The Tampa Bay Buccaneers almost got the fast start they've been seeking on Sunday in Cleveland…but not quite. They also almost got the edge in turnovers that is so important to their winning formula…but not quite. And, most importantly, the Buccaneers didn't quite get their second win of the 2014 season, falling 22-17 to the Cleveland Browns in a game that featured four lead changes.
With the loss, the Bucs fell to 1-7 at the season's midway point, while the Browns improved to 5-3.
Rookie WR Mike Evans caught a pair of 24-yard touchdown passes during a 124-yard day, the second of which gave Tampa Bay a 17-16 lead in the third quarter. However, the Browns scored the winning points on a broken-play, 34-yard scoring catch by rookie WR Taylor Gabriel with nine minutes to play. The Bucs finished the game with a total-yardage edge of 365-330 and a 113-50 yard advantage on the ground – in the process winning the time-of-possession battle for the first time all season – but once again couldn't get the one big play they needed at the end.
It appeared that Evans might give them that play, first with a 31-yard catch that started Tampa Bay's last drive and then with a grab on fourth-and-one in Cleveland territory that appeared to set the Bucs up in good position for the winning points. However, that second catch was erased by an offensive pass interference penalty and an incompletion on the subsequent fourth-and-11 ended that final scoring opportunity. The Bucs had also failed to move the ball on second-and-one and third-and-one before the fateful play.
QB Mike Glennon, who completed 17 of 33 passes for 260 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, wasn't sure in the immediate aftermath of the game what had happened on the overturned fourth-down play, but he said the entire sequence leading to that moment was critical.
"We had the first down and then we had the penalty, and that obviously hurt," said Glennon. "I'm not exactly sure what happened on the outside, but that knocked us back to a fourth-and-longer situation. But in that situation, we're in second-and-one and we have to find a way to get a new set of downs. I mean, we had them where we wanted them. The big play to start the drive set us up perfectly; I felt like we had them on their heels, we were in control. Again, we were just not able to come away with it."
Glennon looked repeatedly to his big outside receivers, Evans and Vincent Jackson, hitting them for a combined 13 catches for 210 yards and the two scores. But one pass in each of those receiver's direction was intercepted in the first half, keeping the Bucs from opening a more comfortable lead. The first was a potential touchdown pass on a deep ball that was tipped and then picked off by S Donte Whitner. The second was an overthrown pass in the red zone that went right to S Tashaun Gipson on the end zone.
"I'm really more frustrated by myself, because those two picks in the first half can't happen," said Glennon. "Those are not plays that we can have as a team. I need to be better in those situations. Who knows what the situation would have been if I didn't throw those two picks. So I need to play better. I thought the offensive line did a good job, we ran the ball well, the receivers made a lot of big plays, so I have to play better in the second half."
The Buccaneers picked off Cleveland QB Brian Hoyer twice – once each by Johnthan Banks and Clinton McDonald, but crucially neither takeaway resulted in points. Banks got close to returning his for a touchdown but the subsequent drive ended in Gipson's pick. S Major Wright, starting in place of the recently-traded Mark Barron, said the Bucs have to be more productive with their takeaways.
"Just taking the ball away, putting pressure on the quarterback and when they do run the ball, getting a strip," said Wright of the team's goals. "That was our main key this week: Getting takeaways. Basically, just read your keys and do your job, try to get a takeaway and get it into the end zone. We've got to score, the defense has got to score. We preach that a lot, to get a takeaway and score."
One reason the Bucs' improvements on defense and in the running game didn't translate into a win is that the special teams proved to be a significant advantage for the home team. Cleveland blocked a short field goal try on the first drive of the game and later deflected a punt to set up the go-ahead score.
Photos from the first half of Buccaneers vs. Browns.
The Bucs had hoped to take advantage of a Browns' defense that ranked 30th in the NFL against the run, and indeed they did, even with RB Doug Martin sidelined by an ankle injury. Bobby Rainey shouldered the load in his place and getting 87 yards on 19 carries. However, the Bucs also failed on a critical third-and-one run near midfield in the third quarter and did not run once in three plays when they needed that final yard on the last drive.
The Buccaneers' defense stopped a Browns' rushing attack that had ranked 12th in the league coming into the game, allowing just 50 yards and 1.8 yards per carry. It also sacked Hoyer three times, with two of them courtesy of All-Pro DT Gerald McCoy.
The Buccaneers moved the ball well early but couldn't translate it into points. Thanks in part to the blocked 31-yard field goal and a 55-yard try by Patrick Murray that came up a few yards short. The Bucs had 116 yards, seven first downs and three conversions in five third-down tries in the first quarter but didn't score. Meanwhile, the Browns got field goals of 49 and 29 yards from Billy Cundiff to take a 6-0 lead.
It could have been worse, as Glennon's first interception resulted in a first-and-goal for the Browns early in the second quarter. A big third-down sack by Jacquies Smith forced Cleveland to settle for three points, and the Bucs followed with an 80-yard drive ending in Glennon's 24-yard touchdown pass to Evans on third-and-11. The Bucs' defense also minimized the damage of a Gipson pick in the end zone a few minutes later by forcing a quick punt and putting the offense back into scoring territory. That resulted in a 40-yard field goal by Murray and a 10-6 Bucs lead. The Browns successfully ran a two-minute drill to tack on three points, but at halftime, the Bucs had a 228-126 edge in total yardage.
The Buccaneers got the game's first possession after a touchback and got the ball to midfield on the strength of five and 10-yard carries by Rainey and a key third-down scramble by Glennon. Rainey's four-yard run on second-and-one created a first down at Cleveland's 43 and Glennon then responded to a Browns blitz with a 27-yard lob to Evans down the left sideline. A crack at the end zone from the 16 was caught by Jackson, but not inbounds. The drive stalled there and the Bucs came away without points when Patrick Murray's 31-yad field goal was blocked by DT Billy Winn.
Photos from the second half of the Buccaneers vs. Browns game.
The Browns started at their own 23 after the block and got 20 quick yards on a play-action pass over the middle to WR Andrew Hawkins. A six-yard sack by McCoy then put the Browns into a third-and-17 at their own 36, but Hoyer converted it with a 31-yard strike down the middle to WR Travis Benjamin. Tampa Bay's defense forced a third-and-13 at the Bucs' 36 moments later and Hoyer barely got off a pass to RB Ben Tate. The play was only good for five yards, but that was enough to put Billy Cundiff in range for a 49-yard field goal and the game's first points.
Marcus Thigpen's first kickoff return as a Buc was a good one, getting from the end zone out to the 27-yard line, but Glennon's first pass of the drive was batted down at the line. His second one went over Jackson's head near the right sideline, but a screen pass to Rainey was set up so well that he caught the ball with 30 or 40 open yards of field in front of him. Rainey ended up getting 34 yards to the Browns' 39. A pump-and-go to Evans two plays later looked like it was going to be six but the throw came up a bit short and Evans couldn't make an acrobatic spinning catch. A third-and-eight toss in Jackson's direction also proved to be a near miss and the Bucs had to settle for Murray's 55-yard field goal try, which came up short.
That gave the Browns an excellent starting spot of their own 45 and they got a first down in Bucs territory with runs of four and 10 yards by Terrence West. The Bucs challenged what was ruled a 15-yard completion to TE Jim Dray on the next snap and won, making it second-and-10. CB Alterraun Verner jumped a short pass in Benjamin's direction on second down and nearly intercepted it and Hoyer's third-down pass was incomplete, leading to punt that Thigpen fair caught at the Bucs' eight.
Bobby Rainey powered over left guard for four yards to start the ensuing drive. A delay-of-game penalty on Haden after he nearly intercepted a pass on second down gave the Bucs five yards and made it easy for Rainey to push for a first down on third-and-one. Two plays later, Glennon had Evans streaking deep down the middle of the field but his pass was short, and Haden was able to tip it to Whitner, who intercepted and returned it 54 yards to the Bucs' 21.
The Bucs defended the left side of the field so well on a rollout pass on the next play that Hoyer eventually looked back to the right and found Tate wide open for a gain of 16 to the five-yard line. The Bucs stopped two runs to make it third-and-goal at the four. The Browns spread out the formation but Hoyer found nobody to throw to and was eventually sacked by Smith.
Glennon started the next drive with a quick square-in to Jackson for 11 yards and Rainey then took a toss-sweep right for seven yards. Another well-blocked run by Rainey went around left tackle and picked up nine more for a first down three yards shy of midfield. An illegal hands-to-the-face penalty on DL Desmond Bryant erased a sack-fumble and pushed the ball across midfield. A 21-yard run by Rainey two plays later got the ball down to the Cleveland 23, but Glennon then took a four-yard coverage sack. Two plays later, on third-and-11, Glennon stood in and delivered a pass straight down the middle of the field to Evans, who eluded a defender to haul it in for the go-ahead score.
Tampa Bay's defense then came up with a big play, as Banks snatched a high Hoyer pass out of the air and returned it 18 yards to the Cleveland 10. Unfortunately, the Bucs gave it back two plays later when Glennon overthrew Jackson near the five and Gipson was waiting for it in the end zone for an easy pick. Jackson averted a potential long return by tripping up Gipson at the eight as he darted by.
A Banks pass-deflection on third-and-eight forced a quick punt, which went out of bounds on the Browns' side of midfield. However, a personal foul on S Keith Tandy on the play pushed Tampa Bay back 15 yards. Two strong runs by Rainey and a dazzling 22-yard catch by Jackson on the sideline moved the ball immediately back into Cleveland territory. On first down from the 29, Rainey's sweep left was shut down and a scramble by Glennon third-and-eight came up three yards short. The Bucs settled for Murray's 40-yarder and a four point lead with a little over two minutes to play in the half.
A 10-yard grab by Ben Tate started Cleveland's next drive and brought on the two-minute warning. After the break, a bubble-screen to WR Taylor Gabriel worked to perfection, getting 18 yards to midfield. A toss down the middle to TE Gary Barnidge two plays later took it down to the Bucs' 37, but a great stop by Major Wright on a short pass and a second sack by McCoy made it third-and-14 at the 41. Hoyer converted it with a sharp seam pass to WR Miles Austin but the Browns had time only for a 43-yard field goal by Cundiff to make it a one-point game.
The Browns got the ball to start the second half after a touchback and gained 12 yards on a roll-out crossing-route pass to Hawkins, who was shaken up on the play. Another play-action pass went down the middle to Gabriel for 20 more, getting the ball into Bucs' territory. Two runs by West made it third-and-one at the Bucs' 39, and the Browns eschewed the short run for a play-action rollout on which Hoyer stopped and threw back to the opposite side for a 26-yard completion to Dray. On third-and-six from the Bucs' nine, Hawkins got a short catch but was stopped short of the sticks. The Browns sent out the field goal unit but got new life when DE William Gholston jump offside. The penalty didn't quite create a first down, but it made it fourth-and-inches and the Browns converted on West's two-yard run. Two plays later, West ran it in a short pass after a play-action fake.
A play-action pass out to Jackson on the sideline started the Bucs' first drive of the half with a 17-yard gain. Another out to Jackson two plays later was good for another first down at the Browns' 49. Glennon moved well in the pocket to hit Murphy for a nine-yard pass that made it third-and-on at the Cleveland 40, but the Browns broke through the line to get James for a loss of two on third-and-one.
The Bucs downed Michael Koenen's punt at the Cleveland nine and Verner had perfect coverage on Hawkins when the Browns tried to go deep on first down. Another incompletion and a short scramble by Hoyer forced a punt and a short kick went out of bounds at the Browns' 45. Glennon had great protection on first down and had time Jackson over the middle for 15 yards. Two plays later, he threw it up for Evans in the end zone again and the rookie used his size to fight off CB Buster Skrine and make a dazzling 24-yard touchdown catch.
The Browns got a good kickoff return from Gabriel out to the 30 but Hoyer tripped for a loss of six on second down and was pressured into an incompletion on third. The Browns' cover team then interfered with Thigpen as he tried to field the ensuing punt, the resulting 15-yard penalty moving it out to the Bucs' 40. An awkward catch by Evans on second down made it third-and-two on the final play of the third quarter.
The Bucs failed to convert on the first play of the final period but at least flipped field position when Koenen's punt rolled to a stop at the nine. A holding penalty cost the Browns four yards and an incompletion made it second-and-14. Hoyer was pressured into a dump-off to Tate that lost a yard to make it third-and-16. Amazingly, the Browns converted with a 25-yard pass to Austin. A 21-yarder to Benjamin and a 14-yarder to Gabriel got it all the way to the Bucs' 34. On the next play, however, the Browns went back to the play-action roll-out well and the Bucs were ready. Hoyer was pressured on his throw to Barnidge, which was deflected by S Bradley McDougald and intercepted by Clinton McDonald.
The Bucs went nowhere with the ensuing possession but still had a chance to flip field position until LB Craig Robertson deflected Koenen's punt. The result was a first-and-10 for Cleveland at the Bucs' 35. Two plays later, on another broken play, Hoyer found Gabriel streaking up the field for a 34-yard go-ahead score with nine minutes left in the game. Wright made a nice play on a pass to FB Kiero Small on the two-point conversion try to keep Cleveland's lead to five points, 22-17.
After a touchback, the Bucs started again from their own 20, and an illegal contact penalty on CB Justin Gilbert against Evans resulted in a first down. However, the drive stalled when Glennon was run out of bounds on a third-and-six scramble after gaining three yards.
- The Buccaneers came into Sunday's game one player short of a full 53-man roster, and thus had to name only six inactives to get to 46. They were: RB Doug Martin, RB Charles Sims, CB Brandon Dixon, LB Brandon Magee, G Kadeem Edwards and T Anthony Collins. Martin, Magee and Collins were out due to injury.
- Cleveland's seven inactives were: WR Rodney Smith, DB Pierre Desir, RB Glenn Winston, DB Robert Nelson, OL Vinston Painter, TE Jordan Cameron and DL Phil Taylor. Smith, Cameron and Taylor were out due to injury.
- DE Jacquies Smith's seven-yard sack of Brian Hoyer on third-and-goal in the second quarter was the first sack of Smith's career.
- QB Mike Glennon's second-quarter touchdown pass to WR Mike Evans came on a third-and-11 play. That marked the first third down of longer than 10 yards the Buccaneers had converted in 2014.
- The Bucs' 228 yards in the first half on Sunday was their best total of the 2014 season so far. RB Bobby Rainey's 80 rushing yards and 114 combined yards were the best first-half marks by any Buc so far this year.