Like Snake Plissken, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoped to escape from New York with a much-needed win in Week 11. Instead, the Buccaneers remained snake-bit by the same old problems: Turnovers on offense and the lack thereof on defense, mainly. The Buccaneers' 38-35 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday saw the visiting team lose the turnover battle, 4-0, leading to two other common 2018 themes for Tampa Bay: a change at quarterback and an incredible rally that just came up short.
For the third time this season, the Buccaneers substituted at quarterback in the second half of a game which they had fallen well behind. And just as Ryan Fitzpatrick's relief of Jameis Winston in Cincinnati in Week nearly sparked a comeback win, so too did Winston's relief of Fitzpatrick against the Giants. Winston threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns in less than two quarters of play, completing 12 of 16 passes and leading the team on four scoring drives. Winston's 41-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans with 2:22 led to the final three-point margin but Tampa Bay's onside kick attempt failed and the offense only got the ball back in time for a desperation heave downfield in the final seconds, which was intercepted by B.W. Webb.
"We just stayed relentless," said Winston. "We just stayed relentless and kept fighting, and that's something that we do consistently. We always believe that we're never out of it. I'm just thankful that I was able to get back out there. Those guys, they fought hard all game. Some things just didn't go our way."
The Buccaneers' offense collected 510 net yards, topping 500 for the second week in a row, the third time in the last four outings and the fifth time in 10 games. Unlike a week ago, in which 501 yards only led to three points thanks to red-zone mistakes, the Buccaneers were four for five on touchdowns in the red zone at the Meadowlands.
Peyton Barber gave the Bucs' running game some pop with 106 yards on 18 carries (5.9 avg.), the first 100-yard game by a Buccaneer back this season. The Bucs gained 151 yards in total on the ground, but it was still their dynamic passing game that made another stunning – if ultimately futile – comeback possible. Evans led the way with 120 yards on six catches and even scored a second touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone in the third quarter. That came at the end of Winston's first drive and was nearly another giveaway by the offense, as Winston was forced to fumble into the end zone while scrambling for the goal line.
"Mike is one of the most dominating receivers in this league, when you put the ball out there," said Winston. "You dial up a great play ball to give him a chance [and] he tracked it and made a marvelous touchdown grab."
The loss was the Buccaneers' seventh in their last eight games after a promising 2-0 start, dropping their record to 3-7 on the season and seriously dimming any remaining playoff hopes. By losing the takeaway battle to the Giants by a net four, Tampa Bay lowered its overall 2018 turnover ratio to -23, the worst mark in the NFL. The Buccaneers' defense has not produced a takeaway since the first quarter of its Week Three loss to Pittsburgh, a span of 31 quarters. The lack of takeaways led to another loss on Sunday despite a 510-359 edge in total yardage.
"It's hard," said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned to his former NFL home after being traded from New York to Tampa Bay in the offseason. "You expect to win when you play great defense but obviously they had more turnovers than us. When you have turnovers [on offense], and we didn't have a turnover [on defense], that right there beats us out."
Pierre-Paul did enjoy his homecoming with 1.5 sacks, giving him a team-high 9.5 on the season. The Bucs dropped Eli Manning four times, but Manning completed all but one of his 18 passes and threw touchdown tosses to star receiver Odell Beckham and do-everything rookie back Saquon Barkley. Barkley finished with 152 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, including a third-down scoring run in the fourth quarter that kept the Giants up by two scores with four minutes to play.
"We knew what we had to do," said Pierre-Paul. "We tried to hold them to a field goal on that last one but Saquon scored. We responded well with a nice touchdown right there. We tried to hold them off and I thought we could win the game, but we didn't."
The first three of Tampa Bay's three turnovers on offense were interceptions thrown by Fitzpatrick in a span of eight passes, and that led the team to turn to Winston. Fitzpatrick had started his third game in a row after supplanting Winston in Week Nine due to the younger passer's rash of interceptions. Fitzpatrick also started the first four games of the season before giving way for the first time when Winston returned from a three-game NFL suspension. Fitzpatrick completed 13 of 21 passes for 167 yards but saw a potential game-tying drive at the end of the first half end on an interception by S Michael Thomas. On the Bucs' first drive of the second half, LB Alec Ogletree returned an interception 15 yards to put the home team up by the two-score margin they held for most of the final two quarters.
The Buccaneers also played with a new kicker on Sunday after signing Cairo Santos to replace Chandler Catanzaro during the week. Santos did not get a chance to try a field goal but he did hit all five extra points that he attempted, which helped the team stay close during its comeback attempt.
The Giants got the ball first after the Bucs deferred their coin-toss win to the second half and got a quick boost when Corey Coleman returned the opening kickoff out to the Giants' 37. Three Barkley runs produced the game's initial third down and a total of 15 yards, moving the ball across midfield. On the next snap, Manning faked a handoff to Barkley and threw a deep flag route to Beckham for a gain of 51 to the Bucs' seven. Two plays later, Barkley darted out of the backfield to his right and got wide open for a six-yard touchdown catch.
The Buccaneers answered with a long drive but once again found trouble in the red zone. A 15-yard Barber run, two heady Fitzpatrick scrambles and a 12-yard slant to Godwin got the ball down to the Giants' 26, and Fitzpatrick converted a third-and-four with a six-yard slant to Jackson. Three plays later, Brate caught a pass over the middle and extended the ball towards the first-down line on third-and-11. He was ruled inches short and the Bucs went for it on fourth down, with the Giants stopping Fitzpatrick short on a sneak up the middle.
Barkley immediately got the Giants away from their own goal line with runs of nine and 10 yards on the first two plays of the ensuing drive. A reverse to Beckham was good for 11 yards and Manning's rollout pass to RB Wayne Gallman got 21 down to the Buccaneers' 25. After switching sides to start the second quarter, Barkley started right but cut back left after getting penned in and was able to get nine yards and a first down at the Bucs' 10. Two plays later, Barkley nimbly jumped over a clot of defenders and stretched the ball over the goal line for a five-yard score that completed a 95-yard touchdown drive.
The two teams then traded punts, with each drive fizzling due to a sack. Kareem Martin took Fitzpatrick down on third down near midfield and, after a punt, Pierre-Paul and Nassib combined to drop Manning for a loss of eight on first down, leading to a three-and-out. Adam Humphries fair caught the Giants' first put at the Bucs' 36 with nine minutes left in the half.
A play-action strike to Evans got the next drive started with a 24-yard gain into Giants territory, and Barber followed with a nine-yard run up the middle and a short dive to move the sticks. Howard made a leaping catch in between three defenders for 20 yards down to the 10, and two plays later Barber darted up the middle for eight yards. On third-and-goal from the two, the Bucs lined up in a shotgun and ran a draw to Barber that failed to gain yards. The Bucs went for it on fourth down and got it this time thanks to an incredible effort by Fitzpatrick. The play appeared to be a designed delayed run up the middle for the quarterback, but when no lane appeared he ran around right end and dived over the last Giants defender to just get the ball over the goal line.
On New York's next drive, Manning tripped on a second-down rollout to force a third-and-12, but just got of a throw in a collapsing pocket on third down for a 17-yard completion to Sterling Shepard. Two plays after the two-minute warning, Shepard caught a short pass over the middle and made two impressive moves to break it open for a 23-yard gain to the Bucs' 18. However, the play was reviewed to demonstrate that Shepard's knee was down at the 37. That made it third-and-two and Barkley was unable to haul in an off-target throw after getting open on a wheel route down the right sideline. The Giants elected to punt and a 23-yard kick came to rest at the Bucs' 14.
The Bucs got a quick 20-yard gain on a pass to Jackson, then picked up 15 yards on a roughing-the-passer penalty on Olivier Vernon on a third-down incompletion. Two consecutive neutral-zone infractions on Vernon moved the ball across midfield and made it first down at the Giants' 41. After an 11-yard draw up the middle by Jacquizz Rodgers, the Bucs used their first timeout with 34 seconds left in the half. Two plays later, however, Fitzpatrick tried to find Howard over the middle in traffic again and this time it was intercepted by S Michael Thomas at the Giants' 13.
The Buccaneers got the ball first to start the second half but were backed up to their own 10 after a penalty on the kickoff return. It got worse two plays later when CB Janoris Jenkins nearly intercepted a quick pass out to Jackson on the left. Jenkins never got a chance to fully haul it in because Alec Ogletree swiped it from his teammates hands and got up to return it 15 yards for a touchdown.
After getting one first down to start the next drive, the Bucs found themselves in an unusual first-and-30 after consecutive illegal block and offensive pass interference infractions. It only took one play, though, to move the chains as a perfectly-executed screen to Humphries sprung the slot receiver 39-yard gain. However, two plays later Fitzpatrick threw a very high deep ball into the Giants end zone and it was intercepted by S Curtis Riley, jumping in front of Jackson. Riley ran it out of the end zone an out to the Giants' 40-yard line.
Barkley started the ensuing drive with a 23-yard run up the gut but Pierre-Paul got to Manning again for another sack two plays later the Giants settled for Aldrick Rosas's 52-yard field goal to make it 24-7 midway through the third quarter.
On the Bucs' next drive, Barber got the offense into New York territory on a 28-yard breakaway around right end on a third-and-inches run. Winston, now in at quarterback, then found Godwin for a gain of 17 down to the 20. Three plays later, on third-and-eight from the 18, Evans ran a comebacker down the right seam and Winston fired a 10-yard laser into his chest for a first-and-goal at the eight. Two plays later, Winston scrambled to his left and tried to get to the goal line but had the ball popped from his grasp by DL Mario Edwards. The ball flew forward into the painted grass and Evans was the first to fall on it, giving the Buccaneers a rather fortunate touchdown.
The Giants pushed their lead back to 17 points with a seven-play, 71-yard drive that ended in Manning's eight-yard touchdown pass to Beckham in the back right corner of the end zone on third-and-five. Barkley ran four times for 33 yards on the drive and Beckham added another 27-yard grab.
And Tampa Bay countered right back with a very similar 77-yard drive on seven plays, this one ending in Barber's five-yard touchdown run. Winston accounted for most of the yards on the drive with strikes of 24 yards to Howard and 19 to Godwin. There were just under 10 minutes left in the game after Barber walked in for the score to make it a 10-point game again.
The Buccaneers' defense followed with a much-needed three-and-out, keyed by Javien Elliott's tackle for loss of Beckham on second down and Gerald McCoy's third-down sack. A penalty on the Bucs on the ensuing punt made the starting point for the next drive the Tampa Bay 30, with 7:33 left on the clock.
After a first rollout pass was tipped into the air multiple times but fortunately not intercepted, Winston found Evans over the middle for a 25-yard gain down to the Giants' 45. A well-thrown out to Jackson third-and-four picked up seven and made it first down at the 32, and the next play was a scrambling pass to Howard over the middle that sprung the tight end into the open for a gain of 24 to the eight-yard line. After a break to help the injured Howard off the field, Winston threw a quick slant to Humphries for the touchdown that cut the Giants' lead to three points with 5:11 left.
Tampa Bay's defense needed another stop after that score but the Giants immediately struck with a pass down the middle to Evan Engram for 54 yards to the Bucs' 11. Three plays later, Barkley pounded up the middle for his third score of the game, restoring the 10-point lead with 3:52 to go.
The Bucs were still not willing to give up, coming right back with a 66-yard touchdown drive, most of it on a 41-yard bomb down the left sideline to Evans, who got wide open with a simple hesitation route and caught the pass over his shoulder while sliding into the end zone. Santos was good again and the score was 38-35 with 2:22 to play. The visitors, however, were out of timeouts, so they tried an onside kick that the Giants recovered easily. Tampa Bay's defense did manage to force a punt but with just 23 seconds and no timeouts to work with from the 20-yard line, Winston threw a deep prayer to Jackson down the right sideline that was picked off.