DE Stylez G. White had the Bucs' lone sack on the day, though the defense held strong in some difficult circumstances
David Harris intercepted Josh Freeman on the first play of the game, and the New York Jets' defense only got better from there in a 26-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The Buccaneers' offense managed only 124 total yards against the NFL's second-ranked defense and failed to record a first down until the nine-minute mark in the third quarter. The Jets intercepted Freeman three times and held the Bucs' running game to 43 yards. Tampa Bay finished with six first downs and no conversions in 14 third-down tries.
The game was uncomfortably reminiscent of the Week Three visit by New York's other team, the Giants, who won 24-0 at Raymond James Stadium while allowing just 86 yards and five first downs. The Bucs were coming off their best offensive yardage total in 20 years, a 469-yard outing at Carolina in Week 13, but had difficulty handling the Jets' blitz-happy approach. Freeman was sacked three times and hurried for most of the day, and he finished with 14 completions in 33 attempts for 93 yards.
"This was obviously not the result you're looking for," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "We came out a little flat in practice on Friday and those are the results you get when you don't practice well every day. You just can't have bad practices in this league and expect to go out and win."
Freeman has thrown eight interceptions in the last two games after being picked off just five times in his first four NFL starts. After a heady beginning, including a victory in his very first start, the young passer has run into some unsurprising rookie struggles but he will remain the starter for the rest of the season.
"Josh is going to be in the football game," said Morris. "He's got to go out there and learn the hard way. It was the hard way the last two weeks. This was the best defense in the National Football league and they showed us why. They brought pressure on us from every angle. The young man was off, we all were off."
Tampa Bay's defense gave up 310 yards on the day but gets extra credit for degree of difficulty. The Jets' average drive-starting yard line was its own 40 and it was the Bucs' 49-yard line in the first half. New York brought the league's top-ranked rushing attack to Raymond James Stadium and did finish with 175 on the ground, but 18 of the 29 runs by Jones and Shonn Greene went for three yards or less. Three big plays skewed the Jets' yardage result: a fake punt in the first quarter that went for 27 yards, a 33-yard TD run by Jones on a third-and-one breakaway and a 25-yard run by Greene that would have been called back by holding if the Bucs hadn't forced and recovered a fumble at the end of it.
Meanwhile, QB Kellen Clemens, making his first start since 2007 in place of injured rookie starter Mark Sanchez, was held to 12-of-23 passing for 111 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Clemens was sacked only once, by DE Stylez G. White in the first quarter.
The Bucs could count themselves fortunate when they were only down 6-0 as the first quarter came to an end. Harris' interception on the first play of the game gave the Jets possession at Tampa Bay's 31, and a fake punt midway through the period extended what appeared to be a short drive. In both cases, the Bucs' defense held, limiting the Jets to a pair of Jay Feely field goals. Another New York drive started just over midfield after a short punt, but the Bucs' defense forced a return punt four plays later. Another disaster was averted inside Tampa Bay's 10-yard line when Bryant was able to recover a fumble by Ward.
However, the second quarter began with New York once again a few yards into Tampa Bay territory, and though the defense held once more, the Bucs' offense couldn't flip the field position and the Jets' next drive needed just 22 yards to set up a third field goal. The Bucs' valiant defense finally cracked on the Jets' next possession, as Jones broke into the open on a third-and-one carry and dashed 33 yards for a touchdown. The Jets added a fourth Feely field goal to make it 19-0 at the half.
Tampa Bay's total of 15 yards of offense in the first half was its lowest of the season, four worse than the 19 it posted in that Week Three Giants game. The Bucs failed to post a first down or push the ball into Jets territory before halftime.
However, the second half started out on a more positive note, as the defense forced a three-and-out and a punt from the Jets' 13 and the Bucs' first drive of the half started at the Jets' 47. Unfortunately, that possession went three-and-out, too, and the resulting punt went into the end zone for a touchback.
The Jets moved the ball into Tampa Bay territory on a 25-yard run by Greene but Barber forced a fumble and Talib recovered for the home team at the Bucs' 45. The Bucs went nowhere from there, as a four-yard run by Williams was followed by a three-yard loss on the back's next carry and a sack by Donald Strickland forced an apparent punt. However, Bart Scott was flagged for unnecessary roughness after the play and the result was a first down at the Jets' 41. Three Williams runs left the Bucs inches short of another first down at the Jets' 32 but Graham moved the chains with a fullback dive for two yards. A perfectly-thrown fade stop was dropped by WR Brian Clark inside the five, and the Bucs couldn't move any closer, settling for Connor Barth's 43-yard field goal.
The Bucs got the ball right back by dipping into their special teams bag of tricks. Barth popped his kickoff straight out to the left side, where it was recovered by Elbert Mack at the Bucs' 42, past the necessary 10 yards. A six-yard scramble by Freeman made it third-and-two right on the midfield stripe but a play-action rollout pass was well-defended and incomplete. Paulescu hit his punt down to the three and sideways to pin the Jets deep.
The Bucs stopped Jones on first down but a holding penalty on DT Roy Miller made it first down at the eight. Jones was stopped again for no gain by Piscitelli on the next play and a play-action pass out of a jumbo formation gained just two yards to make it third-and-eight. Clemens moved the chains with a quick out pass to WR Braylon Edwards just past the first-down marker. On the next play, another play-action pass resulted in a 26-yard completion to WR Jerricho Cotchery as the third quarter came to an end.
The Bucs defense forced a third-and-10 as the fourth quarter began, but Clemens found Edwards on a post over the middle for a gain of 19 and a new first down at the Bucs' 36. However, the Bucs' defense held there and Feely missed on his third 49-yard try of the day after making the first two.
Thus the Bucs took over again at their own 39 with 11:18 remaining in the game. A Ward run around right end appeared to get the ball onto the Jets' half of the field but it was called back by a holding penalty. On second-and-14, Freeman escaped the pocket and got around left end for a gain of 16 and a first down at the Jets' 49. Three plays later, however, Freeman's third-and-10 pass intended for Clark was intercepted by CB Darrelle Revis and returned 54 yards to the Bucs' seven. Jones ran it in on the next play around left end to give the Jets a 26-3 edge.
From the Bucs' 36, Freeman threw a short seam pass for eight yards to Winslow and a quick 12-yard out to Clark. A shot to TE Jerramy Stevens down the left seam didn't work, and a third-down draw play to Williams lost a yard to make it fourth-and-six. The snap came to Freeman sooner than he expected and his desperation rollout pass to Bryant was incomplete.
The Bucs' defense forced another punt after three Jets running plays, and the Bucs took over again at their own 30 with five minutes to play. A pass over the middle to Bryant picked up 15 yards and a first down but Freeman's next pass, an intended fly down the sideline to Stovall, was intercepted by S Kerry Rhodes at the Jets' 26. Another three-and-out and a personal foul against Edwards helped the Bucs get the ball back at the Jets' 49 just before the two-minute warning.
After the break, Freeman hit Winslow for seven yards and a first down, and three plays later found Stovall at the 29, one yard short of a first down. The Bucs jumped on fourth-and-one, making it a six-yard gap to the sticks, and Clark dropped a potential first-down pass near the left sideline to end the Bucs' final threat.
Tampa Bay fell to 1-12 with the loss and will travel to Seattle next weekend. The Jets improved to 7-6 and return home to face the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15.
Game Notes: The Jets lead the all-time series with Tampa Bay, 9-1 and have won the last six meetings between the two teams. The Bucs' last victory in the series was a 41-21 decision in the final game of the 1984 season. … CB Ronde Barber played in his 190th game on Sunday, all as a Buccaneer since he was drafted by the team in 1997. Barber is now tied with former Bucs TE Dave Moore for the second-most games played in franchise history, trailing only Derrick Brooks and his 224. Barber played one game as a rookie in '97 and has since appeared in every contest since the beginning of the 1998 campaign. … RB Cadillac Williams is now the seventh player in franchise history to rush for at least 3,000 yards. His 14 yards on 11 carries against the Jets gave him 3,003 in his five Buccaneer seasons. … Rookie DT Roy Miller made the first start of his NFL career when the Bucs opened the game in an unusual formation that included three defensive tackles and only three defensive backs. Miller joined usual starting DTs Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims, with SS Sabby Piscitelli not on the field. LB Adam Hayward also made his first career start, at weakside LB for announced starter Matt McCoy. … The Bucs have now successfully converted an onside kick twice this season, and both times the ball was recovered by CB Elbert Mack. Mack also pulled off the trick at Philadelphia in Week Five.
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: WR Sammie Stroughter, CB Derrick Roberson, LB Geno Hayes, DL Michael Bennett, G Shawn Murphy, T James Lee, WR Michael Clayton and designated third quarterback Rudy Carpenter. Stroughter, Roberson, Hayes, Bennett and Clayton were out due to injury.
The Jets deactivated these eight men: QB Mark Sanchez, CB Dwight Lowery, LB Kenwin Cummings, OL Robert Turner, DE Ropati Pitoitua, LB Marques Murrell, T Ryan McKee, and designated third quarterback Kevin O'Connell. Sanchez, Lowery and Turner are out due to injury.
Injuries: Neither team reported an injury from the sideline during the game.