Bucs Fall Short in Comeback Against Champs, Lose Second in a Row
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs met in game featuring two of the NFL's six highest-scoring teams on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. But it takes two teams to make a shootout and the Buccaneers simply waited too long to return fire. Despite a second-half rally, the Buccaneers fell, 27-24, in a game that featured a combined 960 yards of offense between the two teams.

Instead, the game became more like target practice for Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, at least during a dizzying first quarter, and in particular he was looking to one very fast target in WR Tyreek Hill. Hill scored on touchdowns of 75 and 44 yards in the first quarter and by the end of the opening period had already piled up 203 receiving yards.

At the same time, Tom Brady and Tampa Bay's offense had produced just 44 yards and one first down, with no third-down conversions in four tries. The Bucs finished three of nine on third downs, which was a big factor in the team falling behind early.

"We just missed on third down," said Arians. "We had very, very manageable third downs. They did a really good job in their blitz package and we didn't handle it as an offense. There are times when we look really, really good and are really in sync, when we're converting third downs. And that's huge. Most of them have been seven or less, where we've been pretty good most of the season. Early in the game, for whatever reason, we're not making the plays. We're not getting open, we're not protecting, we're just not making enough plays."

Hill scored again midway through the third quarter on a 20-yard catch and went on to record 13 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns. His third touchdown halted a bit of momentum the Buccaneers had built with a William Gholston fumble recovery and a 37-yard Ronald Jones II touchdown catch near the end of the first half, followed by a field goal drive to open the second half. CB Carlton Davis was the closest Buc defender in coverage on all three scores.

"He had him man-to-man," said Arians of Davis covering Hill. "We tried to get a safety out there when we could, but you've got Kelce on the other side, too. It's a lot of weapons, but when we did play man-to-man Patrick found him and they made some really good plays."

The Buccaneers did drive into scoring range two more times in the third quarter after falling into a 27-10 deficit, but both ended in interceptions. Brady and the Bucs kept fighting and two touchdown catches by Mike Evans narrowed the gap on the scoreboard to three points with four minutes remaining. However, Mahomes ran for a pair of first downs and the Chiefs were able to run out the rest of the clock without Brady getting another shot at a game-tying or winning drive.

"We battled back," said Brady. "Unfortunately, we left ourself a big deficit to start, got off to a slow start, couldn't convert any third downs. [It was] just poor execution early and [we] get behind. Players have got to do a better job; we've got to make the plays that are there. And certainly when you play a good offense, offensively we've got to do our job and stay on the field, and keep them off the field."

Tampa Bay lost consecutive games for the first time in 2020 and dropped to 7-5 overall, coincidentally falling by the exact same score to two playoff contenders, the Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs will now enjoy their long-awaited bye next week before returning four a four-game run to the end of the regular season, with two meetings with the Atlanta Falcons and one each against Detroit and Minnesota. The Chiefs, who are looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, improved to 10-1.

The game was the fourth meeting between six-time Super Bowl champion Brady and his heir apparent as the NFL's greatest quarterback, and he and Mahomes have now split those four contests. Mahomes finished with 462 yards and three touchdowns on 37 of 49 passing. The Buccaneers' offense struggled in the early going but Brady went on to throw for 345 yards and three touchdowns of his own, with a pair of interceptions and 27 completions in 41 attempts.

Most encouragingly, the Buccaneers found some downfield success in the passing game after struggling with the deep ball in recent weeks. Rob Gronkowski, Ronald Jones, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans all had catches of more than 30 yards.

"We hit a bunch of them," said Arians. "There was one short for a long run. I thought we executed. We didn't get quite enough explosives. We got a bunch but when you're playing this team we needed about two or three more explosives to shorten that field and get points."

Gronkowski, in fact, had his biggest game yet as a Buccaneer, trading chain-moving plays with Kansas City's Travis Kelce, the NFL's leading pass-catcher among tight ends. Gronkowski finished with six catches and 106 yards for his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer, while Kelce had eight grabs for 82 yards. Meanwhile Jones produced 103 yards from scrimmage, including a 37-yard touchdown catch and a 34-yard run.

Still, Mahomes' crew, which came into the game with a league-best average of 32.1 points per game, was simply more potent on this evening than the Bucs' attack, which had averaged 29.1 points per outing through the first 11 weeks of the season. Mahomes had wide-open pass-catchers much more commonly than did Brady, who was often throwing to contested targets in the first half. Tampa Bay's offense picked things up considerably after halftime, with 286 of their 417 total yards coming in the second half.

The Buccaneers also struggled with penalties in Week 12, an early-season issue they had seemed to overcome with fewer than three flags per game over the previous six contests. Mahomes induced the defenders up front to jump into three encroachment or offside calls, one of which erased an interception in Chiefs territory by S Jordan Whitehead in the fourth quarter.

Midway through the fourth quarter, another interception by CB Sean Murphy-Bunting was snuffed by roughing-the-passer call that left OLB Jason Pierre-Paul incensed. It was Pierre-Paul's hit on Mahomes during the throw that led to the off-target downfield pass. The Bucs were flagged eight times for 57 yards in the game. Conversely, Tampa Bay's final touchdown drive, which made it a three-point game with four minutes to play, was aided by a pair of roughing-the-passer calls on Chiefs DE Frank Clark.

"It is frustrating, because we do harp on it in practice and then we go out there and just forget about it," said outside linebacker Shaq Barrett. "Everybody wants to hard-count us because we jump offsides a lot. We look like an undisciplined football team. I hate being undisciplined, but in order for us to get past that label we've got to go out and just watch when the ball moves. With the hard counts, we're undisciplined right now."

While Mahomes and Hill stung the Bucs' defense with big plays, Tampa Bay did perform well in the red zone, which they believed would be one of the keys to limiting the Chiefs' scoring output. Kansas City took three drives into the red zone and came away with two field goals and one fumble. The biggest red zone play was turned in by Barrett, who sacked Mahomes late in the second quarter, forcing a fumble that Will Gholston recovered. The Buccaneers' offense took the ensuing drive the length of the field for a touchdown.

"I thought they did a great job, especially that first one on the triple-reverse," said Arians. "Carlton knocks the ball. That's what we knew it was going to take. We had to hold them to field goals and not give up touchdowns. We gave up the two long touchdowns but I thought we played really good red zone defense."

Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 30 November 2020