If the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to go on a post-bye run like last year's team did on the way to a Super Bowl title, they will have to wait at least one more week.
The Buccaneers had hoped to avoid the penalties and turnovers that had sent them into the bye with a loss at New Orleans but those problems persisted on Sunday in a 29-19 loss at Washington. First-quarter interceptions by William Jackson and Bobby McCain helped Washington build a 16-3 lead and several of the Buccaneers six penalties proved to be critical mistakes.
"I was hoping I wouldn't say I was embarrassed again, but that display was very reminiscent of the last one," said Head Coach Bruce Arians, whose Bucs lost to the Saints, 36-27 in Week Eight and have now dropped two straight for the first time in almost a year. "It's baffling to me after the week of practice I watched these guys have that we could play that poorly. We've got to show up on Sundays. We're doing a heck of a job on Monday through Friday, but we're not showing up on Sundays."
The Buccaneers still had chance to rally for victory after Brady hit Mike Evans on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 11 minutes to play, pulling the visitors to within four points. However, Taylor Heinicke and the Washington offense crushed any hopes for a rally with an incredible 19-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ran 10 minutes and 26 seconds off the clock. It was the longest drive in the NFL terms of duration this season and it included four third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion, the latter a one-yard touchdown run by Antonio Gibson with 29 seconds left.
"Bad football," said inside linebacker Lavonte David, who had the Bucs only takeaway with a fourth-quarter forced fumble that set up Evans' touchdown. "We had an opportunity to get off the field and we didn't. We talk about this every week. They came out throwing the ball and making plays and we didn't make any plays."
Evans said the loss should not be put on the Bucs' defense, which held Washington to 320 total yards and a low 4.5 yards per play and also sacked the mobile Heinicke five times.
"That drive didn't define this game," said Evans. "We lost the game well before that with penalties, tipped balls and stuff like that. We lost the game earlier than that last drive.'
Third downs, in fact, were a problem for the Buccaneers all day on both sides of the ball. Washington converted 11 of 19 third-down attempts (57.7%) plus both fourth-down tries while the Bucs went just four for 10 on third down.
"It's very disappointing," said Arians of the Bucs' stumbles on both sides of the ball. "It's very alarming to watch the energy level in practice and show up with the lack of execution and energy that it takes to win in this league on Sundays. We've got a lot of soul-searching to do."
In addition to its third-down struggles, the Buccaneers had difficulty pushing the ball downfield in the passing game. Evans' touchdown was one of just two completions of more than 15 yards for a passing attack that came into the weekend leading the NFL in yards, facing a defense that had allowed the most passing yards. Brady frequently checked the ball down to running back Leonard Fournette, who led the team with 8 receptions for 45 yards. Brady finished 23 of 34 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 80.5. His first interception actually popped out of rookie WR Jaelon Darden's hands after a hard hit, while Arians said the second one was the result of an overthrow an a target to Evans over the middle of the field.
"They did a really good job playing two-high defense," said Evans. "We had a really good week of practice. We were prepared, we know what to do and we knew what to expect. We just didn't make enough plays today. I tell the guys it's just one game; it doesn't define our season. We've got to come with it if we want to get where we want to go."
In all, Washington held Tampa Bay's offense to season lows in points (19), net yards (273), net passing yards (220), total plays (47) and first downs (14).
"Penalties and [we] didn't make enough plays," said Evans. "That's a recipe for disaster. I just felt like we had a lot of penalties, more penalties than them. The ball bounced their way a couple times and we can't live like that, with turnovers and penalties."
The Buccaneers committed twice as many penalties as Washington and even started the game with a false start by O.J. Howard. Neutral zone infractions on Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston helped Washington keep a second-quarter field goal drive alive and a pass interference call on Dee Delaney in the end zone gave Washington a first-and-goal at the one before Gibson's first touchdown run in the third quarter.
"Energy and passion are very fixable," said Arians. "Penalties, they've got to get corrected sooner or later. The first play of the game, we're shifting and we jump offsides."
The Buccaneers' banged-up secondary took two more hits, including one before the game even started. Cornerback Richard Sherman suffered a calf injury in pregame warmups but after the inactives had already been named. Sherman was expected to start but was replaced by Dee Delaney, who later left the game with a concussion. The Buccaneers also had to cart defensive lineman Vita Vea off the field due to a knee injury suffered on the very last defensive play. However, Washington ran into significant injury concerns of their own, most notably losing standout defensive end Chase Young to a knee injury early in the game.
"Sherm pulls his half for the game and then Dee gets concussed so then we didn't have any more DBs, but that's no excuse," said Arians. "Whoever's out there, you've got to get off the field."
In 2020, the Buccaneers had their bye in Week 13 and won eight straight contests afterward, ending in Super Bowl LV. Those Buccaneers were 6-3 after nine games and would go into the bye with a 7-5 record. With the Saints' loss at Tennessee on Sunday, the Buccaneers remain in first place in the NFC South by one game but they know they must improve their play as significantly as they did after last year's bye in order to make another deep playoff run.
"I don't know," said David. "Maybe some guys have their own mind [and] they think we're just coming to come out and be a team coming off a bye and beat teams like we did last year, but it's a different year. We have a different mindset and it shows. We have to get everybody to get back on line and get to work."
The Bucs won the toss and wanted the ball first but weren't able to do much with it. The false start by Howard pushed them back five yards and Brady's third-and-eight pass to Tyler Johnson was just out of reach. After the punt, Washington got a good spot to start their first drive at their own 40. After getting just across midfield, the Football Team got 14 yards on a deep out to DeAndre Carter but had to settle for Joey Slye's 46-yard field goal after a third-down pass went through the hands of TE Ricky Seals-Jones.
Tampa Bay's second drive was even worse. After his first-down pass bounced off Fournette's hands, Brady threw a quick pass to Darden in the left flat. The rookie wideout was hit and upended by S Kamren Curl with the ball popping into the air, where it was easily hauled in by Jackson at the Bucs' 28. Seals-Jones was targeted on third down again and this time he hauled it in for a 12-yard gain at the 16. S Antoine Winfield shot a gap around right end to drop Gibson for an eight-yard loss. Heinecke scrambled out of the pocket on third-and-14 but came up 10 yards short, leading Washington settle for a second Slye field goal and a six-point lead nine minutes into the contest.
The Bucs got their initial first down of the game after going for it on fourth-and-one from their own 33. As he has done so often in his career, Brady successfully ran the QB sneak, getting two yards over right guard. However, his attempted pass down the middle to Evans went directly to safety McCain for another Washington interception. A taunting penalty called on Daron Payne after McCain's return forced Washington all the way back to the midfield stripe.
A second-down sack by Joe Tryon-Shoyinka forced the Football Team into another long third down but Heinicke moved the sticks again with a quick in-breaking route to Gibson out of the left slot. Anthony Nelson shot around the right tackle for a four-yard sack two plays later, and J.D. McKissic got 11 yards on third-and-14. This time Washington went for it on fourth down and McKissic ran a curl in the left flat for four yards and a first down at Tampa Bay's 24. Two plays later, Heinicke hit Carter on a 20-yard touchdown pass and a 13-0 Washington lead.
The Bucs got into Washington territory for the first time on the ensuing possession when Brady found a wide-open Darden down the right sideline for 29 yards. Four consecutive Fournette touches – three runs and one catch – picked up 24 yards and two first downs down to the 19. A weird play with a deflected ball that was nearly intercepted at the five-yard line was challenged by Washington but the ruling of an incomplete pass was upheld. An eight-yard catch by Johnson made it third-and-two, which Fournette converted with a hard-charging catch and run on the left sideline down to the eight. The drive stalled there after second and third-down passes to Bernard were incomplete, the second one bouncing off the back's hands. Succop came on to hit a 25-yard field goal for the Bucs' first points with seven minutes left in the half.
The Bucs' defense missed a chance for its first takeaway on the next play as Heinicke's pass went through Whitehead's hands and was still caught by Carter for 22 yards. Gibson followed with a 15-yard power run up the middle. A false start and a five-yard sack made it second-and-20 but a seven-yard catch by McLaurin and a neutral-zone infraction on Suh brought it back to third-and-eight at the Bucs' 36. Seals-Jones moved the sticks with a nine-yard catch, and another neutral zone infraction, on Gholston, gave the home team another first down at the Bucs' 15 as the two-minute warning arrived. The Bucs' defense held their, with Whitehead getting a TFL on Gibson for three yards and Ross Cockrell made a diving break-up on second down. Slye's 29-yard field goal increased Washington's lead to 16-3 with 58 seconds left in the half.
The Bucs managed to use that remaining time to tack on three points, thanks to a poorly-timed penalty by Washington. The Bucs faced a fourth-and-six at the Washington 47 with two seconds left and Brady dropped the ball over the middle to Evans, who was crossing left to right against a prevent defense. Finding no one to pitch to, Evans was eventually ran out of bounds at the 25. However, Jackson was flagged for a facemask penalty, not only moving the ball to the 13 but giving the Bucs one more untimed down. Succop came on to drill a 31-yarder to make it 16-6 at halftime.
Tampa Bay's defense got a quick stop to start the second half, the three-and-out highlighted by White's second-down sack. White got to Heinicke for a loss of 10 despite drawing a flag for holding. Unfortunately, the Bucs' offense followed with a three-and-out of its own, though the exchange of punts did push Washington back to its eight-yard line.
The Bucs' defense made that field position even worse for the home team, with Suh getting Heinicke down at the two-yard line. After an incomplete deep ball on third down, the Football Team punted and Darden got it back to the Washington 43. Godwin started the ensuing drive with a 14-yard gain on a tunnel screen and the next play was a 15-yard pass over the middle to Fournette. Two plays later, Brady faked a handoff to Fournette, Brate released off the right edge of the line and Brady zipped a six-yard pass to him for the Bucs' first touchdown of the game.
Washington followed with a drive that quickly got into Bucs territory. TE John Bates converted a third-and-four at midfield with an 18-yard catch in traffic. Two tackle-breaking runs by Gibson got 21 yards and made it first-and-10 at the 14 and then Dee Delaney was flagged for pass interference in the back of the end zone. The penalty moved the ball to the one and Gibson ran it in on the next play.
Tampa Bay's next possession started out with a holding call but the Bucs were able to overcome that thanks in large part to Godwin's 15-yard catch in traffic over the middle. However, Brady was pressured into a scrambling throwaway on the next third down and the Bucs had to punt from their own 48 as the fourth quarter began.
Washington was on the move again when David came through with the Bucs' first takeaway. Heinicke found rookie WR Dax Milne wide open in the right flat but David tracked him down and popped the ball out of his grasp, with Winfield recovering. The result was a quick 47-yard touchdown drive, most of it on a 40-yard go by Evans down the left sideline. Succop missed the extra point, however, which kept the Bucs from pulling to within a field goal with 11 minutes to play.
A third-down scramble by Heinicke and a tunnel screen to McLaurin that picked up 15 yards got the Football Team off to a good start on the next possession. A series of runs and short passes got the ball to the Bucs' 31 and WR Adam Humphries made a diving catch at the sideline for five yards to convert another third down and get it to the 20. The Bucs used their last timeout with Washington facing a third-and-five at the 15 but didn't get the stop they needed with McLaurin holding onto a six-yard catch despite a crushing hit from Whitehead. Washington then run Gibson four more times, the last one a one-yard touchdown run around left end.