CLEVELAND – Another winnable game ended in another Buccaneers loss Sunday.
Tampa Bay hits the season’s midway point at a disappointing 1-7 after squandering a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week and losing in Cleveland, 22-17.
“There’s no doubt we’re headed in the right direction, but you say that about four games ago,” head coach Lovie Smith said following the game at FirstEnergy Stadium. “We’ve got to find a way to win a game is what we have to do. That’s what we haven’t been able to figure out and we’re running out of time.
“We’re at the halfway point of our season now. It’s about November football and playing your best ball right now, and we haven’t.”
Costly mistakes doomed Tampa Bay once again in this one and they happened in all phases of the game. The Bucs’ first drive ended with Patrick Murray’s 31-yard field goal getting blocked by Cleveland’s Billy Wynn and its second failed to produce points when Murray came up short on a 55-yard attempt. Add to that a pair of Mike Glennon interceptions, a blocked punt and a false start that set up a Browns touchdown and it’s no wonder Tampa Bay found itself in a quiet, somber locker room for the seventh time out of eight games this season.
“All three phases contributed to it,” Smith said. “Special teams really hurt us today. You can’t have a punt block, field goal block, jump offsides and let them continue a drive to score a touchdown. All those plays really hurt us.”
For all the miscues, both mental and physical, the Buccaneers were in Sunday’s game from whistle to whistle, not to mention in control during extended periods.
Tampa Bay managed to limit Cleveland to a pair of field goals after its two missed kicks and the Bucs took their first lead at 7-6 midway through the second quarter with a 24-yard, Glennon-to-Evans touchdown pass. It was the first of two scores Evans would haul in and the rookie receiver out of Texas A&M finished with game-highs of seven receptions and 124 yards – the first 100-yard game of his career.
“Mike really stepped up,” Glennon said of Evans’ play. “Like I’ve been saying, he’s getting better and better every week. They felt like they wanted to put Joe Haden on Vince [Jackson] all game; well, that’s okay because if they’re going to do that we’ve got a guy that’s pretty good on the other side. It’s going to be interesting to see how teams start playing us because they’re really now going to have to pick and choose what they want to do with those two guys.”
It’s what Glennon and his targets couldn’t do on a short-yardage situation late in the game that ultimately ended the Buccaneers’ hopes of grabbing their second win. Down 22-17 with less than 2 minutes remaining, Tampa Bay elected to run three straight pass plays and with only one yard separating the line of scrimmage and the first-down marker on the first two. Those initial passes fell incomplete before Glennon hit Evans for a 9-yard gain on fourth-and-1, but Evans was flagged on a questionable offensive pass interference call that pushed Tampa Bay back to fourth-and-11 at the Cleveland 47. Glennon’s next pass sailed incomplete to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the Browns were able to run off the final 1:39 to improve to 5-3 on the season.
When asked about the play calling in that specific situation, Smith said there are regrets.
“Yeah, a whole lot of thought,” he said about attempting a run at some point rather than passing each time. “We probably should have. I’d like to have a couple of those calls back.”
Tampa Bay entered Sunday’s game with limited options at running back and on the offensive line, but both units responded well. The team listed struggling starter Doug Martin as inactive prior to kickoff and the anticipated debut of rookie Charles Sims was also pushed back at least another week. On the line, left tackle Anthony Collins (foot) missed Sunday’s game and was replaced primarily by former-Brown Oniel Cousins.
Led by Bobby Rainey’s 87 yards on 19 carries, the Bucs ran for 4.3 yards per attempt and a total of 113. Of the nearly 40 times Glennon dropped back to pass, his blockers only let him get sacked twice and hit on two other occasions.
“I think he did okay right now, but it’s hard to tell,” Smith said of Cousins’ play in place of Collins. “I have to go back and watch the video, for sure. They got a little bit of pressure at times, but I don’t know if it was all Oniel. It’s not like there was just a glaring weakness right off the top of my head.”
As for Glennon, the second-year quarterback produced another peaks-and-valleys type of performance. He completed 17 of 33 pass attempts for 260 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Glennon said the pair of picks is what sticks in his mind after the fact.
“Both picks were not good on my part,” Glennon said. “Two throws I need to make, two throws that could possibly be touchdowns.”
The first of his interceptions came on an under-thrown ball he delivered late to Evans streaking down the middle of the field, turning a potential touchdown into a Donte Whitner interception. The other pick gave Cleveland the ball right back in the second quarter, two plays after Bucs cornerback Johnthan Banks recorded his second interception of the season.
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Clinton McDonald picked up his second-career interception in the fourth quarter when backup safety Bradley McDougald broke up a pass to tight end Gary Barnidge. The Bucs failed to take advantage, however, and went three-and-out on a drive that ended with Michael Koenen’s punt being deflected by Craig Robertson. Two plays later, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer rolled away from pressure to his left and threw deep across the field to wide-open rookie Taylor Gabriel for a 34-yard touchdown.
“We’ve made some good plays this year and it’s something that I’ve talked to my receivers about. I said if you see me looking around, just go deep. And [Gabriel] did a job and touchdown. So it doesn’t always have to be the way you draw it up.”
Even though it was a broken play, Smith said he thinks the Bucs’ coverage in that situation shouldn’t have been so exposed.
“I have to see what happened there,” he said. “Three-deep coverage, we should be in pretty good shape. Nobody should be able to get behind a three-deep coverage so we’re going to have to see what happened there. The quarterback had too much time, also. A lot of times when you scramble around like that you can find guys open.”
Cleveland tried to push the lead to seven but missed its 2-point conversion and left the score 22-17.
The Buccaneers were able to hold Cleveland to just 50 yards rushing, but Hoyer accounted for 105 of his 300 passing yards in the final quarter while engineering the victory.
Tampa Bay will return home next week to face NFC South foe Atlanta at 1 p.m.
Sunday’s temperature at kickoff was 42 degrees, skies were sunny and the announced paid attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium was 67,431.
Buccaneers reported defensive starters: LE William Gholston, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Clinton McDonald, RE Michael Johnson, SLB Danny Lansanah, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Lavonte David, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, S Dashon Goldson and S Major Wright.
Buccaneers reported offensive starters: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Oniel Cousins, LG Logan Mankins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Demar Dotson, WR Louis Murphy, WR Mike Evans, QB Mike Glennon, RB Bobby Rainey and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The only active Bucs player not to enter Sunday’s game was QB Josh McCown.
Tampa Bay’s inactives were RB Doug Martin, RB Charles Sims, LB Brandon Magee, G Kadeem Edwards, CB Brandon Dixon, T Anthony Collins.