Bucs Demolish Bears for Best Start in Franchise History
Mike Evans caught three touchdown passes as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismantled the Chicago Bears, 38-3, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to improve to 6-1 for the first time in franchise history.
Evans scored on receptions of nine, two and eight yards, accounting for most of Tom Brady's four touchdown tosses as the Buccaneers raced out to a 35-3 lead, marking the most points the team has ever scored in the first half of a game. It equaled the franchise record for points in any half, matching the 35 scored in the second half of a 42-32 win at Oakland on Nov. 4, 2012. Two goal-line stands by the Bears' defense on consecutive second-half drives kept Tampa Bay from running it up even more. Even so, the 35-point ties for the fourth-largest margin of victory in team annals.
"So many guys played great tonight," said Brady. "The running backs played great, the line played phenomenal, anytime you have almost 200 yards rushing. The defense was incredible. The receivers did a good job. I just wish I had a couple better throws ,but other than that but other than that it was a great win."
The victory gave the Bucs a two-game cushion in the NFC South over the 3-2 New Orleans Saints, who play at Seattle on Monday night. It's also the first time in five tries that the Buccaneers have turned a 5-1 start into a 6-1 record; the 1979, 1997, 2002 and 2005 teams all lost their seventh games after starting 5-1.
"It's a heck of a roster," said Head Coach Bruce Arians, who saw his defense keep Chicago out of the end zone despite missing three starters. "When you look at all of the guys who have not played the last three weeks and who stepped up, it's a credit to Jason [Licht], [John] Spytek, those guys, and giving us good players. But it's a hell of a job by the coaches coaching those guys in a week or two weeks and getting them ready to play against a really quality football team. I think it speaks volume. I wish and hope we get a bunch of guys back if not this week, for sure two weeks."
Brady completed 20 of 36 passes for 211 yards, the four touchdowns and no interceptions. He was not sacked and was hit only once by a Bears defense that came into the game tied for the league lead in sacks. Brady was also supported by a rushing attack that provided a season-high 182 yards, with both Leonard Fournette (81), and Ronald Jones (63) topping 60 yards. Fournette also scored the game's first points on a two-yard run at the end of the Bucs' first drive, but it was Evans who provided most of the plays in the painted grass. He finished with six catches for 76 yards and moved to within two touchdowns of Mike Alstott's franchise record of 71.
"He just does a great job," said Brady of Evans. "He's an incredible receiver. He's so gifted in every way – he's quick, he's tough, he's strong, he's physical. He just does an incredible job for us. Out there every day in practice he's doing everything he can to help the team win."
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense had its best game of the 2021 season, making life miserable for Bears rookie QB Justin Fields in his fifth career start. The Bucs recorded a season-best five takeaways, including interceptions by Dee Delaney, Pierre Desir and Jordan Whitehead and strip-sacks by Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul that were recovered by Vita Vea and Barrett, respectively. Delaney's pick in his first career NFL start led to Brady's four-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin in the first quarter. Desir also had his first interception as a Buccaneer in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay's banged-up secondary also lost Delaney and Jamel Dean to injuries during the game.
Arians gave Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles a lot of credit for continuing to successfully scheme around the new players that are being asked to step up on defense.
"It's not like we're just playing one coverage," said Arians. "Todd is putting in a hell of a plan where we have pressure, mixing up our coverages, our safeties are doing a really good job of disguising and those corners have stepped up and played. Rashard [Robinson] went in and played good. Pierre goes in and has an interception. Dee has an interception. That is really good coaching. I have to give Todd a ton of credit for that."
Tampa Bay's defense put constant pressure on Fields to hold the young passer to 168 net passing yards. Jason Pierre-Paul, who played despite not practicing all week due to a shoulder injury, had his first two full sacks of 2021, half of the team's total. Barrett and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., just back from a two-game absence due to a concussion, had the other two, both of them forcing fumbles.
"I'm just out there giving it my all for my teammates," said Pierre-Paul, who also played with a large club on his right hand due to a broken finger. "That's just the beauty of it, when you actually win the game and you had a good game. We know we can do. Coach Bowles is always screaming we can do more. I just know we can do more."
The Buccaneers came into the game averaging almost exactly twice as many points per game as the Bears, who probably needed a low-scoring game to duplicate their 20-19 win over the eventual champions last October. The Bucs famously hurt themselves in that Week Five loss, committing 13 penalties and multiple mental errors. The same was not true on Sunday, as the Buccaneers were flagged just one time and had only one turnover on a fumble by Jones on a failed fourth-and-goal dive that would have ended the drive anyway.
"Again, this game last year was kind of the ear mark for that and it's on the players," said Arians. "We talk about, talk about it, we talk about it. We show the players the tapes and it's on them and I thought today it looked like we played really clean football – hard, physical football."
The Buccaneers got fast starts in all three phases of the game and had a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game despite kicking off to start the contest. Winfield's blindside sack of Fields caused a fumble that the Bears recovered, but Chicago couldn't overcome that setback and had to punt. Punter Pat O'Donnell hit a low 50-yard punt that Darden caught at the Bucs' 25 and returned 43 yards, with O'Donnell angling him out of bounds at the Bears' 32. A pass-interference flag drawn by Chris Godwin got the ball down to the 17 and two Fournette runs got it in from there, with the back finally scoring from two yards out.
Herbert swept around right end on the first play of the next drive and rumbled for 29 yards to get across midfield. That was as far as the Bears got on their second possession, however, with White's chase of Fields on first down forcing a one-yard scramble and TE Cole Kmet dropping a third-down pass.
Chicago's defense got the ball right back, though, after a second-down incompletion that looked like miscommunication between Brady and Evans and a third-down screen to Giovani Bernard that Roquan Smith sniffed out and turned into a four-yard loss. However, Tampa Bay's defense turned the tables just as quickly, flushing Fields out to the right and forcing an errant throw that Delaney intercepted downfield at the Bucs' 34. Delaney took his first career interception back 26 yards to Chicago's 40.
An impressive 21-yard catch down the middle in traffic by Godwin got the ball inside the nine. On third-and-goal from the four, Brady looked for Godwin again and found him in the back of the end zone for the game's second touchdown.
Chicago's second drive ended in a turnover, as well, with Barrett getting around the right tackle and swatting Fields's arm as he cocked to throw. Vita Vea fell on it for Tampa Bay at the Bears' 35. Jones ripped off a 12-yard run up the middle from there. Three plays later, on third-and-seven from the nine, Brady fired a quick pass to Evans out of the right slot and Evans bashed his way into the end zone to give the Bucs a 21-0 lead with six seconds left in the opening quarter.
The two teams then exchanged punts to start the second quarter, then the Bucs' defense recorded the game's third takeaway. This time it was Pierre-Paul strip-sacking the ball from Fields, with Barrett recovering. However, the Bucs didn't move the ball from the Bears' 25 after that, with three straight incompletions and Succop then pushed his 43-yard field goal try wide right.
The Bears went into a hurry-up on the ensuing drive and got 17 yards on a Darnell Mooney catch and 13 yards on a Herbert run on the first two plays. Two plays later, Herbert bashed his way over left tackle for another 12 yards to the Bucs' 20. Chicago earned a first down at the Bucs' 10 but didn't get any further thanks in part to a key stop for no gain on Herbert by Barrett. Cairo Santos put the Bears on the board with a 28-yard field goal.
An end-around to Darden got the Bucs 11 yards on the first play of their next possession, and a 10-yard strike to Godwin got the ball across midfield. On the next play, Godwin ran a go route down the left sideline and Brady dropped it into his breadbasket for a gain of 46 down to the Bears' two. Brady then rewarded Evans with a first-down back-shoulder fade that Evans caught for the score despite having CB Jaylon Johnson draped all over him.
The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half but stalled out near midfield and punted it away. The Bears took the ensuing drive into Tampa Bay territory on catches of 22 yards by Mooney and 20 by Herbert but this possession also ended in a turnover. On third-and-12 from the Bucs' 25, Fields tried to throw on the run but his pass deflected off Mooney and was snatched just off the turf by a diving Whitehead for the interception.
The Bucs turned that takeaway into a long drive that didn't end in points but did drain seven minutes off the clock. It was built mostly on the ground before stalling a yard short of the goal line. Jones had runs of 12 and 19 yards on consecutive plays and Fournette followed with jaunts of 12, nine and five yards to make it first-and-goal at the seven. However, Jones attempted dives into the end zone on third and fourth down were turned back and the Bears took over on downs at their own two with 19 seconds left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay got the ball back just two plays later. After a Herbert run lost a yard back to the one, Fields tried to go deep down the right sideline to Allen Robinson but it was underthrown and easily intercepted by Desir at the Chicago 37. Two snaps later, Brady went down the middle to Godwin, who fought his way towards the end zone but was dragged down a yard short. Once again the Bucs failed to punch it across, though, settling for Succop's 22-yard field goal and a 38-3 lead.
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 25 October 2021