Bills Top Buccaneers Comeback
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 23 October 2017|
In Week Six, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came up just a few minutes short of a historic fourth-quarter comeback in Arizona. In Week Seven, those same never-say-die Buccaneers actually completed a big fourth-quarter rally in Buffalo to take a 27-20 lead. This time, it was those last few minutes that would be their demise in a 30-27 loss to the Bills at New Era Field.
The Bills needed just 46 seconds to tie the game after the Bucs had taken their lead with 3:20 left. On the next play from scrimmage, rookie CB Tre'Davious White forced a fumble by WR Adam Humphries that Buffalo recovered, setting up the game-winning 30-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka.
"It's tough, man," said rookie LB Kendell Beckwith. "I've always hated to lose like that. You feel like you've got the game won and then to give it up at the end…it's tough to lose a game like that."
The loss was the Buccaneers' third in a row and it dropped them to 2-4 on the season, including an 0-3 mark away from home. After winning five of their first six road games last year, the Bucs have now dropped five in a row.
Tampa Bay had taken the lead on Mike Evans' brilliant toe-tapping touchdown catch with 3:20 to play. That completed a rally from a 17-6 halftime deficit, as rookie TE O.J. Howard also caught touchdown passes of seven and 33 yards. The Buccaneers rang up 447 yards of offense, to 434 for the Bills. It marked the third straight game in which Tampa Bay had both gained and allowed in excess of 400 yards.
"We just kept playing. We played hard and executed some key plays over a stretch of the game when we were down. Coach called some great plays, we executed them and got back into the game. We had some missed opportunities, but it just wasn't at the end of the game. We had a lot of opportunities earlier in the game that we missed, and those add up."
Critically, the Buccaneers lost the turnover battle, 3-1, although their two giveaways in the first half did not lead to any Buffalo points. Instead, it was Lavonte David's forced fumble and fumble recovery against Bills RB LeSean McCoy that looked like it would be the game-changing turnover, as it led to Evans' touchdown catch. However, the Bills, who have still only turned the ball over three times all season, would make the last big play on defense.
QB Jameis Winston, who missed most of last week's game in Arizona with a shoulder injury, showed no ill effects from that issue, starting and throwing for 384 yards and those three touchdowns. He was intercepted once but completed 32 of his 44 attempts and helping four different Buccaneer pass-catchers exceed 60 yards. Winston's favorite target on the day was Howard, who set career highs across the board with six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Evans added seven grabs for 88 yards and his fourth score of the season. The Bucs' offense also got big plays from speedy WR DeSean Jackson (5 for 73) but had another 53-yard grab by Jackson negated by a holding call.
The Buccaneers gave up 434 yards to a Buffalo team that ranked second-to-last in that category entering the weekend. The Bills ran for 173 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per tote, in part because mobile QB Tyrod Taylor was able to escape the backfield on long scrambles for a total of 53 yards. McCoy added 91 yards and his first two touchdown runs of the season. The biggest problem for the Bucs' defense was on third down, where it allowed 10 of 16 tries to be converted. That included an 11-yard run by Taiwan Jones on third-and-nine on Buffalo's game-winning drive, which allowed the Bills to essentially run out the rest of the clock.
"We've just got to do a better job with our run-fits," said Beckwith. "All that starts at practice. I don't think it's a special formula or anything like that. It's everybody just lining up and doing their jobs. [On third down], we've just got to finish the deal. When we get a team to third down, the ultimate goal is to get off the field. We've got to do that. We've got to do a better job of that."
Kicker Patrick Murray, who just returned to the Buccaneers in Week Six, made both of his field goal tries, including a 50-yarder, and all three extra point tries, hitting most of them straight down the middle. However, the Bucs didn't get their usual good results in the punting game, with both of Bryan Anger's kicks from around midfield ending up in the end zone for touchbacks. Those were Anger's first two touchbacks of the season.
The Buccaneers committed the only two turnovers of the first half, which could have made a big difference in a very tight game. However, the Bills missed a field goal after Winston's fumble and ran out of time deep in Bucs' territory without getting a kick off after Matt Milano's interception.
As such, Buffalo had just a 10-6 lead at the intermission, while the Buccaneers had the yardage edge, 216 to 206. The Bucs did most of their damage through the air, with eight different players catching at least one pass, while Buffalo got 113 first-half rushing yards, including 53 by Taylor.
Tampa Bay took the opening possession 43 yards for the game's first points, with Winston operating largely out of the no-huddle. Winston hit rookie TE O.J. Howard for 21 yards up the right seam to get the drive moving and converted a third-and-nine in Bills' territory with a 10-yard zip to a tightly-covered Evans. However, consecutive penalties on the Bucs' offense caused the drive to stall and Murray came on to drill a 50-yard field goal.
The Bills answered with their own field goal drive on the next possession. Taylor hit TE Nick O'Leary downfield for a gain of 26, then picked up 26 of his own on a scramble to the Bucs' 10 after he escaped a near-sack. LB Lavonte David cut Taylor off on a second-down keeper inside the 10 and a tight pass through traffic to McCoy hit the ground incomplete on third down. Steven Hauschka completed the drive with a 26-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's second drive was similar to its first ,with Winston hitting key passes to Martin for 14 yards and Jackson for 14 and 21 yards. Jackson's first catch on the drive was a wild, bobbling play in which he fought cornerback E.J. Gains for the ball and eventually hauled it in after it popped back up in the air. Safety Jordan Poyer broke up an attempted pass to Brate in the back of the end zone to force the Bucs to settle for Murray's 25-yarder and a 6-3 lead.
The Bills countered with the game's first touchdown drive, marching 78 yards largely on Taylor's well-time scrambles. After McCoy slipped through the line on a pitch and gained 23 yards into Bucs' territory, Taylor took off on a 16-yard run, then converted a third-and-five with a seven-yard run down to the three. Two plays later, McCoy ran it in for a one-yard score.
Another big catch down the middle for Howard got the Bucs into scoring range on the ensuing drive, but DE Ryan Davis blew around right end on third down and hit Winston's arm from behind to force a fumble. CB Leonard Johnson recovered for Buffalo at the Bills' 41. Taylor converted one long third down with a 27-yard pass to a diving Deonte Thompson but the Bucs finally got the third-down stop they needed and Hauschka pushed a 41-yard field goal wide right.
The Bucs got back into Buffalo territory again as the two-minute warning arrived but eventually punted from the 37. Bryan Anger's first touchback of the season gave the ball back to Buffalo at the Bills' 20. Buffalo's first punt of the game came a minute later and left the ball at the Bucs' nine with 46 seconds left and three timeouts.
The Bucs tried to use that remaining time to score before halftime but ended up with the worst-case scenario when Winston's seam pass attempt to Brate was intercepted by LB Matt Milano. The Bucs dodged a bullet, however, when Robert McClain's open-field tackle of Jordan Matthews left the Bills, without a timeout, scrambling to try to get another snap off. They were unable to do so and the first half expired.
Buffalo got the ball first to start the second half and got across midfield by a 15-yard run by McCoy. Tolbert followed with a slicing 18-yard run down to the Bucs' 29. On the subsequent third down, TE Logan Thomas got wide open down the left sideline and Taylor hit him for a touchdown to make it 17-6.
Winston started the next drive by hitting Jackson deep down the left sideline for what would have been a 53-yard completion, if not for the holding call that brought it back. The Bucs still moved the chains when Howard caught an underneath pass on second-and-17 and got close to the marker, at which point a late hit by Johnson tacked on 15 more. Martin got the ball down to the Buffalo 30 with a 17-yard catch-and-run, and a quick post to Evans gained 23 more for a first down at the seven. On first-and-goal, Winston faked a handoff going right and then looked back left to Howard for an easy seven-yard score.
The Bucs' defense followed with the three-and-out the visitors desperately needed, helped out by an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty on Buffalo, their first flag of the game against the Bills. Noah Spence and Kendell Beckwith had successive tackles-for-loss on McCoy, forcing a Buffalo punt from their own eight. A holding penalty on the Bucs' return team lessened the field position advantage, with the offense taking over again at its own 36.
The Bucs got the ball over midfield but punted after just missing on another deep shot to Jackson. The ball went into the end for a touchback. Tampa Bay's defense got the Bills into a third-and-14 but Taylor kept the play alive long enough for O'Leary to get wide open on the left sideline. The result was a 32-yard gain to the Bucs' 32 on the last play of the third quarter. The Bucs' defense held at the point but the Bills still pushed their lead to seven points with Hauschka's 52-yard field goal.
The Bucs tied it up at 20-20 with a second consecutive long touchdown drive. Evans caught two passes for 30 yards on the drive and Brate held on to a key 13-yarder in traffic on third-and-12. The drive ended in thrilling fashion, as Howard snuck through the defense on another misdirection play and was wide open for a 33-yard score.
Buffalo immediately got to midfield on a 23-yard catch by Thompson but the Bucs' secured their first takeaway of the game on the next play. David forced the fumble by McCoy on a run to the left and alertly fell on it for the recovery at the Bucs' 46.
The Bucs turned that takeaway into the go-ahead points. Brate made another key third-down catch in traffic, falling backwards for a first down at the 17. Two ineffective Martin runs left the Bucs in a third-and-10, and Buffalo used its second timeout before the next snap. An encroachment penalty on DT Marcell Dareus gifted the Bucs half of that needed yardage, after which Winston scrambled and threw a sideline dart to Evans, who dragged his feet for the 12-yard touchdown.