The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, mired in an unexpected tailspin in the first two months of the 2022 season, raised hopes that they were pulling out of it with a strong start to their prime-time matchup with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night. Unfortunately, the offense failed to maintain its momentum and the defense stumbled badly in the second half in what would prove to be a 27-22 loss to the visiting Ravens at Raymond James Stadium.
With the loss – their fifth in the last six outings – the Buccaneers dropped to 3-5 and fell to second place in the NFC South. The 3-4 Atlanta Falcons play the 2-5 Carolina Panthers on Sunday. This marks the first time since Tom Brady's arrival that the Buccaneers have lost three games in a row, and the first time in that span the team has been two games under .500. Head Coach Todd Bowles said things were "about as dark as they are going to be" after last Sunday's loss at Carolina, and Thursday's defeat has the Bucs still looking for answers.
"It's still dark," said Bowles. "Until you win ballgames consistently and play four quarters consistently, it's going to be dark. That doesn't mean we can't get out of it. We just have a lot of work to do, as coaches and as players."
The Buccaneers' offense got off to its best start of the season, driving 75 yards on its first drive and finishing with Leonard Fournette's one-yard touchdown run. That marked the first time this season that the Bucs had found the end zone in the first quarter of game and, they tacked on a field goal on a 10-play, 50-yard drive on their next possession. The only blemish to a strong first half was a muffed punt when Dee Delaney ran into return man Jaelon Darden, which set up Baltimore for an early 22-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.
The home team thus took a 10-3 lead into halftime after DL Patrick O'Connor blocked Justin Tucker's 61-yard field goal attempt just before intermission, and had the ball to start the second half. However, Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense started the third quarter with a three-and-out and the Buccaneers' defense surrendered 77, 80 and 83-yard touchdown drives on Baltimore's next three possessions. Tampa Bay's offense never regained its early-game rhythm and only found the end zone again in the game's closing minutes on an eight-yard Julio Jones catch.
"We've got to score points in the red zone and we've got to play four quarters on defense," said Bowles. "I think in the second half we missed a bunch of tackles and got wore down. They had a few runs that got out, just a lack of communication and lack of a few things we talk about, and until we find answers to that and play consistently and coach it consistently, that's where we are. We're 3-5; we own that."
Many of the pressing issues that have plagued the Buccaneers during their recent downturn were evident again on Thursday night. The offense only converted two of five red zone attempts into touchdowns and was just four of 13 in third-down conversion attempts. The defense started out strong but faded in the second half, eventually allowing 453 total yards, including 231 on the ground. And, for the fourth game in a row, the Buccaneers failed to produce a single turnover. That's the first time that has happened in the franchise's nearly 50-year history.
"It's very difficult, very difficult, man," said defensive captain Lavonte David. "I ain't going to sit here and lie to you. It's frustrating, just because we know we have the talent in the locker room. To lose three straight games that we thought we should have run, it's very frustrating. I don't know what it is, but I told them last week: It ain't no more looking in the mirror. You've got to dig in your soul and pull one out. Whatever you think you're doing, it ain't it. We've got to find a way to get better, someway, somehow."
The Ravens brought the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing attack to Tampa and, after a slow start, were eventually able to gash the Bucs' faltering run defense for 7.0 yards per carry. The Buccaneers were mostly able to keep superstar dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson in check, holding him to 43 yards on nine runs, but running backs Gus Edwards and Kenyan Drake combined for 127 yards and wide receiver Devin Duvernay had 33 yards and a touchdown on two end-arounds.
"We missed too many tackles, myself included," said safety Keanu Neal. "I point the finger at me first. I didn't make the necessary tackles. I missed too many. As a defense, we just missed too many tackles, didn't fit it right. We've just got to finish. We've just got to finish the game. We start off great [then] we go into the second half and we kind of don't have that same energy. It's keeping that same energy throughout the whole game. That's really what it boils down to."
Tampa Bay's defense, which got four straight stops to start the game and only allowed a field goal after Darden's muffed punt, may have eventually sagged under the weight of a depleted lineup. The Buccaneers started the game without DL Akiem Hicks, CBs Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting and safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Logan Ryan and then lost OLB Shaq Barrett to an Achilles tendon injury in the third quarter that Bowles said "doesn't look good."
The Buccaneers did sack Jackson three times – once each by Barrett, Vita Vea and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – but allowed 238 passing yards and two touchdowns as the Baltimore quarterback completed 27 of 38 passes.
Brady threw for 325 yards and a touchdown on 26-of-44 passing and had completions of 51 yards to Mike Evans and 44 yards to Chris Godwin. Evans recorded his 32nd-career 100-yard receiving game, hauling in six of 11 targets for 123 yards. But Brady was sacked three times for 20 yards and the league's worst rushing attack gained just 44 yards on 15 totes.
The Ravens got the ball to start the game and got off to a quick start with Andrews' 22-yard crossing route on the first play from scrimmage. A second-down Delaney blitz helped force a third-and-eight at the Ravens' 43, and ILB Lavonte David flashed in front of Andrews to knock down a potential conversion, leading to a punt.
Unfortunately, disaster struck on the next snap. Darden called for a fair catch but Delaney ran into him at the point of the catch, leading to a loose ball that the Ravens' recovered at the Bucs' six. OLB Shaq Barrett dropped Jackson for a loss of four on a designed run and an underneath catch by WR James Proche made it third-and-goal at the four. Jackson tried to go to Andrews again at the goal line but McCollum was there to break it up. Tucker opened the scoring with a 22-yard field goal.
The Bucs had their first shot after a touchback and faced a dreaded third-and-one after a nine-yard second-down run by Fournette. This time, the offense lined up in a shotgun but Brady still handed off to Fournette, who sliced up the middle for five yards. Rookie TE Ko Kieft caught a nine-yard pass over the middle and the Bucs used play-action on second-and-one, with Godwin taking a short pass over the middle and finding the sideline for a gain of 44 to the Ravens' eight. Evans couldn't quite stay in-bounds on a second-down pass at the back of the end zone but there was a defensive-holding call on CB Marcus Peters to make it first-and-goal again, this time at the five. Fournette fought his way to the one on first down and then ran into the end zone standing up over left tackle on the next play.
Tampa Bay's defense followed with an impressive third-and-out, with heavy pressure on Jackson forcing an errant throw on third-and-seven. This time, Darden caught the punt clean and found a seam for an 18-yard return to the Bucs' 37. Two plays into the ensuing drive, Brady stood in the pocket and delivered a 23-yard strike down the left hash marks to Evans. Two tunnel screens to Godwin ate up a total of 17 yards and a similar play to Perriman picked up 12 and made it first-and-goal at the Ravens' 11. The drive stalled there and the Bucs settled for Ryan Succop's 31-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead near the end of the first quarter.
Vita Vea's second-down sack on Baltimore's next drive led to a third-and-22 as the first period came to an end. After the two teams switched sides, Jackson's short flare pass to WR Devin Duvernay was bottled up for no yards and the Ravens kicked it away again. Darden's 15-yard punt return put the ball at the Bucs' 45. A couple of Rachaad White runs up the gut left the Bucs in third-and-four, and a quick pass to Godwin was broken up by safety Geno Stone. Bucs punter Jake Camarda dropped a kick down at the Ravens' six-yard line.
Two Buc defenders appeared to have Edwards trapped in the backfield on the next play but Edwards spun out of the tackle and got around right end for 12 yards. Barrett sacked Jackson on the ensuing first down and S Keanu Neal dropped Andrews on a short pass over the middle to make it third-and-seven at the 21. Jackson got the Ravens' first third-down conversion of the game on a sharp out to WR Demarcus Robinson on the right sideline. Two plays later, Jackson kept the ball on an RPO two plays later and got another first down at the Baltimore 41. The Ravens faced a third-and-two near midfield moments later and a handoff out of shotgun to Edwards moved the sticks. An offensive pass interference penalty backed the Ravens up, and it was third-and-36 after the Bucs' pass rush chased Jackson into an intentional-grounding penalty. The Ravens punted away from their own 36 and Darden fair caught it at the Bucs' 14.
Brady and Evans just missed on a deep ball down the left sideline two plays into the next drive, leading to a third-and-eight that ended in an incompletion in Godwin's direction. Baltimore got it back at its own 40 with five minutes left in the first half. A play-action pass to TE Isaiah Likely got the ball over midfield and made it first down at the Bucs' 47 and two plays later Jackson found Robinson in a hole in the zone coverage for a first down at the 33. Another sideline catch by Robinson got 16 yards to the 17, but the Ravens quickly faced a third-and-10 at that spot. S Keanu Neal stopped Likely three yards shy of the sticks on third down and the Ravens had something to think about on fourth-and-three as the two-minute warning arrived. Baltimore went for it and CB Jamel Dean broke up a pass intended for Duvernay in the end zone.
The Bucs' offense thus took over at its own 10 with 1:55 left in the half. WR Scotty Miller caught a quick seven-yard pass out of the left slot but Brady's next pass was deflected at the line and incomplete. On third-and-three, Brady somehow fit a pass between two defenders into Evans' hands on the right sideline for a gain of 28. However, two plays later Justin Houston got to Brady for a sack to make it third-and-14 at the Bucs' 41. The Bucs called a timeout and tried to set up a deep pass to Evans but Houston once again dropped Brady and the Ravens called a timeout with 56 seconds left in the half.
White made a great play on punt coverage to drop Duvernay at the Ravens' 13. Jackson scrambled out of trouble and found Likely for a gain of 14 two plays later, with Baltimore burning its last timeout with 30 seconds left. A facemask penalty on OLB Joe Tryon Shoyinka and a 12-yard catch over the middle by Proche led to a Jackson spike with the ball at the Bucs' 43, giving Tucker a shot to make a 61-yard field goal. O'Connor made sure the star kicker couldn't convert by blocking it with a raised hand over the middle.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half after a touchback but did little with it and had to punt away after a three-and-out. The Ravens started anew at their 23 but immediately got close to midfield on a signature Jackson scramble. Baltimore faced a third-and-one at the Bucs' 43 and Edwards found a seam for 11 yards and a first down. Barrett was hurt on the play and had to be helped off the field. Two plays after the injury break, a wide receiver screen to Duvernay worked to perfection on the left sideline, leading to a first down at the Bucs' 18. A play-action slant to Duvernay made it first-and-goal at the five, and Jackson hit Drake for a five-yard touchdown on the next play, tying the game with 9:05 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay's next possession started in good fashion as White took a swing pass left and weaved through tacklers for a gain of 20, followed by his eight-yard run up the middle. However, a Julio Jones end-around and an attempted pass to Evans both failed and the Bucs punted it back, with the ball going into the end zone for a touchback.
A well-blocked end-around to Duvernay started the next drive with an 18-yard gain. On third-and-five from the Baltimore 43, Jackson found Likely again, this time for a gain of 17 to the Bucs' 40. Tryon-Shoyinka sacked Jackson for a loss of one on the next play but RB Justice Hill found a wide-open lane for 12 yards a snap later. A stop of Jackson for a loss of one by DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches put Baltimore into a third-and-nine at the 28 but Robinson turned a quick screen to the right into a 15-yard gain and two plays later Jackson scrambled and hit Likely in the back of the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown with five seconds left in the third quarter.
Brady found Godwin twice to start the next drive with a first down, and two plays later, connected with Evans deep down the left sideline for a gain of 51, down to the Baltimore 13. Brady's next two passes were incomplete and his third-down scramble came up far short, so the Bucs brought on Succop to hit a 30-yard field goal.
Any momentum gained by that scoring drive was immediately erased by Edwards' 22-yard run to start the next possession. Two plays later, Jackson rolled right on an apparent run and then threw over the top to Likely for 16 yards to the Bucs' 45. A holding penalty erased a big Jackson run moments later and eventually led to a third-and-one at the 15. An end-around to Duvernay got the first down and more, as he sliced over the left side for a 15-yard touchdown and a 24-13 Baltimore lead with seven minutes to play.
The Bucs went into a hurry-up and quickly got into the red zone thanks in large part to a 40-yard pass interference penalty drawn by WR Scotty Miller. That made it first-and-goal at the six, but the next two passes were incomplete. A scrambling touchdown pass to rookie TE Cade Otton was erased by a holding call on Donovan Smith. Brady scrambled on third-and-16 and found Jones at the three, and the Bucs lined up to go for it on fourth-and-goal. However, after a false-start call on Fournette the field goal unit came on and Succop made it an eight-point game with five minutes to play.
The Bucs needed a quick stop but gave up a 33-yard kickoff return to Duvernay and a 40-yard run to Drake in rapid succession. The Bucs' defense held after that and the Ravens made it an 11-point game on Tucker's 30-yard shot.
Tampa Bay's offense came back with a 75-yard touchdown drive, but it took two of the final three minutes in the game to complete. The drive started with a 14-yard catch by Fournette and was helped by a roughing-the-passer call on Justin Madubuike. Another 15-yard grab by Fournette and two six-yard catches by Evans helped get the ball to the eight on first-and-goal, but the next three passes were incomplete. Brady found Jones on fourth down and the new Buccaneer receiver was able to dive between two defenders into the end zone for a score. However, the two-point conversion attempt failed, as did the ensuing onside kick effort.