Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Slipped Away

The Bucs’ grip on a playoff spot loosens as they fail to hold onto the ball in Chicago, turning it over four times in a 27-3 loss

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A big lead allowed Chicago to run RB Anthony Thomas 31 times, and he responded with 173 yards and a touchdown

Chicago, it turns out, is where three-game winning streaks go to die, at least for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Thanks to four turnovers, three in the first half, Tampa Bay lost a 27-3 decision to the Bears in drizzly Soldier Field on Sunday, snapping the Bucs' three-game run of victories and putting a significant dent in the team's playoff hopes.

Tampa Bay also took late-season three-game winning streaks into Chicago in 1997 and 2000, only to lose 13-7 and 13-10, respectively. In each of those seasons, the Bucs still managed to make the playoffs, but they may have to run the table to do so in 2001.

The final intra-division game of Tampa Bay's 25-year association with the NFC Central could also be the last road trip of the season if the Bucs don't fare well in upcoming home games against New Orleans, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Bucs are now 7-6, one half game behind the Saints for the sixth and final NFC playoff spot. New Orleans plays at home against St. Louis on Monday night. The Bears improved to 10-3, their most victories in 10 seasons, and kept the heat on the 9-3 Green Bay Packers, who played Tennessee in a 4:00 p.m. game.

Only three times in 13 games this season have the Buccaneers lost the turnover battle, and only twice has it cost them the game. Both of those losses came courtesy of the Bears. Four turnovers in Raymond James Stadium on November 18 led to just three Chicago points in a 27-24 Buc loss but, more importantly, killed several Buc scoring chances. That scenario replayed itself with a vengeance on Sunday in Soldier Field.

Trailing 10-3 after a toe-dragging, two-yard touchdown catch by Marty Booker – his fourth touchdown against Tampa Bay this season – the Bucs appeared ready to tie the game when WR Keyshawn Johnson turned a short catch into an open-field run deep into Bears territory. The eventual 47-yard gain was indeed a big play, but not in the way the Bucs had hoped.

After breaking several tackles, Johnson was finally dragged down at the Bears' eight by CB Walt Harris, but he fumbled and S Tony Parrish returned the loose ball to Chicago's 22.

Earlier, Parrish intercepted a Brad Johnson pass in the end zone on the first play of a drive that began at the Bears' 31. Johnson was also sacked near the end of the first half and forced to fumble by blitzing LB Warrick Holdman, with Chicago recovering. That turnover ended a drive that had reached the Bears' 27 and led to a late field goal by the home team.

Johnson's fumble was a small blemish on another big day by the NFL's leading receiver, as he hauled in seven passes for 119 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season. The last of those seven receptions was his 100th of the season, making him the first Buc ever to reach triple digits. Johnson is on pace to tie Herman Moore's NFL-record of 123 catches.

Very little else went right for the Buccaneers, who were out-gained 379 to 238 in total yards and allowed rookie RB Anthony Thomas to bash for 173 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Most of Thomas' yardage came in the second half, when the Bears very successfully played a ball-control game with the lead squarely in hand.

QB Brad Johnson, who came into the game with a 63.7% completion rate, connected on just 18 of his 40 throws, with Bear defenders knocking down 12 of them, many at the line of scrimmage. RB Warrick Dunn and the Bucs' running game continued to struggle, as he picked up just 27 yards on 10 carries, a total helped by a 12-yard screen play that was ruled a lateral. Overall, the Bucs picked up 61 yards on 18 carries, partly because they were playing catch-up throughout the second half.

The Bucs even helped Chicago run up the score a little bit in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay's defense had stopped a Bears drive at its own 11 to force a field goal, but on the successful kick attempt, linebacker Shelton Quarles was flagged for 'illegal leverage' and the Bears were given a first down at the five. Thomas took it in around right end on the next play to make it 27-3.

It all added up to the Bucs' worst loss in two years. Tampa Bay's first five defeats of 2001 were all by a touchdown or less, and they only lost once in 2000 by more than a single score, a 28-14 downing by Detroit on October 19.

The game did, however, curiously parallel two recent late-season road collapses from which the Bucs rebounded well. In 1999, the Bucs lost 45-0 at Oakland on December 19 but came back to win their last two games, over Green Bay and Chicago, and take the NFC Central title. In 1997, a 31-0 loss at New York to the Jets on December 14 was followed by a 31-15 win over the Bears and a 10-6 final record.

It did not look like a blowout in the making in the first half. Chicago took its second drive of the game 68 yards against the wind for a field goal, with the Bears short passing game producing big plays of 26 and 13 yards by receivers Dez White and Booker. DE Simeon Rice kept the Bears out of the end zone with his first of two sacks, giving him a team-high eight on the season.

The Bucs answered in the second quarter thanks to their only takeaway of the game, CB Donnie Abraham's 30th career interception, a new Buc record. After Abraham returned his pick to the Bears' 24, a six-play, 17-yard field goal drive followed.

However, Chicago took the lead for good on their next possession. Though the Bucs' defense forced a quick third-and-ten, QB Jim Miller was able to scramble away from pressure and throw a deep pass down the left sideline to rookie WR David Terrell, Thomas' teammate at Michigan last year. S Dexter Jackson was able to trip Terrell up at the two, but the Bears put it into the end zone on third-and-goal on Booker's catch, which was originally ruled an incompletion but overturned on a replay challenge.

Terrell finished the game with 94 yards on three catches, as Miller completed 14 of 29 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Miller also hooked up with TE Fred Baxter on an 18-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

CB Ronde Barber led the Bucs' defense with nine tackles and two passes defensed. WR Karl Williams was strong on punt returns, picking up 65 yards on five runbacks. WR Frank Murphy also stood out on kickoff returns, with three for 73 yards, but left the game in the third quarter after a scary ankle sprain. DT Warren Sapp left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder sprain.

During the contest, Buccaneers.com provided quarter-by-quarter reports on the action, complete with details of all the game's big plays. Those reports follow to give a closer look at the team's most disappointing game of the season.

First Quarter Report

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