Rain came and went throughout the afternoon in Cleveland as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns did battle at FirstEnergy Stadium amid intermittent showers. The last one was a bitter rain for the Buccaneers.
A three-yard touchdown run by Nick Chubb with 19 seconds left in overtime gave the home team a 23-17 victory at the end of 70 minutes of hard-fought football. WR Amari Cooper's 45-yard catch-and-run, after CB Carlton Davis slipped on the wet turf, put Chubb in position to pound it in and avoid what would have been just the second tie in Tampa Bay's franchise history. TE David Njoku's stunning one-handed touchdown catch with 32 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime after the Buccaneers had taken a 17-10 lead on Ko Kieft's touchdown catch in the third quarter.
"This was tough," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We had so much in all three phases that lost this ballgame, whether it was the return game, their returns on us on punt or a kickoff; defensively, key stops at certain times, penalties to move the ball, letting the run out at certain times, the tackling wasn't great. Offensively, not being able to get third downs was crucial for us and we let them get to the quarterback too much in the second half."
After the Browns took a 10-7 lead in the first quarter, the Buccaneers' defense held Cleveland without points on eight straight possession. Tampa Bay had a chance to put the game away in regulation after forcing a punt with two-and-half minutes left but the Browns got a critical three-and-out, with a Myles Garrett sack forcing the Bucs to punt from their own 10. Chubb's 28-yard run got the Browns into scoring range before Njoku's incredible grab over ILB Devin White.
"The guy made a heck of a play," said Bowles. "The coverage was fine, we knew what we were running, he jumped up and made a one-handed catch. It was out of the reach of Devin, he couldn't get there and he made a heck of play."
The Buccaneers' defense held the Browns to 295 yards in regulation but was worn down at the end by Chubb's powerful running. The Cleveland back gained 116 yards on 26 carries as part of Cleveland's 189-yard day on the ground.
"They played hard – we didn't play smart, we didn't play physical ball, we didn't play sound football and we let things go," said Bowles.
The Buccaneers' offense finished with 325 yards but persistent troubles on third down – four conversions in 15 tries, including two failed attempts in overtime – kept the visitors from adding to their lead in the second half. Tom Brady completed 29 of 43 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns and looked frequently to WR Chris Godwin, who finished with 12 catches for 110 yards and the Bucs' first touchdown of the day. However, Brady tried at least five times to hit Mike Evans deep, resulting in four incompletions and one pass interference penalty.
Rookie RB Rachaad White, starting in place of an injured Leonard Fournette, had big production for the second game in row. He rushed 14 times for 64 yards and added nine receptions for 45 yards as he surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage on the day. The Bucs hurt themselves in several key moments with penalties, however, drawing nine flags on the day.
"All penalties are big," said Bowles. "We had some during the game, think we might have had about eight or nine of them. We shot ourselves in the foot on offense with penalties and we gave up field position with defensive penalties."
Playing an extra period also exposed all the players to more opportunities for injuries, and the Bucs appear to have sustained a critical one. After their second-to-last offensive play of overtime, All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs had to be carted off due to an apparently serious left leg injury. Brady was sacked on the next play by Garrett, though he came from the other end of the line.
For the first time this season, both the Buccaneers and their opponents scored touchdowns on their respective opening drives. After Cleveland WR Anthony Schwartz took a reverse 31 yards to the house for the game's first points, the Bucs responded with a 78-yard touchdown drive keyed by White's 35-yard run and ending in Godwin's 10-yard catch. However, both teams managed just one field goal the rest of the first half and went into the intermission with a 10-10 tie and very similar yardage totals.
The Browns won the toss and chose to take the ball first to start the game. Chubb broke free from a gang of tacklers to turn a potential loss into a five-yard gain on the first play and Brissett hit Donovan Peoples-Jones on a quick curl to move the sticks. Brissett's second pass was another quick one as Cooper got 12 yards on a slant from the right side, getting to the Browns' 46. Three plays later, the Browns faced a third-and-two just inside Bucs territory and called a timeout before the snap. After the break, Chubb took a handoff around the right edge while Devin White was run-blitzing off the other side and it worked for a gain of 15 to the 31. On the next play, Chubb started off in the opposite direction but then pitched to WR Anthony Schwartz on a reverse, and Schwartz got the blocking he needed to run 31 yards untouched to the end zone.
After a touchback on the Browns' first kickoff, the Bucs came out in a jumbo package and Rachaad White plowed over right guard for seven yards to get the drive moving. Two plays later, he found the left end wide open and dashed through it for a 35-yard run to the Browns' 30. The Bucs faced a third-and-one after a nifty four-yard run by Vaughn and then pitched it to the same back to convert it with a pitch left that worked for six. After White picked up four yards to the 11 on a first-down carry, a Josh Wells fast start backed the Bucs up by five. Brady responded by hitting Jones for six and then standing the pocket for a long time on third down before firing a 10-yard touchdown pass into Godwin's bread basket to tie the game.
The Browns got all the way to the midfield stripe with one play to start the next drive, as Brissett scrambled for 10 yards and drew a 15-yard penalty on Devin White for a late shove out of bounds. Two plays later, S Antoine Winfield Jr. sent TE Harrison Bryant flipping through the air but Bryant held on after landing on his head for a first down at the 35. Three snaps later, on third-and-eight, Brissett looked for Peoples-Jones deep down the right sideline but CB Carlton Davis had perfect position and nearly came away with an interception. It took Davis several minutes to get up and leave the field, and after he did rookie K Cade York came on to hit a 51-yard field goal for the go-ahead score.
The Bucs faced a third-and-two early in the next drive after a screen to Rachaad White worked for six yards. Brady targeted a wide-open Cameron Brate in the right flat but DE Alex Wright got a hand up to knock down the pass at the line, leading to the game's first punt.
A sharp open-field tackle by CB Jamel Dean on a quick pass to Cooper put the Browns into a third-and-six as the first quarter came to an end. After the two teams switched sides, ILB Lavonte David pushed TE David Njoku out of bounds on a flat route one yard shy of the sticks. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski threw the red flag to challenge the spot but the call was upheld and Cleveland went for it on fourth-and-one from their own 41. The Browns put both Chubb and Hunt in the backfield and then executed a quick underneath handoff to Hunt for a gain of two. Cleveland faced a third-and-five just shy of midfield and tried to hit Cooper on another fly down the left sideline. This time Dean was in coverage and the pass was incomplete. The ensuing punt went into the end zone for a touchback with 12 minutes left in the second quarter.
Rachaad White ducked under a tackler on a pass over the middle to set up a third-and-inches. However, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was able to slice through the line on third down and trip up White for a loss of one on the next play and the Bucs had to punt again. It was fair caught at the Cleveland 30.
Two plays into the next drive, Brissett found Chubb on the right sideline and the back worked his way up the field for a gain of 16. Brissett stepped out of a diving tackle attempt on the next play and danced up the sideline for 17 more to the Bucs' 31. Hunt converted a third-and-two by charging up the middle and getting all the way to the Tampa Bay 14. A holding penalty backed the Browns up 10 yards and a tackle for loss on Chubb by Anthony Nelson made it third-and-17 from the 21. The Bucs quickly sniffed out a tunnel screen to Cooper and stopped it for no gain, leading to York's second field goal attempt, a 39-yarder. This one the rookie hooked outside the left upright and the score remained 10-7 with four minutes left in the half.
The Bucs appeared to get the drive started with a big gain to Evans down the left sideline but it was instead a 10-yard loss on an offensive pass interference call. Center Robert Hainsey made a key moving block to help Godwin get nine yards on a quick screen. The Bucs still needed seven yards on third down, and Godwin fought for the sticks on a short pass before coming up a yard short as the two-minute warning arrived. The Bucs elected to go for it on fourth down and Brady easily made it over the line on Brady's well-executed keeper. Now operating in a hurry-up, Brady threw to Godwin twice in a row, the second one going down the middle for 23 yards to the Cleveland 30. Two deep shots to Evans failed to connect and the Bucs ended up trying a 42-yard field goal, which Ryan Succop drilled to tie the game with 39 seconds left in the half.
Unfortunately, the Bucs' coverage team allowed a 44-yard kickoff return to Jerome Ford, giving Cleveland a reasonable shot at getting into field goal range. However, an effective first-down blitz by S Keanu Neal and a tackle by Sean Murphy-Bunting kept Cooper inbounds on a short catch. Brissett ended up throwing a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the half and it was intercepted by Evans in the end zone.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half but went nowhere with it thanks mostly to a second-down sack by DT Jordan Elliott. Making matters worse, the punt coverage team gave up a 29-yard return to Peoples-Jones to give Cleveland a starting point of their own 42. Winfield, back in the game after passing a concussion exam, made an instant impact by forcing a quick Brissett throw to Bryant for a gain of nothing. OLB Genard Avery's hit on Brissett helped force an incompletion on third-and-10 and the ensuing punt went into the end zone for another touchback.
Brady had all kinds of time to throw on second down and eventually found Evans open down the left numbers for a gain of 28. Two plays later a nifty end-around by Jones on a pitch that looked like it was meant for White produced a 15-yard gain and Brady then fired down the middle to Godwin for 14 more to the 22. Facing a third-and-one at the Browns' five, Brady faked a handoff and fired a five-yard touchdown pass to Kieft near the right front pylon.
The Browns came back with a heavy dose of Nick Chubb, who ripped off five and 11-yard runs to start the drive. The Bucs bottled him up on his next first-down carry, leading to a third-and-three from the Browns' 48. Davis dived in front of Peoples-Jones for another near interception and the Browns sent out the punt unit. Jaelon Darden fair caught the kick at the Bucs' 11.
The two teams traded three-and-outs and punts, with Neal and DL Logan Hall combining to end Cleveland's possession with a third-down sack. That led to a Bucs possession starting at their own 30, with White's 11-yard run bringing the third quarter to a close. The first play of the fourth period was a near miss, as Godwin split two defenders down the middle but Brady's pass was out of his reach. Brady threw down the right sideline to Evans on third-and-nine, which fell incomplete but drew a pass interference call on CB Martin Emerson. The result was a new first down at Cleveland's 45. After a deep post to Julio Jones failed to connect, the Bucs faced a third-and-six that became third-and-11 after a Donovan Smith false start. An outlet pass to Brate got nine back and the Bucs lined up to go for it on fourth-and-two. However, when Brady's hard count failed to pull Cleveland offsides the Bucs took the delay of game penalty and punted away. Rookie CB Zyon McCollum caught Jake Camarda's punt just before the goal line but wasn't able to pitch it back before falling into the end zone.
Cleveland thus had the ball back at their own 20 with 12:33 left in regulation. The Browns quickly got across midfield Brissett's 17-yard pass to Schwartz and Chubb's 15-yard burst up the middle. However, a sack split by White and OLB Carl Nassib put Cleveland in a third-and-16 hole. White closed quickly on a short pass to Hunt and the Browns chose to go for it on fourth-and-nine. Brissett hit Cooper past the sticks but Cooper dropped it and the ball went over on downs.
The Bucs took over just short of midfield but went three-and-out and had to punt again. This time Camarda got his kick to bounce sideways and it was downed at the five-yard line with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Brissett threw to Cooper again on third-and-10 and this time the veteran receiver secured the catch for a first down. Three plays later it was third down again, needing seven, and a quick screen to Njoku proved just enough to move the chains again. Same story, three plays later, as Edwards broke up a deep pass intended for Cooper but was shaken up on the play, which led to third-and-10. This time, however, Nunez-Roches killed the drive with a 13-yard sack and the Browns punted away. Darden fair caught it at the Bucs' 20 with 2:35 left.
However, Cleveland's defense came up with a huge stop, finished off by Myles Garrett's sack. With Cleveland using two timeouts the drive only took up 14 seconds and the Browns got it back at the Bucs' 47 with one timeout and 2:10 left on the clock. A six-yard Chubb run brought on the two-minute warning.
After the break, Chubb took a shotgun handoff around left end and barreled 28 yards down to the 12. Devin White broke up a pass intended for Hunt over the middle to make it third-and-nine with 1:16 left. ILB Lavonte David made an incredible play on the next snap to force a loss of one on a screen to Njoku. On fourth down, Brissett looked to Njoku again, this time in the back of the end zone and the tight end made a dazzling one-handed touchdown catch to tie the game with 32 seconds left in regulation.
Brady got the ball across midfield with a 26-yard pass to Jones, using a timeout with eight seconds left. After one more incompletion there was time for a Hail Mary attempt but it fell incomplete to end the quarter.
The Bucs won the toss to start overtime. After a touchback, a quick strike to Godwin and another missed deep shot to Evans left the visitors in a third-and-four, but the Bucs didn't have to convert it thanks to a neutral zone infraction. Three plays later, however, it was third-and-five again and this time Brady threw a perfect out to Godwin to keep the drive alive. The Bucs went into a no-huddle attack and once again faced a third down at the Browns' 46, needing four. A nifty flip by Brady to White under pressure would have done the trick but Donovan Smith was flagged for hands to the face. Brady's pass intended for Evans skipped in front of the receiver and the Bucs had to punt.
The Browns' first drive in overtime started at their own 21, with seven and a half minutes left. Cleveland also committed a harmful penalty, ending up with a second-and-22 after a holding call erased a Brissett scramble for positive yards. A deep ball intended for Njoku fell incomplete, and the Browns went the safe route with a Hunt run that White stopped after a gain of four. A penalty on the Bucs' punt return pushed the ball all the way back to the 19 with the overtime clock at 5:27.
Godwin's 12th catch of the game made it first down at the 38. It was third-and-nine moments later after another deep try to Evans hit the turf. Play was stopped with 3:29 left as Tristan Wirfs received medical attention. After Wirfs left the field on a cart, Garrett shot around the end for his second sack and the Bucs were forced to punt again. Camarda's kick was downed at Cleveland's 29 with 2:45 left.
Brissett started the drive with a 16-yard strike to Cooper, with Winfield injured on the play. Three plays later, on third-and-four, Brissett saw Cooper wide open after Davis fell and hit him in stride. DB Dee Delaney managed to get Cooper down at the three but Chubb ran it in two plays later.