TAMPA - Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant just missed a game-tying, 29-yard field goal attempt with 2:51 left in the game that allowed the visiting Chicago Bears to beat the Buccaneers 13-10 in a close, hard-fought, battle of 7-3 teams sporting top 5 defenses.
But Tampa Bay's day was full of "just misses" aside from Bryant's kick, and those missed opportunities directly contributed to a loss that dropped the Buccaneers' record to 7-4 on the season and put them a game behind NFC South-leading Carolina.
Chicago was able to jump out to an early, 7-0 lead with 11:50 remaining in the first quarter when defensive end Alex Brown sacked Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms and forced a fumble at the Bucs' 1-yard line on third-and-8. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris recovered for the Bears, who scored a touchdown on the following play when Kyle Orton hit tight end John Gilmore in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
According to Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, the Bears cashed in on their opportunity after their lone turnover, while Tampa Bay was unable to generate such fortune.
"That was the storyline of the day if you are asking me," Gruden said. "We had a fumble of our own and they capitalized. We were unable to make a couple of opportunities work for us. I thought our defense played good - at times very good. It's unfortunate, but that's the way the ball bounces."
Although Tampa Bay's defense held the Bears to just 239 yards of total offense and a 27 percent (4-of-15) conversion rate on third downs, they and the special teams units failed to generate many big plays and create more than one turnover, which was a Brian Kelly interception late in the second quarter. For example:
• Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber dropped an interception at the Bears' 20-yard line with 9:23 left in the first quarter.
• Bucs defensive end Dewayne White missed an easy sack of Orton inside the Bears' 5-yard line on the next play, and Orton was able to scramble for a first down on third-and-7.
• After passing up a 49-yard field goal attempt with 13:25 left in the second quarter, Josh Bidwell punted the ball deep in Chicago territory, but Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton failed to down a at the 1-yard line before stepping into the end zone, which resulted in a Bears touchback.
• At the 9:45 mark in the second quarter, Tampa Bay failed to recover an Orton fumble on the Bears' 45-yard line after it was jarred loose from the rookie quarterback's grasp when Simeon Rice sacked him from behind.
• Despite having two players in the near vicinity of the ball, the Bucs failed to recover Bobby Wade's fumbled punt return at the Chicago 25 with 5:56 remaining in the second quarter.
• With 2:09 left before halftime, Orton fumbled at the Bucs' 43, but Tampa Bay failed to recover the loose football.
Tampa Bay's offense was just as guilty of not making enough plays, but the unit was hindered by poor field position throughout most of the day.
"In a situation like that against a defense like that, field position is very important," Gruden said. "I don't know how many drives started inside our 10- or 12-yard line, but there were several."
In fact, nine of the Bucs' 13 possessions started inside of their own 30-yard line, with four of those drives beginning inside the 10-yard line. It's no coincidence that the two times the Bucs gained possession at their own 45 and at the 50, they were able to put 10 points on the board.
Tampa Bay's offensive line and tight ends battled hard against Chicago's stout front four, but still gave up two sacks apiece to Brown and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye - even in some maximum protection situations. Brown also deflected five passes at the line of scrimmage, including a couple on third down that contributed to the Bucs' woeful 2-of-17 (14 percent) conversion rate.
"They are as good as advertised," Simms said of Chicago's number one-ranked defense.
Still, despite those blown chances to make plays, the Bucs were in position to tie the score at 13-13 with less than three minutes remaining thanks to a solid drive by Simms and his teammates. After leading Tampa Bay on an 11-play, 50-yard touchdown drive on the previous series by completing 5-of-6 passes for 29 yards, Simms completed passes of 30 and 19 yards to Joey Galloway, who led all receivers with seven catches for 138 yards, to help set up a first-and-10 at the Chicago 19 with 3:43 left in regulation.
After a 2-yard run by Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who rushed for 84 yards on 20 carries, Simms hit Michael Pittman in the left flat for a 6-yard gain to set up a third-and-2 situation at the Chicago 11. But Simms had blitzing safety Mike Brown in his face as he threw the ball away in Mike Alstott's direction, which set up Bryant's miss to the right.
"He had a slight hamstring (strain) on the opening kickoff and we felt he could continue to kick," Gruden said of Bryant, who entered the game making 14-of-16 field goals, including a 45-yard game-winner at Atlanta last week. "After we scored to make it 13-10, he kicked the ball off extremely well. He just pushed it. He pushed it, but that's the way it goes.
"That was a tough one, but I'm proud of our team and proud of our guys. We played hard. It was a tremendous effort to come back and put ourselves in position."
After the Bears jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, Tampa Bay's first score came near the end of the first quarter at the end of a seven-play, 46-yard scoring march. The big play on the drive came on third-and-6 at the Tampa Bay 49 when Simms hit Galloway for a 39-yard pass down to the Chicago 11. However, a holding penalty on center John Wade backed up the Bucs to the 22 and set up a second-and-21 situation. Tampa Bay's drive would stall out at the 9-yard line and Bryant trotted out to make a 27-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 with 2:20 left in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay thwarted a potential Bears scoring opportunity late in the second quarter when Kelly intercepted Orton at the Tampa Bay 6 with 1:58 left in the first half. The pass was intended for Justin Gage.
But Chicago would capitalize on its last possession before halftime on a 40-yard, 10-play drive that started at the Tampa Bay 47 after a 46-yard punt by Bidwell. Orton connected with Gage on consecutive passes that picked up 7 and 5 yards and set the Bears up at the 35-yard line. A 13-yard pass to Mushin Muhammad got the ball down to the Bucs' 22. The Bears were initially stopped on third-and-10 from the 22, but a questionable hands-to-the-face penalty on Kelly against Muhammad gave Chicago a first down at the Tampa Bay 15. Tampa Bay's defense would deny Chicago a touchdown, but three plays later, Robbie Gould's 25-yard field goal was good and Chicago led 10-3 at halftime.
With the Buccaneers backed up on their own 9-yard line due to a penalty on the opening kickoff of the second half, Simms had his first pass of the third quarter tipped by Brown. Simms wound up catching the ball, but wound up losing three yards on the play. The tipped ball was Brown's third of the game at that point. He then tormented Simms yet again on third down when he beat Anthony Davis to record a sack and force a Tampa Bay punt.
Two possessions later, the Bears would increase their lead at the end of a 9-play, 65-yard scoring drive that was keyed by two big gains from running back Thomas Jones. On second-and-16 from the Bears' 11, Jones dashed left before finding a huge cutback lane to the right for a 19-yard gain. Three plays later on third-and-8 at the Chicago 32, Orton hit Jones on a perfectly executed screen pass that picked up 41 yards down to the Tampa Bay 27. But on third-and-1 at the Bucs 18, Tampa Bay's defense stuffed Jones for no gain. On the next play, Gould's 36-yard field goal was good, and Chicago led 13-3 with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay would rally late in the fourth quarter when Alstott's 1-yard touchdown plunge made the score 13-10 with 7:05 remaining. The Bucs would get the ball back two minutes later, but their 7-play, 58-yard drive would come up short with Bryant's missed 29-yard field goal attempt.
Tampa Bay begins a three-game road trip starting next Sunday when the Bucs travel to Baton Rouge, La. to play the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints.
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