The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs met in game featuring two of the NFL's six highest-scoring teams on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. But it takes two teams to make a shootout and the Buccaneers simply waited too long to return fire. Despite a second-half rally, the Buccaneers fell, 27-24, in a game that featured a combined 960 yards of offense between the two teams.
Instead, the game became more like target practice for Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, at least during a dizzying first quarter, and in particular he was looking to one very fast target in WR Tyreek Hill. Hill scored on touchdowns of 75 and 44 yards in the first quarter and by the end of the opening period had already piled up 203 receiving yards. At the same time, Tom Brady and Tampa Bay's offense had produced just 44 yards and one first down, with no third-down conversions in four tries. The Bucs finished three of nine on third downs, which was a big factor in the team falling behind early.
"We just missed on third down," said Arians. "We had very, very manageable third downs. They did a really good job in their blitz package and we didn't handle it as an offense. There are times when we look really, really good and are really in sync, when we're converting third downs. And that's huge. Most of them have been seven or less, where we've been pretty good most of the season. Early in the game, for whatever reason, we're not making the plays. We're not getting open, we're not protecting, we're just not making enough plays."
Hill scored again midway through the third quarter on a 20-yard catch and went on to record 13 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns. His third touchdown halted a bit of momentum the Buccaneers had built with a William Gholston fumble recovery and a 37-yard Ronald Jones II touchdown catch near the end of the first half, followed by a field goal drive to open the second half. CB Carlton Davis was the closest Buc defender in coverage on all three scores.
"He had him man-to-man," said Arians of Davis covering Hill. "We tried to get a safety out there when we could, but you've got Kelce on the other side, too. It's a lot of weapons, but when we did play man-to-man Patrick found him and they made some really good plays."
The Buccaneers did drive into scoring range two more times in the third quarter after falling into a 27-10 deficit, but both ended in interceptions. Brady and the Bucs kept fighting and two touchdown catches by Mike Evans narrowed the gap on the scoreboard to three points with four minutes remaining. However, Mahomes ran for a pair of first downs and the Chiefs were able to run out the rest of the clock without Brady getting another shot at a game-tying or winning drive.
"We battled back," said Brady. "Unfortunately, we left ourself a big deficit to start, got off to a slow start, couldn't convert any third downs. [It was] just poor execution early and [we] get behind. Players have got to do a better job; we've got to make the plays that are there. And certainly when you play a good offense, offensively we've got to do our job and stay on the field, and keep them off the field."
Tampa Bay lost consecutive games for the first time in 2020 and dropped to 7-5 overall, coincidentally falling by the exact same score to two playoff contenders, the Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs will now enjoy their long-awaited bye next week before returning four a four-game run to the end of the regular season, with two meetings with the Atlanta Falcons and one each against Detroit and Minnesota. The Chiefs, who are looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, improved to 10-1.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 12 matchup against Kansas City Chiefs.
The game was the fourth meeting between six-time Super Bowl champion Brady and his heir apparent as the NFL's greatest quarterback, and he and Mahomes have now split those four contests. Mahomes finished with 462 yards and three touchdowns on 37 of 49 passing. The Buccaneers' offense struggled in the early going but Brady went on to throw for 345 yards and three touchdowns of his own, with a pair of interceptions and 27 completions in 41 attempts. Most encouragingly, the Buccaneers found some downfield success in the passing game after struggling with the deep ball in recent weeks. Rob Gronkowski, Ronald Jones, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans all had catches of more than 30 yards.
"We hit a bunch of them," said Arians. "There was one short for a long run. I thought we executed. We didn't get quite enough explosives. We got a bunch but when you're playing this team we needed about two or three more explosives to shorten that field and get points."
Gronkowski, in fact, had his biggest game yet as a Buccaneer, trading chain-moving plays with Kansas City's Travis Kelce, the NFL's leading pass-catcher among tight ends. Gronkowski finished with six catches and 106 yards for his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer, while Kelce had eight grabs for 82 yards. Meanwhile Jones produced 103 yards from scrimmage, including a 37-yard touchdown catch and a 34-yard run.
Still, Mahomes' crew, which came into the game with a league-best average of 32.1 points per game, was simply more potent on this evening than the Bucs' attack, which had averaged 29.1 points per outing through the first 11 weeks of the season. Mahomes had wide-open pass-catchers much more commonly than did Brady, who was often throwing to contested targets in the first half. Tampa Bay's offense picked things up considerably after halftime, with 286 of their 417 total yards coming in the second half.
The Buccaneers also struggled with penalties in Week 12, an early-season issue they had seemed to overcome with fewer than three flags per game over the previous six contests. Mahomes induced the defenders up front to jump into three encroachment or offside calls, one of which erased an interception in Chiefs territory by S Jordan Whitehead in the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, another interception by CB Sean Murphy-Bunting was snuffed by roughing-the-passer call that left OLB Jason Pierre-Paul incensed. It was Pierre-Paul's hit on Mahomes during the throw that led to the off-target downfield pass. The Bucs were flagged eight times for 57 yards in the game. Conversely, Tampa Bay's final touchdown drive, which made it a three-point game with four minutes to play, was aided by a pair of roughing-the-passer calls on Chiefs DE Frank Clark.
"It is frustrating, because we do harp on it in practice and then we go out there and just forget about it," said outside linebacker Shaq Barrett. "Everybody wants to hard-count us because we jump offsides a lot. We look like an undisciplined football team. I hate being undisciplined, but in order for us to get past that label we've got to go out and just watch when the ball moves. With the hard counts, we're undisciplined right now."
While Mahomes and Hill stung the Bucs' defense with big plays, Tampa Bay did perform well in the red zone, which they believed would be one of the keys to limiting the Chiefs' scoring output. Kansas City took three drives into the red zone and came away with two field goals and one fumble. The biggest red zone play was turned in by Barrett, who sacked Mahomes late in the second quarter, forcing a fumble that Will Gholston recovered. The Buccaneers' offense took the ensuing drive the length of the field for a touchdown.
"I thought they did a great job, especially that first one on the triple-reverse," said Arians. "Carlton knocks the ball. That's what we knew it was going to take. We had to hold them to field goals and not give up touchdowns. We gave up the two long touchdowns but I thought we played really good red zone defense."
Additional game details (scoring plays in bold):
Mahomes wasted no time getting the Chiefs into Tampa Bay territory, throwing a play-action pass to Hill, who was wide open on the left sideline and was able to gain 34 yards on the game's first play. Mahomes then drew the Bucs into two consecutive encroachment penalties to take the ball down to the Bucs' 31, and two plays later found Hill again at the Bucs' seven. The Bucs' defense got a big stop, however, shutting down two plays from the one and the Chiefs settled for Harrison Butker's 19-yard field goal to cap a 74-yard drive. CB Carlton Davis came up big when the Chiefs ran a trick play that included two pitches and Kelce eventually trying to throw a pass to Mahomes in the end zone. The play looked poised to work until Davis managed to knock down the pass.
The Bucs also got off to a good start on offense with a five-yard Jones run and a 12-yard curl by Evans on the first two snaps. A deep shot to Evans from the 45 just missed, however, and the Bucs had to punt after another third-down pass in his direction was out of reach.
The Chiefs started their second drive at their own 22 and got into a third-and-one at the 31 with the help of another encroachment flag on the Buccaneers. However, Pierre-Paul stopped RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire cold on third down and the Chiefs elected to punt. Unfortunately, the Bucs followed with a three-and-out of their own and punted it right back. Special teams ace Ryan Smith arrived at return man Mecole Hardman immediately after the ball did and dropped him with a hard hit at the Chiefs' 25.
The Chiefs only needed one play to score from there. Mahomes went deep down the right sideline and found Hill for a 75-yard scoring strike, with Hill keeping his feet after a spinning catch and scoring easily when Davis ended up on the turf.
After another three-play drive and a punt by the home team, the Chiefs started again at their own 10 following Bradley Pinion's 62-yard punt. Another 19-yard catch-and-run by Hill gained a first down at the 37 and Kelce's first catch, a 14-yarder, got the ball across midfield. The Chiefs faced a third-and-eight at the Bucs' 44 and Mahomes went deep again to Hill for another long touchdown and a 17-0 Chiefs lead with 1:32 left in the first quarter.
The Bucs punted again as the first period came to an end and the Chiefs started in the opposite direction from their own 22. Two catches by Kelce got the ball across midfield and Mahomes found WR Sammy Watkins on a deep slant for 14 yards to the Bucs' 34. Davis nearly intercepted an errant deep pass on the next play but another catch over the middle by Kelce moved the chains on third-and-eight. Pierre-Paul chased Mahomes out of the pocket on the next third down but the Chiefs QB was able to get around the corner and move the chains with a 13-yard flip to WR Demarcus Robinson.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay's defense followed with the game's first takeaway on the next play, as Barrett got to Mahomes in a heartbeat and forced a fumble that was recovered by Will Gholston at the Bucs' 14 with 8:38 left in the first half. The Bucs got their first third-down conversion of the game three plays later on a two-yard out by WR Antonio Brown, then three snaps later got their first big play on offense as Gronkowski got wide open down the middle and Brady hit him for 25 yards to the Chiefs' 37. The Bucs followed with another big play, as Brady threw out to the left to Jones, who ran past one defender and hurdled another, barely staying in bounds to complete the 37-yard score.
The Chiefs were able to use the last four minutes of the half to tack on three more points. After getting the team across midfield, Mahomes hit Kelce on consecutive passes over the middle for 22 yards down to the Bucs' 11. However, the Bucs' brought pressure on the next three plays, each one resulting in Mahomes having to throw the ball away as he scrambled right. The Chiefs brought on Butker for a 29-yard field goal to make it 20-7 at the half.
Tampa Bay got the ball first to start the second half and did manage to score on the opening possession, though it failed to get into the end zone after a 48-yard catch by Gronkowski made it first-and-goal at the one. Ronald Jones started the drive with an impressive 11-yard run but the Bucs brought on Fournette inside the five and he gained one yard on a first-down run and lost four on a second down catch. Brady had to throw it away on third-and-goal and Ryan Succop came on to hit a 26-yard field goal four minutes into the second half.
Mahomes started the second half the same way he did the first, finding Hill on a precision pass down the left sideline for a gain of 21. The Chiefs then lost 10 yards on a holding call but had an interception by Whitehead erased by an offsides call on DL Ndamukong Suh. A tackle-breaking 10-yard run by Edwards-Helaire put the Chiefs into a third-and-one at the Bucs' 43, which Mahomes converted by running the option and keeping the ball for a gain of 17. Two plays later, Brady looked to Hill again and though he was tightly covered by Davis Mahomes was able to fit the ball in over the defender's shoulder for a 20-yard score.
Brady and the Buccaneers overcame an early holding call on the next drive when he looked deep down the middle to WR Chris Godwin, who made a diving catch for 44 yards to the Chiefs' 36. However, on the next play Brady went for the deep ball again, looking to WR Scotty Miller down the left sideline, but CB Bashaud Breeland made a leaping interception at the Chiefs' 11. Tampa Bay's defense got a much-needed three-and-out, helped by a Mecole Hardman drop on what could have been a very big play. The resulting punt gave it back to the Bucs at their own 33.
Jones got the Bucs back into scoring range with another big play, this time breaking free on a run over left guard and finding the open field for a gain of 34. Unfortunately, that drive ended in a turnover, too, as a pass intended for Evans bounced off S Daniel Sorenson near the line of scrimmage, popping up into the air for an easy pick by S Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu returned it 23 yards to the Kansas City 35. The Bucs defense followed with another stop and the resulting punt went just 32 yards to the Bucs' 25. After one six-yard run by Fournette the third quarter came to an end.
The Bucs flipped to the other side of the field and then finished off a 75-yard touchdown drive. Brady hit TE Cam Brate for a gain of 14 to start the fourth quarter but the Bucs found themselves facing a fourth-and-three at the Kansas City 31. Down by 17 the Buccaneers clearly had to go for it, and Brady did much more than move the chains, hitting Evans in stride down the right sideline for a 31-yard touchdown. That trimmed the Chiefs' lead to 10 points with 12:44 to play.
Kansas City got across midfield on the next possession before a run of penalties slowed the game down. The Bucs saw Murphy-Bunting's interception erased by the flag on Pierre-Paul but the Chiefs committed two holding penalties and ended up in a third-and-27 hole at the midfield stripe. Davis just managed to dislodge the ball from Watkins' hands on a deep ball over the middle and the Chiefs punted down to the Bucs' 27 with 6:21 left.
Brady converted a key third down at the beginning of the next drive with a seven-yard dart through traffic over the middle of the field. Kansas City's Clark then drew a 15-yard flag for roughing the passer, pushing the ball across midfield. Two passes to Fournette made it first down at the 32 with the clock ticking below five minutes but a sack by DE Mike Danna and Alex Okafor two plays later made it second-and-13 at the 25. Another roughing-the-passer call on Clark after an 11-yard completion to Godwin made it first-and-goal at the seven. Two plays later, Evans ran a shallow out from the left slot and got wide open for the seven-yard score, making it 27-24 with 4:10 left in regulation.
The Bucs had two timeouts left and the two-minute warning to try to get the ball back but Mahomes gained three first downs, including two on his own runs, and the Chiefs were able to kneel out the final few seconds on the clock.