The big news out of Tampa Bay this week was the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Smith. After seeing their defense fall to the bottom of the NFL in points and yards allowed, the Buccaneers made a change. They showed Smith the door while promoting linebackers coach Mark Duffner to defensive coordinator. With Duffner in charge, the defense came out against the Cleveland Browns aggressive and determined to right the ship.
The Bucs’ defense forced the Browns to punt on their first six possessions of the game. While plenty of folks wondered aloud if Duffner’s sudden promotion would make a difference, the Bucs’ effort in the first half showed that it did. Tampa Bay’s defense, which entered Sunday’s game allowing 35 points a contest, allowed zero in the first half.
First half dominance for Tampa Bay.
After forcing a Browns punt on the first possession of the game, a great special teams play by Cleveland gave the Bucs the ball at the one-yard line. The Buccaneers played it conservative and tried to tun up the middle with Peyton Barber two plays in a row. Barber was able to get the ball back to the one on first down. However, the Browns blitzed on second down, leading to a safety and a 2-0 Cleveland lead.
The Buccaneers’ offense found their rhythm on the next series, moving the ball down the field and kicking a field goal, giving them a 3-2 lead. Tampa Bay’s offense scored touchdowns on their next two drives. One of them occurred from a beautiful end-around by DeSean Jackson from 11 yards out. The two touchdown drives gave the Bucs a 16-2 lead after a missed extra point.
The Browns’ defense settled down after falling behind, and they started to give the Bucs serious trouble. Jameis Winston threw a pass over the middle just a little too low and Christian Kirksey came up with a big interception. Following another Browns punt, Cameron Brate fumbled on the next Buccaneer possession, setting up the Browns with great field position. However, Cleveland failed to convert after quarterback Baker Mayfield fumbled the ball out of bounds on a fourth-down attempt. After the turnover on downs, the Bucs simply took a knee, taking a 16-2 lead to halftime.
Second half struggles for the Bucs.
For all the success the Buccaneers had in the first half, it did not translate to the second half. Tampa Bay received the ball first, and on the second play of the drive, Winston got sacked and lost the ball. Cleveland, now in excellent field position, got their first points on offense when Mayfield found tight end David Njoku for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
After a possession by both teams ended in a punt, the Buccaneers extended their lead on a Ronald Jones touchdown run, the first of his NFL career. After that touchdown, the Bucs wouldn’t find the end zone again. The Browns finally found their rhythm on offense, scoring the next two touchdowns of the game. The first came on a one-yard run by Nick Chubb. The second happened when Mayfield found Jarvis Landry for a score, tying the game 23-23. All of a sudden, that missed extra point by Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro was really important.
Winston ran the offense well in the two-minute drill, getting the ball down to Cleveland’s 22-yard-line. Catanzaro was called upon to kick a game-winning 40-yard field goal and he missed it, sending the game to overtime.
Redemption in overtime.
Overtime, for lack of a better word, was a mess. The Browns got the ball first and punted. The Bucs took the ball and Winston threw into heavy traffic, paying for it with an interception. With the game on the line and the Browns in good field position, the much-maligned defense came up big and got to Mayfield on third down.
After getting the ball back, the Buccaneers were forced to punt again. During the return, Jabril Peppers fumbled the football and the Bucs recovered. Starting at the Cleveland 48, the offense only had to move the ball into field goal range to try and win the game. In their next six plays, the Bucs only managed to move the ball 7 yards. Setting up Catanzaro for a 59-yard attempt, he nailed it to the surprise of everyone, including Mayfield, who stood stunned on the sideline. The Buccaneers pulled through in the end to win a close one in overtime 26-23, improving their record to 3-3.
The Buccaneers head up to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in a 1 pm kickoff next Sunday.
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