Bucs Waste Big Lead, Huge Performances in One-Point Loss to Giants
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 23 September 2019

Four sacks by Shaq Barrett and three touchdown catches by Mike Evans wasn't enough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday because they missed two point-after attempts and lost by one point. The result of all that was a demoralizing 31-30 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday that wasted an 18-point halftime lead and dropped the Buccaneers to 1-2, and 0-2 at home. Tampa Bay will not play another home game until November 10.

Giants rookie QB Daniel Jones, making his first NFL start, directed a 75-yard drive for the winning points with 1:16 left, capping it with his second touchdown run of the game, a seven-yard, fourth-down scramble up the middle. The Buccaneers had a golden chance to reverse that comeback when Evans caught a 44-yard pass at the Giants' nine. The Bucs had one timeout remaining but they rushed up to spike the ball with 13 seconds left and then took a delay-of-game penalty. Winston's kneel-down to position the ball and drain the remainder of the clock lost two more yards, and all of that proved critical when Matt Gay's attempt at a 34-yard game-winning field goal sailed just inches outside the right upright.

"I felt good," said Gay of his mindset before the pressure kick. "I went out there, still felt really good. I went through my whole process, got back there, had my line and I just didn't hit it clean. I've got to make that every single time. Again, I've got to make my extra points as well. We're not in that situation if I put those first two through. This loss is one hundred percent on me. I've got to be a lot better than I was tonight."

Head Coach Bruce Arians said he wasn't concerned with the delay penalty before the final kick, and indeed the resulting try was just one yard farther than a typical extra point. "I just took it on purpose," said Arians. "That field goal is easier back five yards, no sense hurrying. We wanted to move the ball over, put it in the middle and make it an easy field goal."

The Bucs also could have chosen to take a crack or two at the end zone in the final seconds with Jameis Winston, who threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, with a passer rating of 112.5. Obviously, that approach would have carried its own risks and the Bucs had no reason to doubt their strategy of winning it on a last-second field goal. "No doubt," said Winston. "We had no doubt in our kicking game. Matt is an excellent kicker and he's going to make that kick."

The Buccaneers clearly intended to stop superstar RB Saquon Barkley and make the Jones beat them in his first NFL start. Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked third against the run coming into Sunday, accomplished the first half of that goal, holding Barkley to 10 yards on eight carries. Barkley wasn't even available in the second half due to an ankle injury but that didn't slow Jones down. Replacing Giants legend Eli Manning, perhaps for good, Jones finished the game with 336 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-36 passing, and he was not intercepted. He also ran four times for 28 yards and two scores.

Despite Barkley's ineffectiveness, the Buccaneers didn't succeed in turning up the heat on Jones until late in the third quarter, when Barrett led a barrage that killed four straight drives and seemed to put the home team in position to win. However, when the Buccaneers settled for a field goal after Barrett's fourth sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter, it kept the Giants in position to win it with a touchdown.

Evans, who had played a supporting character to Chris Godwin in the first two games, exploded for three first-half touchdowns and ended the game with 190 yards, the second-highest total of his career. Afterward, he had difficulty taking pleasure in his big day, particularly because he and the offense failed to maintain their momentum after halftime, which was what put Gay in his unfortunate position at the end.

Yeah, I did," said Evans when asked if he thought the Bucs were going to win after his last catch. "But that's football, those things happen. Nobody feels as bad as Matt does right now. He's a really good kicker with a really strong leg. It's football, those things happen. It's happened to every kicker in the league at least once. We're not upset with him by any means. The offense has to do more. We had an 18-point lead Ė we've got to score more. We had our way in the first half, but you've got to play the second half.

Still, it was a landmark day for Evans, as well as Barrett. Fittingly, on a day that the team inducted Ronde Barber into its Ring of Honor, Evans and Barrett compiled performances that harkened back to the best of two other Ring of Honor members. Evans is the first Buccaneer since Jimmie Giles in 1985 (at Miami, Oct. 10) to catch at least three touchdown passes in a single game, and just the third ever. With his four sacks, Barrett pushed his season total to eight, a new Bucs record for the first three games of a season. Warren Sapp held the record previously at 5.5 in 2000. Barrett is also the first Buccaneer ever to have at least three sacks in two consecutive games.

Like Evans, Barrett had trouble enjoying his historic performance, which also included six tackles and two forced fumbles. The Bucs gave up 232 yards and three scoring drives of 75 or more yards in the second half. Contrast that to the first two games of the season, in which Tampa Bay's only allowed one touchdown, period, and had pitched a touchdown shutout in six opposing trips inside its red zone. The Giants turned three of their four red zone drives into touchdowns. "We didn't play good enough," said Barrett. "We didn't play better. We didn't do what we had to do to get the win and you could see that from the results of the scoreboard."

Winston went immediately to Evans at the start of the game, hitting him three times for 53 yards on the game-opening drive, including a remarkable 21-yard touchdown in which Evans adjusted to a lobbed ball in the end zone and caught it around the defender's arm as he hit the turf. Tampa Bay's second drive was just as good and it ended in similar fashion, with a three-yard Winston to Evans touchdown pass, set up by a perfect screen pass to Ronald Jones that went for 41 yards. Jones had his biggest day as a pro, with 121 yards from scrimmage.

The Bucs actually scored on all six of their first-half possessions, which made the offense's power-outage for much of the second half even more painful. Tampa Bay had just one scoring drive and 188 yards after the break. Meanwhile, Jones led a pair of touchdown drives for 15 points within the first five minutes of the third quarter.

"Obviously, those are the ones that hurt the most," said Arians. "You have a lead and you give it up at halftime. Talk about starting fast, going out and giving up 15 points in the matter of a few minutes and then battle back to [nearly] win the game. Thatís why itís scheduled for 60 minutes, you never know. All three phases have to click, and we missed the field goal to win the game. Credit to the offense for getting back in a position to win the game. We gave up a lot of runs to the quarterback, obviously thatís why they made a switch and it paid off for them."

After his initial two extra point misses, Gay drilled field goals of 47, 27, 52 and 23 yards. Some of that was necessitated by a red zone breakdown that saw the Bucs score a touchdown on just one of five trips. "The glaring stat in the game was 1-for-5 in the red zone," said Arians. "Thatís the glaring stat in the game. Those touchdowns would have put it out [of reach]."

Jones and the Giants' offense also got off to a strong start, with Jones completing his first four passes Ė helped by a remarkable one-handed grab by Evan Engram at the Bucs' 20 Ė before ILB Kevin Minter finally broke up a third-down try in the red zone. The Giants settled for Aldrick Rosas' 36-yard field goal on their first drive but got seven on their second possession when Jones capped a 75-yard drive with a seven-yard read-option sprint to the right pylon.

The game's first punt came with six minutes left in the first half when the Bucs' defense forced a three-and-out, with S Mike Edwards dropping a potential interception on third down. On the ensuing drive, Arians challenged a non-call of pass interference on a deep pass to Howard and got the play overturned for a pickup of 29 yards. Howard then made a leaping catch for 30 more yards to set up Gay's 27-yard field goal.

Jones didn't make his first real mistake until two minutes before halftime. On a first-down snap near midfield, Jones held the ball too long and had it swatted out of his hand by Barrett, with Carl Nassib recovering for the Buccaneers at the Giants' 41. Three plays later, Winston hit Evans again for a 20-yard touchdown to make it 25-10. Gay made it an 18-point lead at halftime with a 52-yarder that followed a 25-yard gain on a draw play by Jones.

The Giants needed just one play to strike back in the second half, Engram catching a short pass over the middle and breaking free on the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. The successful two-point conversion made it a 10-point game, and after the Bucs' first punt of the game the Giants once again drove down the field for a score, this one Jones' seven-yard third-down touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard.

Clinging to a three-point lead for the next quarter, the Buccaneers got into Giants territory with 11 minutes left but coughed it up on their first giveaway of the game, an interception by LB Ryan Connelly on which Winston missed his intended target badly while throwing on the run. Two plays later, Barrett erased the miscue by swatting the ball out of Jones' hand, with Rakeem Nunez-Roches recovering for Tampa Bay at the Giants' 42. The Bucs turned that into three points on Gay's fourth field goal, a 23-yarder, to take a six-point lead with exactly six minutes left to play.

The Bucs got one punt but then were stopped on their next possession in three plays, giving Jones one last chance, which he took advantage of in a big way. He left the Bucs enough time to get in position to win it but ultimately Gay's kick sailed just a foot wide of the right upright, denying the final comeback.