After two straight road games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enjoyed a return to their home field in Week 10…or, at least, they enjoyed 80% of that home field.
As usual, Tampa Bay's high-powered offense moved the ball with little trouble in Sunday's game against Washington Redskins, until it hit the red zone. Despite racking up 501 total yards of offense the Buccaneers could only turn them into three points thanks to persistent troubles inside the 20. The result was a 16-3 loss to the Redskins that dropped the Buccaneers to 3-6 on the season. Tampa Bay has lost six of seven since an encouraging 2-0 start to the season.
"That's exactly what it was," said Fitzpatrick. "They did a nice job of bending but not breaking down in the red zone a bunch of times today. As a quarterback, when you get in the red zone, you've got to get your team into the end zone, and I wasn't able to do that today. Whether it be decision-making or whatever it was, turnovers, I didn't do my job today in the red zone, and that was the story of the game."
The Buccaneers' red zone troubles began right away, as they took the game's first drive down into scoring range before Josh Norman picked off an errant Ryan Fitzpatrick at the goal line. Three other red zone incursions ended in field goal tries by Chandler Catanzaro, one of which he made from 43 yards and two that he missed from 30 and 48 yards.
The Buccaneers still had a very good shot to get back into it late in the fourth quarter, with a first down at the Redskins' two-yard line and four minutes to play. But Fitzpatrick took a sack by Preston Smith and fumbled, with Washington's Ryan Kerrigan recovering. On the previous drive, Jacquizz Rodgers had gotten to the Redskins' 18-yard line on a 10-yard catch-and-run, but he had the ball popped out of his hands from behind and it was recovered by the visitors in their own end zone.
The drive that ended on Rodgers' fumble – one of four turnovers by the Buccaneers on the day – did not technically count as a drive "inside the 20." Still, on that drive and the five others that were red zone incursions, the Bucs netted a total of three points. That led to this rather remarkable statistic: Tampa Bay became the first team in NFL history to have 500 or more yards in a game but score three or fewer points.
Tampa Bay also did not force a turnover for the third game in a row and the fifth time in the last six outings. The Buccaneers recovered a fumble on a punt return in their Week Seven win over Cleveland but have gone 27 straight quarters without a takeaway on defense.
"We can't move it like that, four to zero in turnover margin is going to kill you every time," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "We had a lot of chances in that first half. It was just not good enough. To move the ball like that and come up with three points – you're just not going to win that way."
Fitzpatrick threw for 406 yards on 29-of-41 passing and once again spread the ball around when primary outside receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson were well-covered. Last week, in a similar situation against Carolina, Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes each to tight end O.J. Howard and slot receiver Adam Humphries. On Sunday, he threw 15 passes to second-year WR Chris Godwin and RB Jacquizz Rodgers, combined, and completed all 15 of them, with Godwin gaining 102 yards and Rodgers 103.
"That was just the way that it went today," said Fitzpatrick. "That's one of the things with our offense – there are just so many guys, but that was the way it went today."
With Koetter taking the offensive play-calling duties back for the first time this season, the Buccaneers also gained 103 yards on the ground and 4.3 yards per carry and were a bit more balanced than they have been much of this season, at least early. At halftime, the Bucs had 279 yards and had run it 15 times against 23 passing plays. RB Peyton Barber consistently gained extra yards after contact and finished with 61 yards on 13 carries, averaging 4.7 per tote.
Tampa Bay's defense allowed season lows in points, net yards (286) and first downs (15). The Bucs had been allowing a league-worst average of 34.4 points per game but more than cut that in half on Sunday. Unfortunately, the team continues to have a difficult time putting together a solid performance in all phases at the same time, as Tampa Bay's offense also finished with nearly 26 points fewer than it had averaged through the first eight contests.
"I think it was just especially frustrating because of the way we moved the ball, not being able to take advantage in the red zone," said Fitzpatrick. "It's tough."
S Justin Evans led the team with nine tackles despite missing time due to a toe injury. Gerald McCoy, Carl Nassib and Vita Vea all contributed sacks, and it was the first of Vea's NFL career. The Buccaneers didn't get a lot of pressure on Alex Smith until the second half, despite the fact that Washington was playing without three of its usual five starters on the offensive line. They did make plays in the backfield, however, with six tackles for loss in the game.
The Bucs veered from their usual approach after winning the toss and elected to receive, and immediately launched an impressive drive down into scoring territory. Fitzpatrick threw across the middle for first downs to Evans, Howard and Godwin, and Barber ran four times for 15 yards. However, on second-and-seven from the Washington 19, Fitzpatrick overthrew Shaun Wilson and Josh Norman made the leaping interception at the goal line. With no one around to touch him down, Norman was able to get up and return it to the Redskins' 32, with a hustling Godwin dragging him down from behind.
The Bucs' defense kept the turnover from leading to points, getting instant pressure on Smith on the first play, leading to a dump off to Peterson for a loss of one. On third-and-five, Smith tried to zip a quick slant in to Reed but S Anthony Adams stayed in tight coverage and knocked it away.
Tampa Bay's second possession started at its own 15 after a 56-yard punt by Tress Way and an eight-yard return by Humphries. A toe-tapping 16-yard sideline catch by Evans and a short third-down pass that Jackson turned into a 24-yard gain got the ball to the Washington 38. However, the Bucs soon faced a third-and-19 and even though Fitzpatrick made a remarkable escape from a near-sack to hit the open field, the play failed when he tried to lateral to Humphries but the pass, upon review, was seen to go forward. The penalty carried a loss of down and the Bucs punted away, with the ball going into the end for a touchback.
Washington then drove 55 yards for the game's first points, much of it coming on a play-action strike to Reed for 24 yards into Bucs' territory. Adrian Peterson tacked on a 16-yard run but the Bucs held there and Washington settled for Dustin Hopkins' 43-yard field goal.
The Bucs' offense once again broke into the red zone on the ensuing drive, and once again came up empty. Barber started it with runs of 12 and 13 yards and a Fitzpatrick scramble and dive converted a third-and-five at the Washington 14. Fitzpatrick then overcame a holding penalty with a 14-yard strike to Brate at the 18. However, after a third-down pass to Brate near the goal line was broken up, Catanzaro pushed his 30-yard field goal to the right to keep the Bucs off the board.
View photos of the Buccaneers' Week 10 matchup against the Washington Redskins.
Tampa Bay's defense got another three-and-out after that miss, keyed by Adarius Taylor's tackle for loss of Peterson on first down. Way boomed another 52-yard punt that was fair caught by Humphries at the Bucs' 22. The Bucs went from there right back into scoring territory, beginning with an improvised scramble and pitch by Fitzpatrick to Jacquizz Rodgers, with Fitzpatrick running ahead to provide a block near the first-down marker. Completions over the middle to Godwin for 16 and Humphries for 24 got the ball into the red zone for a third time but the drive stalled there, leading to Catanzaro's 33-yard field goal to tie it with 2:03 left. However, Washington was able to take the lead back before halftime with its own 50-yard field goal drive, leading to Hopkins' 43-yarder with 20 seconds left.
Washington got the ball first but was forced to punt from their 38. Way continued his strong game with a 58-yard punt that rolled to a stop at the Bucs' four-yard line. For the Buccaneers, the second half started the same way the first half went, with a long drive that came up empty. Fitzpatrick hit Jackson three times for 35 yards and Evans made an amazing spinning catch for 23 yards near midfield as the Bucs drove down to the Washington 17. However, an aborted snap on third down led to a loss of 14 yards back to the 30 and Catanzaro missed his 48-yard try.
Worse yet, Washington used that good field position to launch the first touchdown drive of the day. Smith converted a third-and-nine with a 20-yard pass down the middle to Maurice Harris, then scrambled down to the Bucs' six-yard line to make it third-and-five. On the next play, Smith moved around in the pocket to escape pressure and then fired a strike in the back of the end zone to Josh Doctson for a 13-3 lead just into the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay's next drive lasted one play, as CB Greg Stroman jumped a slant intended for Howard and returned it to the Bucs' 14. Tampa Bay's defense held there but the Redskins still netted three points on Hopkins' 43-yarder with 12 minutes left. The Buccaneers got right back down the field on the next possession with an 18-yard underneath pass to Rodgers and a 30-yarder down the right seam to Humphries, but a second completion to Rodgers ended in disaster with Zach Brown popping the ball out of his hand from behind. The loose ball flew and rolled to the back of the end zone, where Washington covered it up for a touchback.
Washington got from there just across midfield and ran the clock down to a little over midfield before punting it back to the Bucs' 13. Fitzpatrick got it back into the other half of the field quickly with completions of 20 and 11 yards to Godwin, then converted a third-and-five from the 31 with a 16-yard out to Rodgers. A defensive-holding call erased a sack three plays later and made it first-and-goal at the two-yard line. Two plays later, however, Fitzpatrick was sacked by Smith and he lost the ball, with Kerrigan recovering at the Washington seven-yard line.