Buccaneers Lose Under the Lights
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 6 October 2017

It was supposed to be a high-scoring prime-time show, but instead it was a defensive struggle that came down to the final play, as the New England Patriots broke up a last-second pass at the goal-line to hold on to a 19-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Each team did manage to crack 400 yards by the end of the game, but two of the league's top-10 offenses failed to find any consistent rhythm and the Patriots essentially won with a superior kicking game. New England's Stephen Gostkowski nailed all four of his field goal tries, including two from beyond 40 yards, while the Buccaneers' Nick Folk went zero-for-three.

The first of Folk's tries was a low-percentage 56-yard attempt at the end of the first half, but the Bucs had to scramble after he misfired on 49 and 31-yard tries in the fourth quarter. Jameis Winston hit TE Cameron Brate on an 18-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes to play but a last-minute desperation drive came up empty when Winston's pass from New England's 19 was broken up before it could reach rookie TE O.J. Howard.

"The defense was unbelievable tonight, going up against one of the best offenses, gave up one touchdown, forced a ton of punts, opened the game with an interception," said Brate. "They played unbelievable and it just wasn't our night on offense. We'll watch the film, learn from it and hopefully be better next week."

The return of Doug Martin, who ran 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown, gave the Buccaneers' offense a boost. However, four days after throwing for 328 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants, Winston was less effective against a Patriots' defense that had allowed nearly 460 yards and 32 points per game during the season's first month. He rallied the team in the fourth quarter and ended up throwing for 334 yards, but Tampa Bay's offense converted on just four of 13 third-down tries, with no conversions in the first half.

"It just comes down to winning one-on-one matchups," said Brate. "We struggled on third down, and that's something we really work on, really emphasize in practice. We've got to be better in executing. We had the right play calls and everything…we just need to be better next week."

WR DeSean Jackson was particularly effective during the Bucs' comeback scramble in the fourth quarter, finishing with five receptions for 106 yards. Brate, Evans and Charles Sims all had five catches each and Adam Humphries had 51 yards on his three grabs. Still, it didn't translate into enough points and the Bucs fell to 2-2 on the season. After a "mini-bye" following the Thursday night effort, the team will try to get back over .500 on a trip to Arizona in Week Six.

"This is what we've earned at this point," said defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who had one of the Buccaneers' three sacks of Patriots QB Tom Brady. "If we want to earn a better ranking in the playoff race, we've got to do our job. We know the only way we're going to get respect is to win games. The only way we're going to be the team we want to be is to win games. So we take this is a lesson, a stepping stool, and we've got to go out next week and do better."

Tampa Bay's defense, once again playing without starting linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, limited Brady and the Patriots to a season-low 19 points, and a four-of-12 success rate on third downs. Rookie safety Justin Evans, starting in place of the injured Keith Tandy, secured his first career interception, ending a streak of 264 straight passes without a pick for Brady. Defensive tackles Clinton McDonald and Gerald McCoy each had a sack and linebacker Adarius Glanton forced a fumble that Will Clarke recovered with a well-timed second-half blitz.

Still, the Bucs hoped to do even better against the Patriots' high-powered attack. "I'll put it to you like this: We win as a team, we lose as a team," said McDonald. "We made some strides on the defensive side of the ball but we've still got to be able to close it out. We've got to get more turnovers, we've got to get more sacks. That's the standard of play that we want to be recognized for."

Brady came out hot, firing a succession of short completions to get the Patriots close to midfield. However, a play-action first-down pass over the middle that was intended for Hogan sailed deep to Evans, who made an athletic diving catch for the interception at the Bucs' 38. Winston immediately completed a 10-yard pass to Evans but the drive stalled after that and the Bucs had to punt away.

An exchange of punts followed, leading to a net gain in field position for the Buccaneers, as New England started its third drive at its own two-yard line. However, the Patriots marched most of the field from that starting point for the game's first score, a 27-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Hogan converted an early third down with a superb catch of a throw behind him, and Brady followed with a 17-yard completion to Cooks after avoiding a sack. McDonald later dropped Brady for the game's first sack but a defensive holding call and Dion Lewis's 31-yard run put the Patriots in position to score.

The Bucs went nowhere with their next possession but a third-down sack by McCoy gave it right back to Tampa Bay's offense at the home team's 32-yard line. Winston drove the Buccaneers to the go-ahead touchdown from there, with a big assist from Martin. Winston had key completions to Cameron Brate and Chris Godwin on the march, but it was Martin's five carries for 48 yards, including a one-yard dive over the top into the end zone, that keyed the drive.

The Patriots countered with their first touchdown drive, which was powered by two White catches for a total of 42 yards. Brady finished it with a five-yard touchdown pass to Hogan with 3:42 left in the half. To make matters worse, the Buccaneers gave the Patriots another scoring opportunity before halftime by going three-and-out and giving up a long punt return by Amendola. New England got the ball back at the Bucs' 27 just before the two-minute warning. Brady got the Patriots inside the Bucs' 10-yard line with a third-down completion to Amendola but he was forced to scramble to no effect on third-and-goal. Gostkowski drove a 23-yard field goal home to make it 13-7 with 40 seconds left in the half.

The Buccaneers got the ball first to start the second half but a promising deep shot to Jackson fell incomplete. A deep punt by Anger forced New England to start at its own six-yard line to start the visitor's first drive, but a deep pass to Cooks got the ball over midfield just two plays alter. A near interception by Evans and a third-down pass deflection by McCoy forced the Patriots to settle for Gostkowski's 45-yard field goal and a 16-7 lead.

The Buccaneers' defense got the ball back for Winston late in the third quarter on the game's second takeaway. Glanton timed a blitz perfectly and sacked Brady, forcing a fumble that DE Will Clarke recovered at the Bucs' 47. The Bucs' first third-down conversion of the game followed three plays later on a sharp slant to Cam Brate. However, the drive died at the Patriots' 31-yard line and Folk missed his 49-yard field goal attempt.

After a Patriots' punt, the Bucs were pinned at their own three-yard line. However, a third-and-two quick slant to Jackson unlocked the speedy receiver's big-play potential, producing a 41-yard gain to the New England 48. Three plays later, a well-designed screen to Rodgers picked up 13, and a 15-yard rollout pass to Evans made it first-and-goal at the nine. A hands-to-the-face penalty erased a Winston touchdown run and the Bucs settled for Folk's 31-yard field goal try. He pulled it to the left, leaving the Bucs down by nine with 5:36 to play.

The Buccaneers got the ball back and drove for another score, this one capped by Brate's 18-yard catch between two defenders in the end zone with 2:09 to play. Winston's scrambling third-down completion to Jackson, who tapped two toes on the sideline, picked up 29 yards to set up the score.

Tampa Bay tried an onside kick after that touchdown but failed to recover the ball. The Patriots used that field position to tack on one more Gostkowski field goal, leaving the Bucs with less than a minute left to try to drive 75 yards for a winning touchdown, without the benefit of a timeout. Winston completed passes of 24 yards to Jackson, 20 to Humphries and 17 to Brate but a last second shot intended for Howard was broken up at the goal line.