Rather than a jolly good time in London, it was a bloody mess for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who suffered a slew of major injuries in addition to a 24-18 loss to Chicago.
Bucs starting running back Earnest Graham was lost for the game early in the first quarter when his right ankle stuck in the turf. It appears to be a serious injury. Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster, who has been dealing with an ankle sprain, re-injured his ankle and was replaced by Adam Hayward for the final three quarters .
In the second quarter, free safety Tanard Jackson, who picked off Jay Cutler in the first half, suffered a hamstring injury and did not return. In the second half, center Jeremy Zuttah, who was filling in for the injured Jeff Faine, suffered a knee injury when he took a helmet to his left knee and did not return.
Tampa Bay entered Sunday already with out starting RB LeGarrette Blount (knee) and DT Gerald McCoy (ankle). The Buccaneers once again found themselves having to rely on a fourth-quarter comeback to get back into an NFL International Series game against Chicago, but an early 16-point deficit proved to big to overcome Sunday night in London’s Wembley Stadium.
After twice keeping the Bears out of the end zone from inside their own 10, the Bucs were down 24-18 and had one final opportunity to drive the field for an improbable come-from-behind win. Quarterback Josh Freeman took over at the 1:50 left and quickly moved down to the Chicago 39 with completions of 15 and 18 yards to wide receivers Preston Parker and Mike Williams, respectively. Following two incompletions and facing third-and-10, though, Freeman and the Bucs’ comeback effort ended with an interception by Bears third-string CB D.J. Moore on a ball intended for Parker and thrown into double coverage.
The interception capped a mistake-riddled performance by Freeman, who finished 29-of-51 for 264 yards passing, two touchdowns and four INTs. Aside from playing from behind all day, the third-year quarterback was pressed into a larger role on Sunday when Graham left the game on the first play of Tampa Bay’s second offensive series. Graham, filling in for the second straight week for Blount, was hurt at the end of a 1-yard loss after receiving a swing pass from the backfield.
His injury left Tampa Bay with third-string Kregg Lumpkin as its only running back on the roster. Lumpkin ended the day with 15 yards on eight touches and Tampa Bay only attempted 11 rushes for 30 total yards.
Graham’s injury was just the beginning of an injury-plagued evening in London for Tampa Bay. In a matter of about two minutes following Graham’s injury, three Bucs players were slow to get up from the turf. Starting fullback Erik Lorig was shaken up on punt coverage, as was defensive tackle Brian Price on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage. Both eventually returned to the field, but the same could not be said for Jackson, Foster and Zuttah. All four, including Graham, left the game at some point and did not return, leaving the Tampa Bay coaching staff having to shuttle in multiple replacements.
Tampa Bay did itself no favors heading into the final game-winning effort just minutes earlier during the defense’s red-zone stands. Following the Bucs’ first third-down stop that came courtesy of cornerback Ronde Barber’s 6-yard sack of Bears QB Jay Cutler, cornerback Aqib Talib was whistled for a personal foul for sticking his hand in the facemask of wide receiver Roy Williams after the play. While the Bucs still limited Chicago to a 25-yard Robbie Gould field goal, the kick came after the two-minute warning instead of at the 3:36 mark.
Producing only 154 total yards of offense over the first the quarters of play, Tampa Bay put itself in position to possibly steal a victory by finally coming to life in the fourth. The comeback started when backup free safety Corey Lynch picked off Cutler and advanced to the Chicago 21 with 13:39 on the clock. The Bucs needed four plays to find the end zone, scoring on a 2-yard pass to tight end Kellen Winslow. Freeman failed to hook up with Williams on a two-point conversion but the Bucs now found themselves trailing 21-11 with plenty of time to play.
A Tampa Bay defense that was shredded on the ground for 177 yards responded on the Bears’ ensuing drive by stopping running backs Matt Forte (25 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown) and Marion Barber III (six carries for 39 yards and a touchdown) on three combined rush attempts. The Bucs then took advantage of more solid field position and drove 48 yards in six plays to further cut into Chicago’s lead with wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe’s 24-yard touchdown reception and 7:17 showing.
The emergence of Briscoe as one of Freeman’s favorite targets continued Sunday, getting 10 looks and catching six balls for 73 yards. Winslow was thrown to 12 times but only hauled in four of them for 25 yards. Freeman went to Williams 11 times and connected on six occasions for a team-high 75 yards receiving.
Tampa Bay’s inability to contain Forte and the Chicago running back was a persistent problem from the start on Sunday and helped allow the Bears to head into halftime up 14-5. The fourth-year back out of Tulane entered Sunday’s game leading the league in yards from scrimmage and surpassed the 100-yard mark before the end of the second quarter. Forte also added two catches for 38 yards on the day to finish with 183 of total production.
The Bears took an early 7-0 advantage with 8:42 remaining in the opening quarter when Forte got around the right edge and weaved through would-be Tampa Bay tacklers on his way to a 32-yard touchdown rush. Tampa Bay cut that deficit to 7-2 about four minutes later on one of the few instances where it corralled Forte. With the Bears pinned on their own 2, linebacker Quincy Black and defensive tackle Frank Okam got through the line of scrimmage to force Forte outside while Barber and defensive end Adrian Clayborn wrapped him up for the safety.
Prior to the two-point play, the Bucs were in position to potentially tie the game but squandered an opportunity. Jackson recorded his second interception in as many games when he snatched a bobbled screen pass from Cutler to Marion Barber and returned it to the Chicago 12. Possession was given right back to the Bears, though, when Williams couldn’t cleanly catch Freeman’s pass in traffic at the goal line and safety Chris Conte came away with the interception. The play was Freeman’s first pick of the day.
Chicago increased its lead to 14-2 midway through the second quarter when Cutler (17 of 32 for 226 yards and a touchdown) found Roy Williams for a 25-yard score. Williams quickly shed CB E.J. Biggers’ jam attempt at the line and was wide open down the field. The Tampa Bay defense recorded four quarterback hits on Cutler, sacked him twice and forced two interceptions.
The Bucs missed out on another first-half touchdown opportunity right before the break by failing to fully capitalize on a their longest drive of the day. Freeman completed seven of eight passes during a series that began at the Tampa Bay 7 with 2:37 left, but the Bucs stalled out at the Chicago 16 and settled for Connor Barth’s 33-yard field goal.
The Bears took their largest advantage, 21-5, early in the third quarter after forcing Tampa Bay into a three-and-out on the half’s opening drive. Chicago started at its own 45 and went 55 yards in seven plays when its offensive line sealed off the right side and Marion Barber sprinted across the goal line from 12 yards out. The touchdown represented the only scoring in the period before Tampa Bay mounted its ultimately unsuccessful comeback attempt.
With the London loss, Tampa Bay’s overall record drops to 4-3. The Bucs are now 1-2 against opponents from the NFC North, having lost to Detroit and defeated Minnesota. Tampa Bay heads into its Week 8 bye with extra time to regroup, heal its now-battered roster and prepare for an NFC South rematch with the Saints in New Orleans in 14 days.
Sunday’s game was played in front of 76,981 fans and under clear skies on a 62-degree London evening. Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Michael Bennett, DT Roy Miller, DT Brian Price, RE Adrian Clayborn, WLB Geno Hayes, MLB Mason Foster, SLB Quincy Black, LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones, FS Tanard Jackson.
The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Ted Larsen, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB Earnest Graham, FB Erik Lorig and QB Josh Freeman. Seven Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were RB LeGarrette Blount, DT Gerald McCoy, WR Sammie Stroughter, CB Myron Lewis, TE Zach Pianalto, C Jeff Faine and OT James Lee.