Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Turnovers Plague Bucs in Loss to Bears

Turnover ratio has been a deciding factor for the Buccaneers in December, as it was on Sunday night in a 26-21 loss to Chicago that turned on three Tampa Bay giveaways.

Photos from Buccaneers vs. Bears at Raymond James Stadium.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting repeated reinforcements of a lesson they already know well: Turnovers win – and lose – ballgames.

They certainly did on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium when the visiting Chicago Bears scored 10 points off two takeaways and prevented a Buccaneer score with another on the way to a 26-21 victory. Meanwhile, for the fourth time in the its last five games, Tampa Bay did not force a single turnover.

Turnovers even put a temporary damper on the feel-good story of Doug Martin, who is in contention for the NFL rushing title. Martin ran 17 times for 49 yards (and did take over the league lead, at least temporarily, from Minnesota's Adrian Peterson) but also lost two fumbles, both leading to Chicago scoring drives.

Tampa Bay's other giveaway was a goal-line interception in the third quarter that prevented the Buccaneers from padding a one-point lead. Despite that play, Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns and finished with a passer rating of 96.2. He directed a six-play 78-yard drive to start the second half that gave the Bucs a 14-13 lead, ending in a 50-yard touchdown pass to RB Charles Sims. The first five plays of the drive were runs by Martin, who got 28 yards to put the ball at midfield. Winston's pass to Sims came on a successful play-action off those Martin runs.

"That first drive coming out in the second half, that's us," said Winston. "That's the Bucs. That's when we play our best. That's who we are, and that's one thing you've got to learn. That's our identity, when Doug is pounding it and then we get guys to make plays."

The Buccaneers' offense definitely showed an ability to create explosive plays, gaining 7.1 yards per offensive snap, their third-highest total of the year. Tampa Bay out-gained Chicago, 389 yards to 327 and had four plays that covered 29 yards or more. However, two other potential big-gainers loomed large in the fourth quarter, as Winston just missed connecting with Mike Evans and Donteea Dye on successive deep throws with his team down by six points. After the ensuing punt, Chicago drove 40 yards for a field goal that made it a two-score game, chewing four minutes off the clock in the process.

Sims was responsible for several of those big plays, including his 50-yard score and a 29-yard breakaway run after the aforementioned field goal made it 23-14. Sims finished the game with 117 yards from scrimmage, giving him 1,001 combined rushing and receiving yards on the season. His long run put the Bucs in scoring range, but a bad snap on third down forced them to try a 52-yard field goal and Connor Barth hooked it a bit wide to the left. The Bears used up five more minutes on a subsequent field goal drive, and even though Winston hit TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a 43-yard TD pass on the following drive, there was only one second left on the clock after the score.

Winston also hit Brate on a 46-yard completion in the third quarter, on the drive that ended in the game's loan interception. Brate, the first-year tight end who has made a handful of big plays for the team this year, leaped over a Bears defender to haul in his career-long catch. Winston had scrambled to buy time on the play and directed his target downfield, just as he did on the touchdown pass to Sims.

"That's what Coach Koetter tells us to do – give the guys a chance," said Winston. "We've got great personnel, our guys make plays and that's us, that's who we are. I can't go down there and turn the ball over."

The Buccaneers also got one of their biggest special teams plays of the season in the first quarter, which allowed them to take an early 7-0 lead. LB Jeremiah George blocked a punt by the Bears Patrick O'Donnell and DE Howard Jones recovered at the Bears' four-yard line. Martin scored one play later on a four-yard run.

"It actually got set up with the punt right before that," George explained later. "I did a really good job holding my man up and just physically dominating him. So the next time I came out really aggressively at him and I just flashed my hands, did an arm-over technique and I was free. I came free just like I did in Washington but this time I was actually able to block the punt, so that was exciting.

"I've never blocked a punt, so that was the first one and I hope there are many more to come."

The loss was Tampa Bay's third in a row after it had reached .500 with a strong third quarter of the season. It dropped the team to 6-9, including a 3-5 record at home, with a final game at Carolina looming on January 3. The Bucs improved their home record by three games over 2014 but had still hoped to take greater strides in re-establishing home field advantage at Raymond James Stadium.

"We're going to put this game behind us," said Winston. "We can't really go back and look at it. The season is over here at this stadium. The only thing that I'm worried about is those fans; we wish we could have given them a win. We're going to fix that. Those are mistakes that you learn from but at the end of the day I wish we could have gotten a win for the fans.

After Martin's touchdown, the Bears tied the game early in the second quarter when a potential Buccaneer takeaway was negated by a facemask penalty against Alterraun Verner. William Gholston had intercepted a deflected pass on the play and taken it down to the Chicago 15, but the penalty instead put the Bears into Chicago territory. A pass-interference penalty on Sterling Moore put the ball at the one-yard line and RB Ka'Deem Carry ran it in from there to even the score. Chicago then took its first lead at 10-7 on a 47-yard field goal drive following a Martin fumble near midfield. It was 13-7 at halftime after a failed two-minute drive by the Bucs gave Chicago another possession and they positioned Robbie Gould for his second short field goal.

The Bucs needed just over three minutes at the start of the second half to retake the lead. The touchdown drive lasted six plays, the first five of which were Martin runs up the middle for a total of 28 yards. The sixth play was a nice bit of improvisation between Winston and Sims that resulted in a 50-yard catch-and-run for the touchdown.

Chicago got the lead back at the end of the third quarter thanks to a pair of Buccaneer turnovers in rapid succession. The first was an interception by S Harold Jones-Quartey at the Bears' goal line on an ill-advised lob by Winston under pressure on third down. That erased a Tampa Bay scoring chance, and on the Bucs' next play from scrimmage Martin fumble at his own 23-yard line. Chicago took it in from there for the go-ahead touchdown scored by Carey on a one-yard pass.

The Bears made it a two-score game with nine minutes to play on Gould's 50-yard field goal at the end of a 10-play, 40-yard drive. Gould's fourth field goal came with just over a minute to play, which gave the Buccaneers time to drive for Austin Seferian-Jenkins' touchdown, but no more.

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Additional notes and in-game details:

  • LB Jeremiah George's block of a Patrick O'Donnell punt in the first quarter was the first blocked punt by a Buccaneer in a little over two years. The last Tampa Bay player to do it was Danny Gorrer, who got to Detroit's Sam Martin), Nov. 24, 2013.
  • Jameis Winston's 50-yard scoring completion to Charles Sims was the Buccaneers' longest touchdown pass of the season. The previous long was a 41-yarder from Winston to Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 13.
  • RB Doug Martin ran 17 times for 49 yards to push his season total to 1,354 yards. By game's end, he was the NFL's leading rusher, though Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who plays on Sunday night, will begin the evening at 1,314.
  • The Bears got a quick first down on the game-opening drive but S Keith Tandy sniffed out a bubble screen to WR Eddie Royal on the next play and blew it up for a loss of four. After Tandy dropped Royal for a gain of just one on the next play, the Bears tried a middle screen to Forte on third-and-13 and it came up four yards short.

Tampa Bay's first drive started with a three-yard loss by Martin and a near-interception, but Winston enjoyed plenty of time to throw on third-and-13 and eventually hit Evans over the middle for a gain of 16. However, Winston's scramble on the next third down needed eight yards and got seven, so the Bucs punted and Jacob Schum blasted his kick 60 yards to the opposite end zone for a touchback.

A great open field tackle by Tandy of RB Jeremy Langford on third down killed the next Bears drive and set up the game's first big play. George broke through Chicago's protection to block the punt attempt by O'Donnell, sending the ball towards Chicago's goal line. It was recovered at the four-yard line by DE Howard Jones, and on the next play Martin powered up the middle for a touchdown to open the scoring.

After another touchback by Connor Barth, the Bears moved across midfield on a series of short completions by Cutler. However, a holding penalty on WR Deonte Thompson on another bubble screen put Chicago into a third-and-13 back at their own 43 and great coverage downfield forced Cutler into a dumpoff to Forte that came up short. Bobby Rainey caught the ensuing punt at the Bucs' 10-yard line.

A six-yard run by Martin and a seven-yard catch by TE Luke Stocker got the Bucs past their own 20, and a 16-yard out to Evans put the ball to the 39. That play was originally ruled an incompletion but it was successfully challenged by Lovie Smith. Another potential first down was erased by an illegal-hands-to-face penalty against T Donovan Smith, putting the Bucs into a third-and-15 hole as the first quarter came to an end. Winston's next pass was nearly intercepted, with Evans alertly breaking it up at middle field. Chicago's Marc Mariani fair-caught Schum's punt at the Bears' 32.

Chicago faced a third-and-three moments later and that appeared to lead to the game's first turnover. Gerald McCoy deflected Cutler's pass at the line and it was intercepted by William Gholston, who rumbled down to the Bears' 15. However, Verner was called for a facemask penalty prior to the turnover and that not only negated the turnover but gave Chicago a first down at the Bucs' 46. Two runs by Langford picked up 15 yards and a Zach Miller catch took it down to the 13. Sterling Moore was flagged for pass interference at the one-yard line and Ka'Deem Carey ran it in from there to tie the score.

The Bucs' next drive started with a great rollout sideline pass from Winston to Evans for a gain of 15, followed by two Martin runs that gained a total of 12 to the 47-yard line. Two plays later, however, Martin fumbled at the end of a six-yard reception by Doug Martin and it was recovered by the Bears at their own 45. A 16-yard run by Forte moments later created a first down at the Bucs' 22, and Forte converted a third-and-short with a five-yard draw play moments later. On third-and-goal from the five, McCoy sacked Cutler for a loss of three, forcing the Bears to settle for Robbie Gould's 26-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead with three minutes left in the half.

The Bucs hoped to use that remaining time to launch one more scoring drive, but a third-down sack by Pernell McPhee turned the drive into a three-and-out and a punt at the two-minute warning. That gave the Bears another great scoring opportunity just inside Buccaneer territory, and they got a quick 10 yards on a Langford run. Cutler's scrambling throw to Miller got the ball down to the 24 and Royals' 14-yard grab on the next play put it the 10, with the Bears calling a timeout at the 30-second mark. An incomplete fade and a short pass to Royal made it third-and-goal at the four with 19 seconds left. A false start moved it back five yards and Royal was unable to pull in a low pass in the end zone on the next snap. The Bears still tacked on three points on Gould's 27-yard field goal.

Five straight Martin carries started the second half in good fashion, as he picked up a total of 28 yards and two touchdowns, leaving it at second-and-five at midfield. Winston dropped back for his first pass of the half on the next play and ended up scrambling to the left to buy time. As he did so, he motioned for Sims to turn upfield and then he hit him down the sideline with a bullet pass. Sims spun away from a nearby Bears defender and sprinted the rest of the way to the end zone for the go-ahead score.

Tampa Bay's defense followed by forcing a three-and-out, thanks in part to another successful challenge by Lovie Smith. CB Sterling Moore stopped WR Joshua Bellamy cold on a short pass over the middle, but it was initially ruled a first down. Smith challenged the spot and the ball was moved back a yard, leading to a punt. A holding penalty on the return forced the Bucs to start at their own 14.

Winston and Evans nearly hooked up on a very deep pass down the left sideline but it was broken up at the last second by CB Tracy Porter. That made it third-and-12 but Winston looked for Evans again and hit him over the middle for a gain of 14. Two plays later, Austin Seferian-Jenkins ran a square-in over the middle and Winston hit him through traffic for a first down at the 43. On the next play, Winston scrambled to his left and threw down the sideline to Cameron Brate, who made a brilliant catch over a Bears defender for a gain of 46 to the 11-yard line. Three plays later, on third-and-11, Christian Jones barreled in untouched on Winston, who ended up heaving the ball blindly toward the end zone. There Bears S Harold Jones-Quartey out-jumped Sims to get the interception.

Jones-Quartey returned the pick to the Bears' 23, but the Bucs' defense got a three-and-out thanks to a great hit on Forte by S Bradley McDougald on third-and-one. Unfortunately, on the first play after the ensuing punt, Martin fumbled for a second time and it was recovered by Chicago's John Timu at the Bucs' 23. It took five plays from there to get it into the end zone, with Cutler throwing to a wide-open Carey on a first-and-goal play-action from the one-yard line.

On the next drive, Winston took two shots deep downfield, but one was just off Evans' fingertips and the other, intended for Donteea Dye, was broken up at the last second by CB Kyle Fuller. The Bears got the ball back at their 28 after the punt with 13:22 to play.

The Bucs got the Bears into a third-and-seven thanks to a Lavonte David PBU on second down, then brought extra pass-rushers on third down. Unfortunately, Cutler escaped the pocket and scrambled all the way to the Chicago 47. A quick slant by Zach Miller converted a big third-and-one with 11 yards down to the Bucs' 34. Tampa Bay held there, with Bruce Carter breaking up a third-down pass at the line, but Gould came on to drill a 50-yard field goal and make it a two-score game with nine minutes to play.

A 29-yard breakaway run by Sims and an 18-yard catch over the middle by Shepard quickly got the Bucs into scoring position, but a bad snap on third-and-10 from the 24 cost the Bucs' 10 yards and Connor Barth subsequently missed to the left on a 52-yard field goal try.

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