to hit Jackson on the right sideline backfired when Newman stepped in front of the receiver and intercepted the pass at the Bucs' 43. However, the Bucs' defense got it back two plays later when Verner intercepted a deep pass on which Dalton was hurried by pressure from DE Jacquies Smith.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half after a touchback but backed up on a pass interference call on Evans. A punt from the 21 followed, with the Bucs' coverage team once again swarming over Jones as soon as he caught the ball at the Bengals' 43. One power run by Hill moved the ball over midfield but a false start put it back on the other side of the stripe. After an incompletion, the Bucs collapsed the pocket on Dalton but he escaped and lobbed a 13-yard pass to Green to convert the third down. Spence and DE Da'Quan Bowers combined for a three-yard sack, helping create a third-and-nine at the Bucs' 39. Quick pressure by Smith and a solid tackle by Lansanah kept a third-down pass from gaining a yard and the Bengals punted down to the Bucs' two.
The Bucs barely moved the ball with three runs and punted out of their end zone. Thanks to Russell Shepard, that didn't prove to be a disaster. Michael Koenen boomed a 49-yarder and Shepard tackled WR Brandon Tate for a loss of one, with a block-in-the-back penalty moving the ball back to Cincy's 37.
DE William Gholston deflected Dalton's first-down pass at the line but Dalton came back two plays later to find Wright for 12 yards on third-and-six. A Gresham catch over the middle created a first down at the Bucs' 34, but the Bengals then faced a third-and-six three plays later. This time Dalton found Sanu between several defenders and it was first-and-10 at the Bucs' 15. Two plays later, Dalton threw a perfect pass to Green in the end zone just over the hand of CB Leonard Johnson and Cincy had its first lead of the game.
The Bengals then tried a trick play on special teams, going for a surprise onside kick. It backfired spectacularly when Lemon dived on Mike Nugent's short bouncer and got up and returned it to the Cincinnati 31. Before Tampa Bay could get the next snap off, DT Brandon Thompson jumped offside and leveled McCown, drawing a personal foul that took the ball all the way down to the 16. The Bucs gave those 15 yards back on an Oniel Cousins chop-block, making it first-and-25 back at the 31. One run and one catch by Sims took the ball into the red zone but left the Bucs in a third-and-11. It became third-and-16 on a delay-of-game, bringing the third quarter to a close. McCown couldn't escape pressure on third-and-long and went down at the 24, setting up a 42-yard field goal attempt that Murray booted through the uprights to make it a one-point game.
After a touchback, the Bucs' defense came up with a quick three-and-out thanks to a TFL on first down by Lemon and two solid stops on swing passes out to the right. Cincinnati's Kevin Huber helped his team's cause with a booming 56-yard punt, making the Bucs start at their own 31. The Bengals' defense then countered with its own three-and-out, and the exchange of punts put the ball back at the Bengal 24.
The Bengals appeared to convert a third-and-six on the ensuing drive with a quick slant to Green, but a pass-interference call on Green brought it back. On third-and-16, Sanu found a seam up the middle but couldn't hold on to Dalton's perfect throw and the Bengals had to punt. Another big punt by Huber and a penalty on the Bucs' return team took the ball all the way back to the Tampa Bay 15. A false start and a Sims run that lost a yard put the Bucs back at their nine, but Evans made a diving catch of a scrambling heave by McCown for 23 yards. The next two plays accomplished little, except that the second one drew a defensive holding call that made it first down at the Bucs' 37. A misdirection screen play to Sims gained 21 yards to the Bengals' 41 with just under six minutes to play. An improvised deep shot to Murphy fell incomplete and a Martin run lost a yard. On third-and-11 with 4:30 to play, McCown threw incomplete in the direction of WR Robert Herron and the Bucs had to punt. Tampa Bay's defense got the ball back for the offense just before the two-minute warning but the final sequence, as described above, failed to produce the go-ahead points.**
Photos from the first half of Buccaneers vs. Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.
- Game Notes:**
- The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive before Sunday's game: CB Crezdon Butler, LB Lavonte David, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, TE Brandon Myers, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Luke Stocker and DT Clinton McDonald. Of those seven, only Butler was not out due to injury.
- Cincinnati named these seven players inactive: RB Rex Burkhead, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, LB Vontaze Burfict, T Tanner Hawkinson, T Jamon Meredith, WR Greg Little and DE Margus Hunt. Burfict, Little and Hunt were out due to injury.
- DT Gerald McCoy recorded the first sack of the game, dropping QB Andy Dalton for an eight-yard loss in the first quarter. That marked the fifth time in the last six games that McCoy has recorded at least one sack. McCoy now has 8.5 sacks on the season and is trying to become the first Buccaneer to hit double digits in that category since Simeon Rice had 14.0 in 2005.
- CB Johnthan Banks recorded his fourth interception of the season on Andy Dalton's first pass of the game, setting up a Patrick Murray 32-yard field goal. That marked the second time in the last three games that Tampa Bay's defense intercepted a pass on the first play from scrimmage. LB Danny Lansanah intercepted QB Robert Griffin on the first play at Washington in Week 11.
- CBs Brandon Dixon and Alterraun Verner also picked off passes in the second quarter. That marked the first time in over two years that a Buccaneer defense had recorded three interceptions in the first half. The most recent occurrence was Week Two of the 2012 season, against the New York Giants on Sept. 16.
- RB Doug Martin's eight-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was his first score of the season. The Bucs had gone five games without scoring on the ground before Martin broke the drought.
Photos from the second half of Buccaneers vs. Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.