Tampa Bay’s season of frustration continued Sunday afternoon as the Buccaneers self-destructed in Jacksonville by committing seven turnovers and getting blown out, 41-14.
The Jaguars and running back Maurice Jones-Drew took advantage of their extra opportunities and scored 41 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter. In Tampa Bay’s last three losses, the team has coughed up the ball an amazing 17 times.
This most recent loss extends the Bucs’ skid to seven games, matching the team’s longest streak since opening 2009’s 3-13 campaign at 0-7.
Tampa Bay (4-9) is now guaranteed to finish with a losing record and heads into a short week. If the seven-game losing streak is to end, it will have to come on national television this Saturday night against visiting Dallas. The Bucs last two games come on the road against NFC South rivals Carolina and Atlanta, respectively.
Jones-Drew, who entered the game as the NFL’s leading rusher, scored a career-high four touchdowns (two rushing and two receiving) and was the latest opposing player to set a record at the Bucs' expense. After Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton set the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last week in Tampa Bay, Jones-Drew became the Jaguars' all-time leader in finding the end zone right before halftime on a 5-yard reception. His 71st touchdown moved him ahead of former running back Fred Taylor.
Despite the lopsided final score, a much different picture was developing through a quarter-and-a-half of Sunday’s intrastate game between two struggling franchises.
Tampa Bay started the day by scoring on its opening drive to finally post the team’s first first-quarter offensive touchdown of the season. Quarterback Josh Freeman, back after sitting out last week’s loss to Carolina with a shoulder injury, took cs 80 yards on 10 plays and running back LeGarrette Blount capped the sequence with his fourth touchdown of the year, a 1-yard plunge.
Returning to the field of play with Freeman on Sunday was defensive end Michael Bennett, but cornerback Aqib Talib’s hamstring injury kept him inactive and on the sidelines.
The Bucs actually came 43 seconds within breaking its 66-game drought of scoring only seven offensive points or less in the first period. Regardless of that stat, Tampa Bay went up 14-0 on the second play of the second quarter when Freeman turned a busted pass play into a 13-yard touchdown scramble up the middle.
That scoring drive was set up by cornerback Ronde Barber’s interception of rookie Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert in Bucs territory. The pick was the 15-year veteran’s third of the season and 43rd of his career.
Momentum swung away from the Bucs in a big way less than five minutes later. Having already fumbled a punt that the Tampa Bay defense made up for with a stop in the first quarter, return man Preston Parker was stripped of another at the Bucs 20. The defense wasn’t able to bail out Parker this time, though, because backup tight end Colin Cloherty recovered at the 8 and went in for the score.
Tampa Bay then continued to turn the ball over and Jacksonville continued capitalizing. The Bucs’ seven turnovers – they also had a fourth-quarter turnover on downs – marked a new season high. The Jaguars scored four of its six touchdowns following Bucs turnovers or turnovers on downs.
Combining with Tampa Bay’s struggles with retaining possession, the Bucs' season-long issue with penalties also made an reappeared. Twelve flags went against the visiting team for 97 total yards.
Jacksonville closed out the first half by finding the end zone three times in the final 2:09. Jones-Drew initiated the flurry with his first of the day, a 1-yard run. The Jaguars defense followed that up two plays later when linebacker Daryl Smith sacked Freeman at the Bucs 1-yard line and forced a fumble that was recovered by tackle Nate Collins in the end zone.
Freeman was sacked three times on Sunday and finished 16 of 30 passing for 181 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. That works out to a rating of 43.9.
Following Collins’ touchdown, Freeman’s second turnover in as many series came on an interception by cornerback Ashton Youboty, cut by Tampa Bay during the preseason. Gabbert took the Jaguars 49 yards in nine plays and 58 seconds and made it 28-14 on the record-breaking hookup with Jones-Drew.
Gabbert enjoyed one of his best days as a pro against Tampa Bay, going 19 of 33 for 217 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 72.4. The rookie came into Sunday completing less than 50 percent of his attempts (49.5), a rating of 64.5 and eight touchdowns to seven interceptions. Gabbert was sacked one time. Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn increased his team-leading sack total to 6.5 with a drive-ending, first-quarter takedown.
By heading into the locker room down 28-14, Tampa Bay has trailed at the break in 10 of its 13 games this season.
Blount (18 attempts for 74 yards) was a yard better than Jones-Drew (27 for 85) in averaging 4.1 yards per carry compared to 3.1. The second-year back ran hard throughout Sunday’s failure, but that still couldn’t keep him away from the turnover bug infecting the Bucs.
Both teams combined for three turnovers in the scoreless third quarter, including Blount’s lost fumble at the end of a bruising, determined run reminiscent of his rumbling in Tennessee. Blount was running over and carrying Jaguars defenders but linebacker Russell Allen ruined the 23-yard gain with a strip. Jacksonville defensive end Jeremy Mincey recovered at the Bucs 31.
Blount’s fumble was the play after Bucs linebacker Mason Foster’s first career interception. The pick came in the end zone and it was the second time the defense bailed out an offensive turnover. Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny intercepted Freeman three plays prior to that.
Tampa Bay advanced into Jacksonville territory for only one play in the second half. That came with 7:32 left in the game and was the Bucs’ fourth-and-3 incompletion from the Jaguars 45. Freeman’s pass was intended for wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe and was broken up by Youboty.
Jones-Drew scored both of Jacksonville’s fourth-quarter touchdowns – a 5-yard reception and 1-yard run. In addition to the veteran back’s four scores and 85 rushing yards, Jones-Drew was the game’s leading receiver. He caught all six passes thrown his way for 51 yards
Wideouts Mike Williams and Parker paced Bucs pass catchers with identical three-catch, 35-yard days. Tight end Kellen Winslow pulled in two balls for 38 yards
The Bucs’ final turnover came when backup quarterback Josh Johnson took over and had his only pass nabbed by rookie cornerback Kevin Rutland.
Sunday’s sellout crowd at Everbank Field was announced at 62,562 with a game-time temperature of 58 degrees. There was a 12 mile-per-hour wind from the north and it lightly rained at times throughout the day.
Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Da’Quan Bowers, DT Brian Price, DT Albert Haynesworth, RE Adrian Clayborn, SLB Quincy Black, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Geno Hayes, LCB E.J. Biggers, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones and FS Tanard Jackson.
The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Jeremy Zuttah, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Luke Stocker and QB Josh Johnson.
Seven Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were QB Rudy Carpenter, CB Aqib Talib, S Larry Asante, OT James Lee, WR Sammie Stroughter, DE Derek Hardman and DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.