The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were trying to stay in the NFC playoff race during their Week 15 trip to Baltimore. Unfortunately, they couldn't stay on the field long enough to keep pace with the Ravens in a 20-12 loss at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Behind rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who ran for 95 yards on a variety of scrambles and designed carries, the Ravens converted nine of 16 third downs, leading to an overwhelming 14.5-minute advantage in time of possession (37:10-22:50. The Buccaneers' offense got a 121-yard game from WR Mike Evans and a strong outing from RB Peyton Barber (18 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown) but simply wasn't on the field enough to take advantage of those efforts. Baltimore ran 74 plays of offense to Tampa Bay's 47.
The game pitted a Baltimore defense that had allowed the fewest points in the NFL against the league's top-ranked passing attack, led by QB Jameis Winston. Winston moved around well in the pocket and made several big plays on the run – most notably a scrambling 64-yarder to Evans that converted a third-and-20 and set up a field goal in the third quarter – but he was held to 157 yards on 13 of 25 passing. The Ravens also got an interception off Winston in the fourth quarter, though it didn't lead to any points.
"We can't turn the ball over on our side of the field," said Winston. "We've got to execute better as an offense. They did a great job on defense but we've got to do better for our defense."
The loss dropped the Buccaneers to 5-9 and effectively erased their slim remaining playoff hopes. The Bucs are 1-6 on the road in 2018 and finished 1-3 in their games against the AFC North. Baltimore improved to 8-6 and are now 4-1 in the five games started by Jackson.
Despite those third-down woes, the Buccaneers' defense kept the visitors in the game to the end. It was still a one-score game with seven minutes left when the Ravens broke up a fourth-down pass attempt by Jameis Winston from the Baltimore 33. LB Lavonte David led the defensive effort with a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery along with a game-high 11 tackles, three tackles for loss and a pass defensed. LB Riley Bullough, starting in place of Adarius Taylor, who missed the game due to a personal matter, added eight stops, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed.
"First, we played with energy," said Bullough. "We were out there flying around, trying to make plays. But you've just got to stay consistent throughout the whole game and a couple of those runs leaked through. We'll see the film, look at it and try to get better."
Indeed, the Bucs managed to generate consistent pressure up front but had difficulty getting Jackson on the ground. The 2018 first-round pick completed just 14 of 23 passes for 131 yards but led a 242-yard rushing attack for the Ravens that helped grind out the clock. Jackson was credited with a touchdown through the air on a shovel pass to WR Chris Moore in the second quarter but it was the type of play that built off the Ravens' creative rushing attack.
"It's tough," said Bullough of trying to contain Jackson along with running backs such as Gus Edwards, who added 104 yards on 19 carries. "It's just an added responsibility in the run game. You've got to account for the quarterback, so it's a little bit different run fits than you're normally used to. And he's fast, so even if you do have him covered up, he can just take it and out-run you. It's tough but we've got to get better."
Tampa Bay's offense struck first after a scoreless first quarter, as Barber recorded a three-yard touchdown run set up by David's fumble recovery. The Buccaneers had a 9-7 lead with two minutes left in the first half but Jackson led a quick, answering field goal drive before the intermission and then a long touchdown march to start the second half. The Bucs' offense produced just one field goal in the second half, however, and finished with a season-low 241 yards of total offense.
The game was played in a steady rain and the wet conditions may have contributed to the Bucs' struggles. Buccaneer players had several instances of difficulty holding onto the football, including dropped passes by Evans and Chris Godwin in the first half, potential interceptions that Bullough and CB Brent Grimes couldn't quite pull in and an extra-point snap in the second quarter that went through Bryan Anger's hands and deprived the team of a shot at one more point. However, Winston thought there were opportunities for the Buccaneers to score more points against one of the NFL's best defenses.
"We've just got to execute better," he said. "They have a great defense but we've got a great offense, too. We've got to be able to make plays when they're there."
Bobo Wilson gave the Bucs a little boost to start the game, returning the opening kickoff 32 yards to the 35. Barber immediately followed that up immediately with a 15-yard run right up the middle. The Bucs had to punt, however, when Winston was sacked on a third-and-three dropback from the Baltimore 43 when he couldn't find an open man. A touchback and a penalty on the Bucs on the punt allowed Baltimore to start at its own 30.
Tampa Bay's defense got the ball back quickly after a three-and-out, with the Bucs stopping Gus Edwards for just one yard on his first two carries. The Bucs' offense got it back at their own 26 and got a first down on two Barber runs up the middle and a Winston sneak, but the drive then stalled, leading to another punt down to the Baltimore 21.
A pass-interference call on Brent Grimes gave the Ravens their initial first down of the game but a tackle for loss by Carl Nassib and a near-interception by Riley Bullough on third down led to yet another punt, which rolled out of bounds at the Bucs' 13. Two Barber runs moved the sticks but the Bucs once again failed to add a second first down to the drive and had to punt. Winston put the ball on the money at the sticks to Cam Brate on third-and-eight but a well-timed hit by CB Marlon Humphrey kept the tight end from hanging on to the ball.
Baltimore took the subsequent drive across midfield thanks to a 14-yard pass to Willie Snead over the middle on a fake zone-read on third-and-3 and a nine-yard scramble by Jackson. However, a fumbled exchange led to a loose ball on the turf, which was unsurprisingly recovered by David at the Bucs' 49-yard line. Three plays later, on the last play of the first period, Winston hit Evans on a 23-yard fade stop down the right sideline to convert a third-and-five.
Two plays into the second quarter, Barber made a sharp cut to gain 10 yards on a run over left guard, taking the ball down to the 10-yard line. A defensive-holding call on third down gave the Bucs a new set of downs at the Baltimore three, and Barber took it in for the game's first score on the next play. On the extra point attempt, the football went through holder Bryan Anger's hands and eventually got all the way across midfield as the Ravens tried to return it for points.
Baltimore responded with its first scoring drive of the game, converting three third downs and one fourth down on a 16-play, 73-yard touchdown march. Kenneth Dixon started it with a tackle-breaking 17-yard run and Edwards later converted a pair of short third downs with power runs up the middle. After Carl Nassib blew up a tricky end-around to Moore for a loss of five, Jackson converted a third-and-10 with a completion over the middle to Snead down to the Bucs' 16. David got a sack on a third-and-one scramble by Jackson inside the 10 but the Ravens went for it and got it on fourth down when Jackson took a shotgun snap and ran directly up the middle. Two plays later, the Ravens got tricky with Moore again and this time it worked for a five-yard touchdown on what was officially a shovel pass by Jackson. Justin Tucker made the extra point to give Baltimore a one-point lead with four minutes left in the half.
The Bucs fell into a third-and-20 hole on the subsequent possession courtesy of a holding penalty but Winston rescued the drive with a remarkable scramble play, escaping to his left and throwing deep downfield to Evans. Evans hauled it in for a gain of 64 yards and a facemask penalty at the end of the play put the ball at the Baltimore 11. Two Barber runs made it third-and-two but this time Winston's scrambling resulted only in an incompletion. The Bucs took the lead on Cairo Santos's 21-yard field goal.
The lead didn't last long as Baltimore used the last two minutes of the half to counter with a field goal drive of its own. The big play was a deep pass down the middle of the field to Snead for 28 yards and a first down at the Bucs' 11. Tampa Bay's defense held there and nearly ran out the clock with a sack of Jackson on third down but Jackson got the ball out of his hand before hitting the ground and that stopped the clock to allow Justin Tucker's 24-yard field goal.
Baltimore began the second half with another long scoring drive, kept alive early when Jackson threw a touch pass to TE Mark Andrews for 17 yards on third-and-seven. A Dixon run took the ball across midfield and the Jackson got it into the red zone on runs of 14 and 22 yards, the first one a designed zone-read, the second a scramble when he just avoided a potential sack by Jason Pierre-Paul. Gus Edwards completed the drive with a 10-yard run up the middle.
A 20-yard catch by Evans over the middle got the ball to midfield but the drive stalled there. The Bucs still found themselves in the red zone moments later when Cyrus Jones let Anger's high, short kick land and start rolling towards the end zone. Jones decided to try to pick it up off the bounce but only grazed it with a hand and Shaw fell on it for the Bucs at the Baltimore 14. The Bucs couldn't punch it in from there but did add three points on a 28-yard field goal by Santos. That made the score 17-12, Ravens, with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Moore got the subsequent kickoff return all the way out to the Baltimore 45. Jackson spun away from a free-running Nassib on third-and-seven to run for a first down, though a personal foul on Dixon at the end of the play pushed the ball back 15 yards into Baltimore territory. Three plays later the Bucs appeared to have Dixon bottled up in the backfield on third down but he was able to spin and power his way just past the sticks for a first down at the Bucs' 45. It was the same story three snaps later when Jackson kept it on a zone-read and ran up the middle for seven yards on third-and-six.
The Bucs did manage to get a stop on third down after the two teams switched sides to start the fourth quarter, though Tucker pushed the Ravens' lead back to eight points with a 35-yard field goal. Things got worse moments later when Winston looked for Evans down the right numbers but Humphrey made a sliding interception at the Bucs' 43.
View photos from the Buccaneers' Week 15 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.
Tampa Bay's defense responded with a much-needed stop, in the process pushing the Ravens all the way back to their own 26. The Ravens committed three penalties in that sequence but Pierre-Paul also had a tackle for loss on a designed run by Jackson and Nassib forced a grounding penalty that had the same effect as a sack. After the punt and Adam Humphries' 12-yard return, the Bucs were back out at their own 38.
The Bucs drove from there into Baltimore territory but faced a fourth-and-four after DT Brandon Williams stopped Barber for a loss of three on a third-and-one attempt. The Bucs went for it but Winston couldn't fit a pass in to Chris Godwin in a tight window to the right side.
The Ravens took over at their own 33 and didn't throw the ball again in the process of draining the last seven minutes off the clock. Edwards' 26-yard run down to the Bucs' seven-yard line brought on the two-minute warning and three kneel-downs ended it.