Tampa Bay’s latest attempt at winning back-to-back games for the first time in two years fell short on a rainy Sunday at home against the New York Giants.
Trailing by as much as 20-9 early in the third quarter, the Bucs kept New York close and nearly tied things up when quarterback Jameis Winston went airborne for his third career touchdown run. That diving, 10-yard effort in the fourth brought Tampa Bay within a two-point conversion of knotting the score at 20-all, but receiver Russell Shepard couldn’t get his feet down after going up to get Winston’s high pass in the end zone.
New York tacked on a pair of field goals to go back up 26-18 and it was the second drive and Josh Brown kick that hurt most. After stalling out at midfield, Tampa Bay punted away possession with five minutes remaining and needed a quick defensive hold. Aided by defensive tackle Akeem Spence’s unnecessary roughness penalty that pushed the Giants across the 50, New York effectively drained the Bucs of timeouts and the clock down to 28 seconds when Brown’s 44-yard field goal split the uprights.
The final score ballooned to 32-18 when the Bucs’ desperate effort to lateral the ball deep in its own territory ended with a fumble and Giants defensive back Trevin Wade returning it for a touchdown.
The Bucs outgained New York 385-327 but an inability to maximize scoring opportunities by getting into the end zone proved costly. Five of Tampa Bay’s drives ended in Connor Barth field goal attempts, including three in the red zone. Barth connected on four of his five kicks, missing his first of the season from 43 yards in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay opened the game with a bang when cornerback Sterling Moore intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s tipped-up pass intended for receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and returned it to the New York 13. The Bucs failed to capitalize fully, though, and Barth hit a 26-yard field goal after the offense went three-and-out.
“We must take advantage of our opportunities, especially in the red zone,” Winston said after the game. “That’s some of the goals that Coach [Dirk] Koetter put up for us: scoring in the red zone. And it’s my fault, every single time. But the thing you have to focus on is, ‘How hard are we playing?’ This is two back-to-back games where we’re out there just giving it our all.
“Eventually we’re going to break through. Eventually it’s going to happen.”
The Bucs’ last and final lead of the game came later in the first. Similar to the spark provided by Moore’s interception, Tampa Bay opened its second drive with a 68-yard, Winston-to-Mike Evans reception. The receiver’s career-long gain moved the ball down to the New York 12, but the three plays that followed netted just two yards and ended with Barth’s 28-yard field goal.
Evans’ catch and run marked the beginning of an evening full of big plays and missed opportunities for the second-year pass catcher. Evans finished with eight receptions for 152 yards on a season-high 19 targets but dropped a number of catchable passes.
“No one’s perfect,” Winston said when asked about Evans’ dropped passes. “We’ve got to think about the positives. Dropped balls, you can fix those. … He’s one of our best receivers and he’s playing his tail off and it starts raining and all eyes were on him. It’s a lot of pressure, but nine times out of 10 he’s going to come through. But we’ve got to score in the red zone. I’ve got to lead us in the red zone.”
Winston turned in his fourth straight game without an interception, going 19 of 36 for 249 yards and no touchdowns. He added 24 yards on three rushing attempts and the 10-yard score.
Outside of a 59-yard Charles Sims run that set up Winston’s touchdown, Tampa Bay struggled to run the football Sunday and a pair of running-back mistakes set up 10 Giants points. The Bucs went for 136 yards on 23 total attempts but Sims and Doug Martin coughed up fumbles in Tampa Bay territory.
Martin’s came on the first play of the second quarter and resulted in Manning’s 4-yard touchdown pass to running back Shane Vereen that put the Giants up 17-6. Sims’ turnover came five plays into the second half and gave New York possession at the Tampa Bay 24. The defense forced a three-and-out and Josh Brown’s field goal increased the visitor’s lead to 20-9.
The Bucs could only convert two Manning interceptions into three points. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, recently moved inside to be the team’s primary nickelback, jumped a Manning pass to Beckham Jr. late in the third quarter. A three-and-out that included a third-down drop by Evans forced the game’s first punt.
A week after throwing for six touchdowns in a loss at New Orleans, Manning hit on 26 of 40 pass attempts for 213 yard, two scores and the two interceptions.
Both quarterbacks stayed upright Sunday, with the Bucs failing to register a sack for the first time all year. Lavonte David led all defenders with 11 tackles, followed by fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander’s 10.
Tampa Bay stays home next week to host another NFC East opponent, the Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
WR Donteea Dye, LT Donovan Smith, LG Logan Mankins, C Joe Hawley, RG Ali Marpet, RT Gosder Cherilus, TE Luke Stocker, WR Mike Evans, QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin
LDE Will Gholston, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Akeem Spence, RDE Howard Jones, SLB Danny Lansanah, MLB Kwon Alexander, WLB Lavonte David, CB Sterling Moore, CB Jude Adjei-Barimah, SS Chris Conte, FS Bradley McDougald
QB Ryan Griffin, S Major Wright, S D.J. Swearinger, DE Jacquies Smith, DE Lawrence Sidbury, WR Vincent Jackson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
DID NOT PLAY
QB Mike Glennon
Paid attendance: 64,351, Raymond James Stadium
Game time: 3:14