Sunday was a tale of inconsistency for the Buccaneers defense. After a fast start in each half – shutting Chicago out in the first and third quarter – Tampa Bay would erase any progress with a game-changing penalty or three offensive turnovers that ultimately led to the team’s demise in the 26-21 loss. Find out how each defensive unit graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
The Bears followed the blue print of many teams before them, taking what the Bucs’ secondary gave them with quick outs and shallow crosses from start to finish.
The quick passes allowed little time for the defensive line to pressure Cutler, epitomized best on the opening play from scrimmage when Cutler completed a nine-yard pass to tight end Zach Miller with Gerald McCoy in his face.
In fact, McCoy pushed through guard Vladimir Ducasse throughout the contest, closing in a pivotal third-and-goal sack in the second quarter and finishing with four tackles.
In the running game, Tony McDaniel had success on first and second downs as the clog in the middle, ending with four tackles of his own while Will Gholston finished with five. Gholston gave tackle Leno Charles a hard time throughout, best seen on back-to-back plays in the first quarter to stuff Jeremy Langford at the line.
Of course, being that it was that type of day for the Bucs, it’s fitting that the front four’s moment of greatness was negated by a penalty committed on the other side of the field.
As Chicago set up a screen to Matt Forte, McCoy came in untouched and tipped the pass, falling in the hands of Gholston who returned it to the Bears’ 15-yard line. What could’ve led to a 14-0 lead and early momentum was called back for a facemask on Alterraun Verner. The Bears marched down the field five plays later (with help from a PI) to tie the game at 7-7 and the energy had flipped to their side.
Despite recapturing momentum in the third quarter and taking a 14-13 lead, the Bucs offense couldn’t hold on to the football and put the defense in terrible position too often. They had their moments – two third-and-goal stands – and kept composure until the fourth quarter as Chicago chipped away, kicked field goals and drained the clock. GRADE= C
LINEBACKERS Tampa Bay’s linebacker corps was reliable making tackles, but didn’t come up with the much-needed splash play to alter the outcome.
Lavonte David finished with nine tackles, including an early third-down stop on a check pass to Matt Forte, while also breaking up a pass to Jeremy Langford to set up a third-and-long.
David also combined with fellow linebacker Bruce Carter on another third down in the fourth quarter. Coming on a blitz, David forced Cutler into a throw that was batted down by Carter at the line, forcing Chicago to kick a 50-yard FG. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Bears kicker Robbie Gould, with the wind at his back, connected and extended the lead to 23-14 with 9:00 remaining. And that seemed to be a theme – erasing progress.
Even after David’s aforementioned pass breakup on second-down, on the following play Cutler would scramble 17 yards to convert and keep the clock moving, eventually setting up a two-possession lead.
Carter, for his part, finished the game with eight tackles.
While the defense was provided little support and put on their heels during the second and fourth quarter, the Bears 174 yards on the ground and routine quick throws over the middle has to put a large portion of blame on the linebacker unit.
The lack of tackles-for-losses and splash plays will eventually wear down a defense and that certainly happened on Sunday. GRADE= C
SECONDARY With three-step drops and quick releases, Cutler finished the game 20 of 27 for 156 yards and a touchdown. The stats don’t jump out, but the efficiency is damning for a defense.
As for the good, however, Keith Tandy came out in his first start of the season on fire. The fourth-year pro made back-to-back stops on screen passes during the first drive, reading the throw and tackling Eddie Royal behind the line. With the exception of a whiff on Matt Forte in the second quarter that put Chicago at the Bucs’ 21-yard line, Tandy was a sure-tackler and seemed to make up for Chris Conte’s physicality against the run. He finished with 10 tackles.
Meanwhile, Bradley McDougald was also extremely physical and ended as the game’s leading tackler with 12. His best moment came on a third-and-1 run stuff, a play that seemed to shift momentum back to the Bucs late in the third quarter with a 14-13 lead. However, while the defense held strong after Jameis Winston’s red-zone INT, they couldn’t stop the Bears’ offense after Doug Martin’s fumble at their own 23-yard line.
As for the bad, Jay Cutler often seemed to take advantage of soft coverage with out routes and slants for five-10-yard gains. His connection to Zach Miller worked all afternoon, while his third-and-12 pass to Marc Mariani (one of the few for over 10 yards) with less than five minutes to play sealed the victory.
Although Alterraun Verner made a few nice tackles from the nickel spot (five stops), he committed the game’s worst penalty (facemask to negate INT) and was later called for a hold on a punt return. GRADE= C
SPECIAL TEAMS The third phase started off with a bang, but couldn’t seem to find its footing as the game progressed.
Jeremiah George was the star, making the play of the game for Tampa Bay by blocking a punt and setting up an early 7-0 lead. The Bucs couldn’t have come out stronger on Sunday.
Much like the rest of the game, things took an ugly turn on special teams with a few missed opportunities. Bobby Rainey muffed and recovered two punts in the third quarter while Connor Barth all but ended hope of a comeback when he hooked a 52-yard field goal in the fourth.
Barth’s miss came a drive after Gould hit from 52 yards out to make it a two-possession game, but in fairness, it was clear the wind was at Chicago’s back in the final quarter.
As for Jacob Schum, he punted four times for a net average of 37 yards, with his first going through the end zone. GRADE= C
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org