Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 4 match-up with the Broncos.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't snap the defending-champion Broncos' nine-game winning streak on Sunday despite knocking Denver's starting quarterback out of the game just before halftime. Two interceptions by former Buccaneer Aqib Talib led to a pair of early touchdowns and Tampa Bay's offense bogged down in the second half in the face of a fierce Broncos pass-rush.
The Buccaneers dropped to 1-3, having lost three in a row after a rousing Week One win in Atlanta. The Buccaneers are now two games behind the Falcons, who have won three in a row since the opener, including Sunday's victory over the now 1-3 Carolina Panthers. The Buccaneers will play the Panthers in Carolina on Monday Night Football in Week Five.
Tampa Bay's defense started aggressively and had four sacks of QB Trevor Siemian before halftime, the last of which knocked the second-year starter from the game after just five completions and 68 passing yards. However, rookie Paxton Lynch was sharp as Siemian's replacement, hitting on 14 of 24 throws for 170 yards and a touchdown in his first regular-season NFL action. The Buccaneer defense also failed to force a turnover for the third time in four games this year, leading to an overall turnover ratio of -9 through the first quarter of the season, with opponents scoring 51 points off those giveaways. Tampa Bay's offense committed a third turnover on a second-quarter fumble by RB Charles Sims.
"They're one of the top defenses in the league, and hats off to them, they've really done a nice job," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "But still, we showed we could move the ball early in the game, but you can't turn the ball over three times in the first half. You just can't do that. It's a combination of both, and obviously it starts with the caliber of defense that defense has. That's just not acceptable play, though, for how we play."
Talib picked off Jameis Winston's first pass of the game, setting up Siemian's 11-yard touchdown pass to WR Demaryius Thomas just 90 seconds into the game. The Buccaneers responded with a sharp game-tying touchdown drive but another Talib interception in the second quarter set up a C.J. Anderson touchdown run and the Broncos never trailed again.
"Those two picks are definitely on me," said Winston. "They have a great defense but we can't turn the ball over on our side of the field. This is exactly we had seen. Early turnovers just hurt us."
Winston was sacked five times and subjected to frequent pressure by Von Miller and company. The Buccaneers' offense made a concerted effort to run the ball in the first half despite finding limited success. Without Martin, Sims ran 15 times for 28 yards and Jacquizz Rodgers added 25 yards on six totes. Sims's fumble killed a potential scoring threat when it was still a seven-point game.
Injuries continued to pile up for the Buccaneers, who came into the game without such key starters as defensive end Robert Ayers, running back Doug Martin and tight end Luke Stocker. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, rookie defensive end Noah Spence and veteran tight end Brandon Myers were all sent to the locker room by injuries before halftime. The Buccaneers had difficulty maintaining their early pass-rush in the second half after those injuries, though such linemen as William Gholston and Clinton McDonald continued to fight while playing a high number of snaps. Gholston finished with three tackles, 0.5 sacks, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits and McDonald added eight tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Bucs' run defense was strong once again, allowing only 89 yards on 32 carries.
"We tip our hats to the Broncos," said DT Akeem Spence, who added five tackles and half a sack. "They played very well on defense and on offense to win this game. We just didn't make enough plays on defense, didn't get any turnovers to help our offense out a little bit. We've got to put this game to bed and get ready for Monday night because we have a division game with the Panthers and we definitely need to jump on them."
The Bucs suffered their second straight defeat at home and for good measure had to sit through a lightning delay for the second week in a row. This one was called with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and lasted for one hour and 26 minutes.
The Broncos took a 10-point lead into halftime despite a relatively strong performance by Tampa Bay's defense. Denver was held to 123 halftime yards, including just 28 on the ground, and one conversion in six third-down tries. Siemian was sacked four times before the intermission, the last one sending him to the locker room with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury. Of course, Tampa Bay's defense also lost a key performer before halftime, as McCoy suffered a calf injury in the second quarter. McCoy had been putting consistent pressure on Siemian before his injury, splitting a sack with Gholston and adding a QB hit.
The game started about as badly as possible for the Buccaneers, as Winston's first pass of the game, on third-and-six, was intercepted by Talib and returned to the Tampa Bay 11. Denver needed just one play to punch it in from there, with Siemian tossing a dart over the middle to Thomas for the game's first points.
The Bucs managed to answer right back with a 75-yard touchdown drive, however. Winston completed five of seven passes for 69 yards on the drive, converting three third downs in the process. Brate caught three of those five passes for a total of 40 yards, including a diving 13-yarder that made it third-and-six at the Denver seven. Winston finished the drive himself with a scramble and goal-line drive for his first rushing touchdown of the year.
The Bucs' defense held on each of the Broncos' next two drives, with a third-and-one stop of Anderson near midfield by Gholston killing the first one. Gholston and McCoy split a sack of Siemian on the next drive and rookie DE Noah Spence chased the Broncos quarterback into a throwaway on the ensuing third-down snap.
Unfortunately, the Buccaneers' offense couldn't generate much movement, either, and Talib victimized Winston again with an interception in Buccaneers territory two minutes into the second quarter. That allowed the Broncos to start again at the Tampa Bay 27, and a leaping catch by Thomas made it first down at the 15. A pass-interference flag on S Chris Conte in the end zone put the ball at the one and Anderson took it in from there to put the Broncos back out in front.
An exchange of punts worked in the Bucs' favor thanks to a sack by DT Akeem Spence and a 15-yard punt return by Adam Humphries that put the ball on the midfield stripe with six minutes left in the first half. A 14-yard catch by Vincent Jackson moved the chains but the Bucs turned the ball over for a third time moments later. Sims was stopped short on a third-and-one run, then fumbled when he it appeared he was hit as he was trying to lateral the ball back to Winston. DE Billy Winn plucked the ball out of midair for the turnover.
A sack by DT Clinton McDonald kept the Broncos from moving the ball after that turnover and also knocked Siemian from the game. Rookie first-rounder Paxton Lynch replaced Siemian under center and saw his first regular-season action. Lynch got one more chance before halftime and completed three of seven passes for 47 yards to set up a 38-yard field goal by Brandon McManus.
Lynch and the Broncos took the opening drive of the second half down the field for three points. CB Jude Adjei-Barimah chased Lynch to the sideline on third-and-three from the Bucs' 31 but the incompletion was erased by a downfield holding call on S Chris Conte. The Bucs did manage to hold inside the 10, with key stops of Anderson by Gholston and Akeem Spence, but the Broncos increased their lead to 20-7 on a 24-yard field goal by McManus.
That was all the scoring in the third quarter but the Broncos put the game out of reach with their longest drive of the game in the final period. Lynch started the drive with a 31-yard strike to Thomas, then got the ball into scoring range with a 21-yard strike to Jordan Norwood. The final play of the nine-play, 80-yard march was a rollout pass to a wide-open Sanders in the right edge of the end zone.
After the lengthy weather delay, the game resumed at approximately 8:20 p.m. ET and the Bucs' defense forced a punt with a little over four minutes remaining. Winston completed passes to Brate and Evans to get the ball over midfield, and an illegal contact penalty gave the Bucs a first down at the Denver 37.Winston was sacked for a fourth time on the next play, bringing on the two-minute warning. After the break, a botched snap led to another loss back to the Bucs' 39-yard line. One more sack and an incompletion downfield gave the ball back to Denver for three game-ending kneel-downs.