Brady, Bucs continue struggles vs. AFC in blowing big lead to Bengals
TAMPA, Fla. — How could things turn so terribly bad for the Buccaneers?
Up 17-0 just before halftime, the Bucs saw the Bengals score 34 straight points, with Tom Brady committing four turnovers in a span of 11 offensive plays, leading to a disastrous 34-23 loss to Cincinnati at Raymond James Stadium. The Bengals (10-4) have now won six in a row.
The Bucs finish the season 0-5 against AFC opponents, and the loss drops them to 6-8 with three games to play. They’re still in first place in the NFC South, thanks to the Panthers and Falcons both losing as well on Sunday, and they still control their destiny in terms of winning a division title.
The Bucs led 17-0 just before halftime and looked to be in complete control of the game, outgaining the Bengals by a 261-36 margin. Brady had thrown for 194 yards and two touchdowns and the Bucs defense had a takeaway and hadn’t given up a third-down conversion the entire game.
The Bengals got a field goal before halftime, and then a special-teams gaffe and four turnovers led to 24 points for Cincinnati. On what looked like a fake punt, the ball was snapped to up-back Giovani Bernard, but he didn’t seem to expect it and the ball went off the side of his helmet for a turnover on downs. Even then, the Bucs defense held Cincinnati to a field goal, preserving a 17-6 lead.
Then Brady threw an interception to corner Tre Flowers, and two defensive penalties extended Cincinnati’s drive, which ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Tee Higgins. Next drive, Brady was sacked and fumbled, with the Bengals recovering at the Bucs’ 13-yard line, setting up a Burrow touchdown to Tyler Boyd. Burrow also hit on the two-point conversion to Higgins for a 20-17 lead.
Another possession, another turnover for the Bucs, who saw a fumbled handoff from Brady to Leonard Fournette, again recovered by the Bengals and converted for a touchdown. This time it was two conversions on third-and-8 or longer, setting up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase for a 27-17 lead.
Next drive, same thing, as Brady was hit as he threw and the pass was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt, this one not leading to any Bengals points.
Brady committed as many turnovers in the second half Sunday as he had totaled in the first 11 games of this season. In the last three games, he’s had seven, escalating from one interception in the win against the Saints to two in the loss to the 49ers and two picks and two fumbles lost in Sunday’s defeat.
The Bucs defense, which had played well despite short fields well into the third quarter, couldn’t get a stop late. Needing two scores, the Bucs defense saw the Bengals get the ball with 9:18 left and run it all the way to 2:21, with a fourth Burrow touchdown pass to tight end Mitchell Wilcox.
As disappointing as the Bucs’ loss was, they still lead the NFC South, because the Panthers and Falcons also lost earlier Sunday, joining the Saints at 5-9, all three a game back of the Bucs. Tampa Bay is still in control of their playoff future, needing a win vs. Carolina in two weeks and one other win (or Panthers and Falcons losses) to clinch the division title, even with a losing record.
The Bucs are thankfully done with the AFC, and now go to Arizona on Christmas Day, one game ahead of the other three teams in the division. All they need is a win against Carolina on Jan. 1 and one other win or losses by the Panthers and Falcons to clinch the division title.
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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