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Bucs Topple Titans to Get Back in Win Column

A stifling Tampa Bay defense put constant pressure on rookie QB Will Levis and Baker Mayfield threw touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Rachaad to beat the Titans, 20-6, and move within a half-game of first place


Baker Mayfield threw a pair of touchdown passes, wide receiver Mike Evans had 143 receiving yards and a swarming defense made life miserable for rookie QB Will Levis as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Tennessee Titans, 20-6, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

The win snaps a four-game losing streak and improves the Buccaneers' record to 4-5. With the New Orleans Saints losing to Minnesota on Sunday to drop to 5-5, Tampa Bay is only a half-game out of first place in the NFC South with nine games left to play, including four against division opponents. Atlanta lost to Arizona later in the afternoon to fall to 4-6..

"This was a must-win in my eyes," said Mayfield. "To end that streak, and a win at home, to stop both the losing streak and the home losing streak, was big for us. We've got to carry this, build on it and see what happens next week."

The Buccaneers rebounded impressively after a difficult last-second loss in Houston in which the defense had difficulty getting off the field in key moments.

"Like I told them, the answer to the test are in the room," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We have all our answers. We've just got to play mistake-free football. We understand how we've got to play. Today, everybody made plays. We just had a clunker last week. They came focused in practice, determined to win a ballgame and we cut out a lot of mistakes. For the most part, those guys played a clean ballgame. I thought our offense did a good job on third downs and the defense did a good job of getting to the quarterback."

Antoine Winfield Jr.'s interception on an errant pass caused by a Markees Watts hit in the fourth quarter essentially ended the Titans' hopes of a comeback. The Buccaneers had several chances to put the game out of reach earlier in the afternoon but couldn't hang on to three near interceptions, including one in the end zone. Still, Tampa Bay held Tennessee to 209 total yards, 14 first downs and 3.5 yards per play, and turned two red zone incursions into a pair of field goals.

"We had a lot of mistakes last week," said linebacker Lavonte David, who had two tackles for loss and three stops total. "We had a lot of opportunities out there to make plays on the football that we didn't come down with, but we did keep fighting and kept going. We knew what was at stake. We knew they wanted to run the ball to make the game easy for their young quarterback, so we locked in and played four quarters of football."

The Buccaneers put frequent pressure on Levis, who was making his third career start, with four sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Shaquil Barrett, Yaya Diaby, Vita Vea and Devin White were all credited with one sack. Tampa Bay also had 10 tackles for loss, repeatedly hitting powerful running back Derrick Henry in the backfield. Henry was held to 20 yards from scrimmage and the Titans had 42 rushing yards total.

"The offense started a little slow but the defense was playing on fire all day," said Mayfield. "To neutralize Derrick Henry like that, that's a big task. I commend those guys for doing that. We started slow but then made some plays there to get some touchdowns. We should have probably had about 30 points today. There's a lot to work on still, but if you can find a way to win that's the important part."

Levis threw 39 passes but only completed 19 of them for 199 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. His top target was running back Tajae Spears and he completed just three passes for 27 yards to star wideout DeAndre Hopkins.

"It was big to win first down," said Bowles. "This is a team, if they can control the ball, as hot as it was today, it would have been a long day. "We controlled the ball more than they did, I'm pretty sure. Letting Henry get started on first down and get second-and-manageable and third-and-manageable makes for a long day. Getting them out of their comfort zone was our number-one job."

Mayfield was also sacked three times, tying a season high, but he completed 18 of 29 passes for 279 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 102.4 passer rating. He repeatedly pushed the ball downfield and targeted the duo of Evans and Chris Godwin 16 times. Evans got his 143 yards on six catches, one of which was a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Buccaneers a two-touchdown lead. After he had dropped a sure touchdown pass on the previous drive, leading to the first of Chase McLaughlin's two field goals, he was determined to get into the end zone, catching the pass at the five and dragging cornerback Kristian Fulton the rest of the way into the end zone. It the 38th 100-yard receiving game of Evans' career, including the postseason, and his 87th career touchdown catch tied him for 16th in NFL history.

Running back Rachaad White ran 20 times for 51 yards and caught two passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, falling just two yards shy of his third straight game with 100 yards from scrimmage. The biggest chunk came on a 43-yard jaunt that turned a screen pass into a second-quarter touchdown and a lead the Bucs would never relinquish.

"We've been talking about just getting him the ball in open space the last couple weeks," said Mayfield. "Just getting a screen ball and they've got a good pass rush and they've got good players up front – for him to make a play like that, and guys blocking downfield, was huge for us."

The Buccaneers' only turnover on offense was the third-and-long interception that Mayfield threw from midfield on his team's first possession. The Bucs also cut down on penalties, drawing seven flags for 50 yards, and mostly avoided getting in long third down situations. That helped them convert seven of 15 third downs and win the time of possession battle by about three minutes.

The defenses dominated the first half, with the Buccaneers taking a 7-3 lead into the intermission. The Titans drove quickly down the field on the opening drive of the game but Tampa Bay's second-ranked red zone defense held again, with a third-down sack by DL Vita Vea forcing Tennessee to settle for a 38-yard Nick Folk. The Titans got the ball five more times in the half but gained a total of 29 net yards and five first downs. Tampa Bay had the only touchdown drive of the first half, an 85-yard march ending in White's long catch-and-run, and hit halftime with a 152-89 edge in total yards. The Titans had the only takeaway of the first half, Roger McCreary's interception at the Bucs' goal line, but the Bucs' defense forced a punt a few plays later.

The Buccaneers now travel to California for a tough test against the 49ers as they try to mount a winning streak and get back to .500. The dominant win over Tennessee should serve as a confidence booster.

"It's just keeping everybody together – the positivity, the focus, the understanding, the communication, talking to guys when they're down, picking them up and everybody being in the same boat," said Bowles. "They do a really good job with that.

Tennessee got the ball first at their 25 after a fair catch on the kickoff, and got first downs on each of their first two plays, a 15-yard catch by Hopkins and a 15-yard sweep by RB Tajae Spears. The Bucs' defense countered with a tackle for loss on Henry that pushed the ball back two yards. WR Chris Moore got the ball to the Bucs' 36 and Henry was able to power past the sticks for a first down. After an offsides call negated a pass deflection by Calijah Kancey, Levis hit Nick Westbrook-Ikhine at the 20 for a first down. Levis faked a screen two plays later and lobbed a pass over the middle to TE Josh Whyle to make it first-and-goal at the nine. David knifed through blockers on the next play to stop Henry for a loss of two on the next play and White broke up a pass to Whyle on second and goal. On third down, Vea worked around to Levis's blind side and pulled him down for at the 28. Nick Folk came in to get the scoring started with a 38-yard field goal.

The Bucs also got a first down on their opening play, as Godwin managed to snare a 17-yard pass despite stumbling out of his break and taking a big hit after the catch. Two plays later, Mayfield faked a handoff, rolled to his rest and fired a 20-yard strike to Evans. A sack of Mayfield put the Bucs into a third-and-15 at the Tennessee 42 and Mayfield tried to get it all on his next throw. He targeted WR Deven Thompkins in the end zone but the ball was intercepted by McCreary and returned to the Tennessee 17.

Diaby beat his man off the ball on the Titans' next play and trapped Henry in the backfield for a loss of two. On-third-and-eight from the 19, Tennessee picked up a blitz and Levis was able to get off a pass to WR Kyle Phillips, who caught it on the ground for a first down at the 28. Barrett got into the backfield quickly on the next play and took advantage of a stumble by Levis to sack him back at the 18. The Titans settled on a screen to Spears that came up well short on third-and-18, leading to a punt that pushed the Bucs back to their own seven.

A short run and a hurried incompletion put the Bucs into a quick third-and-eight and Mayfield's attempt to hit Evans on an out by the right sideline fell incomplete as the first quarter came to an end. Eric Garror was able to return the ensuing punt across midfield and to the Bucs' 41. Moore got 10 yards on a quick slant but that was two yards too short and the Titans sent out Folk to try a 51-yard field goal. He missed it to the right, given the Bucs possession at their own 41.

A screen to RB Chase Edmonds lost yards and a short pass to Godwin left the Bucs in third-and-six and WR Trey Palmer couldn't haul in a flag route pass that would have moved the chains. The Titans got the ball back at their 24 after the next punt. Henry bashed up the middle for eight yards to start the drive but the Titans gave 10 back on consecutive false starts. A blitzing White broke up Levis's next pass and a short completion to TE Chig Okonkwo couldn't pick up the necessary yardage on third-and-12. Ryan Stonehouse's 55-yard punt pushed the Bucs back to the 15.

On the second play of the Bucs' next drive, Mayfield fired a hard pass down the middle and Evans extended for a 15-yard gain. A sweep left by White was good for five yards on the next first down, and Mayfield converted a third-and-two with a precise 15-yard sideline pass to Evans. That got the ball across midfield to the Titans' 43, and a perfectly-executed screen to White did the rest, as he sprinted untouched up the left sideline for a 43-yard touchdown. That gave the Bucs their first lead of the game, 7-3, with a little under six minutes left in the first half.

Both Winfield and David got their hands on the next pass by Levis but neither could pull it in for the pick. The Bucs blitzed again on third down and this time S Christian Izien disrupted Levis's throwing motion, leading to an incompletion. A 55-yard punt and a 16-yard return by Thompkins put the ball at the Bucs' 31.

Mayfield faked a handoff and rolled left on the next play but couldn't get around Denico Autry on the corner and lost a yard, but his 13-yard pass over the middle to Godwin did the trick. An end-around pitch to Thompkins was good for six yards to the midfield stripe and an Edmonds handoff over left guard made it third-and-one. Mayfield kept it on third down and his teammates helped push him over the line to gain as the two-minute warning arrived. Two plays later, Mayfield scrambled for two yards and fumbled a the end of the run, with Tristan Wirfs recovering for the Bucs. On third-and-five from the Tennessee 41, Mayfield threw on target to Evans on the right numbers but the receiver couldn't hang on and the Bucs punted it down to the seven with 36 seconds left in the half. The Titans ran one play to kill the rest of the clock.

The Bucs had possession to start the second half and gave it to White on the first two plays for a total of seven yards. Otton showed great concentration on a pass in heavy traffic and pulled in the ball for a first down at the 38. White made something out of nothing on the next snap, getting out of a tackle in the backfield and reversing direction to the right, getting around the corner for a gain of 11. Mayfield had to play defense on the next play when his pass was deflected straight up in the air, and he was able to bat it away so Garror couldn't intercept it. Palmer made an incredible twisting catch on a fly route on the next play but the Titans challenged the ruling and it was determined that he didn't maintain possession through contact with the ground. That made it third-and-10 at the Bucs' 49 but Mayfield immediately went deep again and this time Evans was able to haul it in as he slid to the ground at the Titans' seven-yard line. Two plays later, Evans bobbled and dropped a pass in the back of the end zone, making it third-and-goal. After incompletion, the Bucs sent out McLaughlin to boot a 25-yard field goal.

After a touchback, Levis took a deep shot on the first play but it was just out of Westbrook-Ikhine's reach. Levis did convert a third-and-four, however, with a short pass to Spears, who spun around two defenders and got all the way to the 46. David dropped Henry for a loss of four, and two plays later, on third-and-11 David broke up a pass that he nearly intercepted. The ensuing punt went into the end zone for a touchback.

Two White runs left the Bucs in third-and-five but Evans broke free on a quick slant and got all the way across midfield for a gain of 27 yards. Two plays later, Godwin ran a buttonhook out to the right and Mayfield hit him for 17 more. Facing a third-and-three at the Tennessee 22, Mayfield fired down the middle of the field to Evans, who caught the pass at the five yard line and dragged CB Kristian Fulton the rest of the way into the end zone to increase the Bucs' lead to 17-3 with three minutes left in the third quarter.

The Titans' next drive got an early boost from an unnecessary roughness flag on Anthony Nelson on a Levis scramble. A defensive holding call on CB Jamel Dean erased another good defensive play and moved the ball into Bucs territory, and Henry's eight-yard run up the middle took it to the 40. A tunnel screen to Spears on third-and-two moved the chains down to the 27, and Levis found Okonkwo on the next third down to make it first-and-goal at the six. Levis's pass on first down was deflected and nearly intercepted by Dean in the end zone, and Kancey dropped Henry for a loss of three on second down. Good coverage in the end zone led to an incompletion on third down and the Titans brough on Folk to hit a 27-yard field goal that cut the Bucs' lead to 17-6 with 13 minutes left in regulation.

After a touchback, Mayfield threw a wide screen to Palmer on first down and he weaved through defenders for a gain of 15. Another deep shot in Evans' direction was out of his reach, and a holding call made it second-and-20. However, a defensive holding call on the Titans refreshed the Bucs' downs, as did an illegal contact call drawn by Evans on the next play. Two White runs kept the clock moving but gained only four yards but Mayfield kept the drive alive by popping out of the huddle to the left and finding enough open grass to get a first down at the Tennessee 47 as the clock hit 10 minutes left. Mayfield shoveled a pass to Thompkins in motion and he found the right corner for a gain of five. Edmonds bounced a handoff out to the right and made several impressive cuts to get to the 33, and a facemask flag took it down to the 18. Edmonds was dropped for a loss of four on the next play and White got them back plus one on his next play. On third-and-nine, Mayfield looked for Otton in the left corner of the end zone but it was incomplete. McLaughlin hit a 35-yarder to restore the Buccaneers' two-touchdown lead with seven minutes to play.

Two plays into the Titans' next drive, Levis scrambled away from pressure and threw a dart on the run to Phillips for a gain of 23. After another downfield incompletion, Levis was hit by Watts as he threw, leading to a high pop-up of a pass that Winfield easily intercepted and returned to the Tennessee 42. The drive went nowhere and ended on a sack of Mayfield by Harold Landry back at the 50-yard line.

The Titans got good field position when Jake Camarda shanked his punt out of bounds at the 30, and then needed one play, a 29-yard screen pass to Phillips, to get into Bucs territory. Two incompletions later, on third down at the Bucs' 39, the pocket collapsed on Levis and he was sacked for a loss of seven by Yaya Diaby. Levis tried to throw it deep down the sideline to Hopkins on fourth down but he was well covered by Dean and the ball was turned over on downs with 3:32 left.

The Bucs ran it three times to bring the clock down to the two-minute warning, then punted again, with Camarda's low kick taken out of bounds at the 21. A couple of underneath completions got the ball to the 34 but also took a minute off the clock. The Titans' next four passes were incomplete and the Bucs kneeled once to run out the final seconds.

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