Cleveland staged a second half comeback to force OT
With less than two minutes to go in the overtime period, Chandler Catanzaro connected on a 59 yard field goal. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns fought a battle of attrition all afternoon on Sunday, complete with sloppy football on both sides and enough missed opportunities that even the winning team will be kicking themselves. The 26-23 win brings the Buccaneers to an even 3-3.
After the best defensive half of football the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played in the 2018 NFL season, the Buccaneers may have been tricked into believing a two score lead at halftime was a comfortable one. It turned out to be anything but, as a late surge by the Cleveland Browns and a couple of missed kicks by Chandler Catanzaro forced overtime and a poor decision by Jameis Winston in the overtime period set up a Cleveland drive that could have won them the game but resulted in a punt. The defense stepped up again on that series to force a punt, and Catanzaro hit his field goal on what was almost certainly the last possession the Bucs could have had in the game.
Lingering Summer heat started to break on Sunday, leading to an almost unfairly pleasant morning for tailgaters. It was one of those postcard-worthy Florida days, without a cloud in the sky and a pleasant breeze as temperatures climbed into the mid-80s. Earlier in the week, it had seemed like a heat wave might stay in the area through Sunday, making for a particularly tough football atmosphere, but in the end the conditions could hardly be better in a dome.
Tampa Bay’s defense came out strong, their best showing early on in any game this season by a considerable margin. The difference appeared to be preparation. For the first time this season, the Buccaneers looked like they knew what to expect of their opponent, good and bad. While the problem on the outside looked like it would be multi-faceted, and of course in reality it is, simply being better prepared went a long way for Tampa Bay in the early going on Sunday. In the first quarter, Cleveland passed the 50 yard line just once. A sack by Jason Pierre Paul took the Browns back behind the 50 on that opening drive. From there, the Browns’ offense stalled against a Bucs defense that looked considerably better with Mark Duffner trying to catch up to his new DC position on the fly.
The defense continued their run in the second quarter, holding the Browns scoreless in the first half on offense while forcing a critical turnover on downs with Cleveland inside the Red Zone. By halftime, Cleveland had amassed just 74 yards of offense overall, a staggering turnaround for a Buccaneers’ defense that looked outclassed by every opponent coming into Sunday.
The Browns’ turnover on downs late in the first half is a demonstration of how good Lavonte David is at this game called football. The outside linebacker, one of the NFL’s most undervalued assets, forced a fumble when rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield tried to scramble on fourth and two. The ball bounced out of bounds short of the line to gain, giving Tampa Bay the football back.
This had the added benefit of giving the Bucs’ offense time to get going. The Buccaneers mustered just three points in the first quarter on Sunday, with the Browns clearly putting an emphasis on covering Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, but those three were still enough to lead the game.
Cleveland’s two first half points came on the Buccaneers’ first drive of the game, a series that started inside their own one yard line. Tampa Bay attempted two run plays, both of which went for a loss and the second for a safety.
Offensively, the Buccaneers were a mixed bag in the first half. Jameis Winston looked sharp at times, but he remains a “gunslinger,” which is a nice way of saying that he doesn’t mind an interception here and there. A pass forced up the middle in the Cleveland end, close to field goal range, went the other way and gave the Browns the ball back. The Buccaneers did score two second quarter touchdowns, one aided by two Browns penalties inside the Red Zone that led to first downs for Tampa Bay and one where the Buccaneers’ offense just clicked.
Tampa Bay stalled a bit offensively in the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Cleveland forced a fumble from Jameis Winston that the Browns’ offense converted into a touchdown to bring the score to 16-9.
The Browns showed very early in the second half that they had made some crucial adjustments to their game after a first half where they found themselves down fourteen. The blitz and pass rush became a bigger part of their defense as they learned they could force Jameis Winston into bad habits, and on offense they challenged Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks to keep up with a fast-moving offense.
The Bucs responded with a touchdown late in the third, set up by a fantastic catch on the part of O.J. Howard. From there, the game livened up quite a bit. The Browns followed the Bucs’ touchdown drive with a 75 yard touchdown drive of their own to make it a one-score game once again. With Tampa Bay ahead 23-16, it became clear how much both teams needed this win. The Browns had let a few games slip through their fingers already, and at 2-3 the Bucs could ill-afford to fall deeper in the hole in such a tough division.
Cleveland was struggling on offense, but rookie running back Nick Chubb was not. The Browns’ back had little trouble getting through the Tampa Bay defensive line and out into space on Sunday, helping keep the Browns in the game with big runs that sparked the offense.
Of course, offense isn’t the only thing. Cleveland used a third quarter turnover to spark their first touchdown. Down 23-16, they got a tremendous punt return to set up a game-tying score in the fourth quarter.
This left the ball in Jameis Winston’s hand. Tampa Bay had the ball at the two minute warning with room to work with and all of their timeouts. For a team that came out of the gate with three fantastic passing performances, the Buccaneers were going to need their aerial attack to close this one out and bring them to 3-3. They also had to be cautious, however, as Cleveland still had two timeouts remaining of their own. This is a problem for a team that cannot rely on the running game to get first downs.
The difference on this final drive was that Jameis Winston took only what he was given by the Browns. He moved around in the pocket to extend plays, and avoided throwing the football to anyone but a clearly open target. With 45 seconds remaining, suddenly the Buccaneers were at the Cleveland 24 after a Cameron Brate catch was upheld on replay. Chandler Catanzaro came out two plays later to attempt a game-winning field goal. He missed, sending the game to overtime.
McCoy, Curry sit out
The Buccaneers’ defense, a point of scorn for fans and critics throughout the early season, had its work cut out for it when both Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry sat out with injuries. This put a particular focus on rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea, the Bucs’ first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Getting pressure on rookie Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield would be paramount on Sunday, and lacking two effective defensive linemen made that work considerably harder.
Tampa Bay did in fact struggle to get to Baker Mayfield on Sunday, with Cleveland’s rookie quarterback finding more time than in recent weeks. Tampa Bay did manage to sack Mayfield four times on Sunday, but those sacks came in short bursts.
Jameis Winston continued to be the focal point of discussion in the buildup to the game, but there was little new about his performance on Sunday. His first half interception had a lot in common with interceptions the quarterback has been known to throw in the past. An early attempt at a deep ball to DeSean Jackson down the sideline resulted in an overthrow. The passer was without a touchdown pass on the afternoon, but
Winston led the Buccaneers in rushing yards on the day, which speaks volumes about his ability to keep a play going with his feet as well as the Buccaneers’ inability to consistently gain yards on the ground.
Up Next For Bucs
The Bucs go back out on the road for week eight, playing a Cincinnati Bengals team that looks like one of the best squads in the AFC in the first half of this season. Cincinnati is showing why many people around the NFL believe that patience with a coach pays off, even if the results aren’t there right away. Marvin Lewis has been in Cincinnati for fifteen years, and while a number of teams would have let him go for a lack of playoff victories the Bengals have stuck by their man in the headset.