Todd Bowles' phrase "we are having to beat two teams," following the 35-7 loss to the 49ers became reality once again for the embattled Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals. After a hot start at Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers unraveled in the second half as costly penalties and turnovers led to the team's undoing.
During the first half, Tampa Bay fired on all cylinders. The home team held a 17-0 lead until the final three seconds of the second frame. The Buccaneers out-leveraged the Bengals by a point advantage of 261-83 – with 47 of Cincinnati's yards coming under the two-minute warning - and dominated time of possession, with 20:27 over the Bengals 9:33. The Bucs were able to achieve consistency on the ground, opening up the play-action game. Tom Brady found Mike Evans (four catches, 71 yards in the first) and Chris Godwin early and often, leading to a Russell Gage Jr. touchdown on a back shoulder pass and a Godwin score off a screen. On the latter, Godwin led the assault with three catches for 43 yards on the 10-play, 85-yard scoring drive, giving the Bucs a domineering 17-0 lead. On the Bengals' opening drive, Keanu Neal deflected Joe Burrow's pass at the line of scrimmage and Carlton Davis III intercepted the ball, shifting the momentum. The defense then imposed their will, culminating in three-straight, three-and-outs prior to the field goal.
The tide turned in the third quarter as self-inflicted penalties and turnovers became the main storyline for Tampa Bay. A defensive holding penalty on Lavonte David negated a 23-yard combined sack by Devin White and Anthony Nelson. An interception by Brady led to a Tee Higgins touchdown and a strip sack resulted in a Tyler Boyd score. Two takeaways by Tampa Bay gifted the Bengals with 14 points. To begin the fourth quarter, the Bengals took advantage of the Bucs' fumble with a Ja'Marr Chase touchdown to cap off an eight-play, 39-yard drive. In less than a quarter, the Bucs went from holding a double-digit lead to having a double-digit deficit. Cincinnati put up 27 unanswered points off the hand of Buccaneer critical mistakes. Undisciplined play led to the club's prompt collapse. The trend continued as Brady took a hit, causing an errant throw. Germaine Pratt intercepted it off a diving grab, marking Brady's fourth turnover in 11 offensive plays. The Bucs' defense limited the damage of the fourth-straight turnover by forcing a Bengals' three-and-out. With just under three minutes in regulation, the Bengals struck again, as Joe Burrow found Mitchell Wilcox for a score, making it 34-consecutive points for the visiting team. Despite a late five-yard Russell Gage touchdown, the Bucs' fate was sealed. Tampa Bay drops to 6-8 on the season, shattering disillusionment following their second-straight deflating loss.