That postgame snippet from Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith pretty much sums up another close-but-not-quite Sunday for the Buccaneers.
The defense put the team in position to win, but quarterback Josh McCown and a sloppy Tampa Bay offense wasted the effort.
A 10-0 halftime lead vanished in less than one quarter’s time when the Bucs repeatedly turned over both the ball and momentum to Chicago. The Bears took full advantage of the early holiday season gifts and short fields during a 21-point run that led to a 21-13 win.
“We’re not satisfied at all,” Smith said after the loss. “We played well at times. We took the ball away, had some opportunities, but again, just not good enough.
“We’ve been doing good things. Defensively we’ve made a lot of improvements in the past month or so … but not good enough.”
The loss denied Tampa Bay of its first winning streak of the season following last week’s 27-7 road win in Washington and dropped the Bucs to 2-9 overall.
The Bucs did mount a late-game effort to try and tie the score at 21, but ultimately couldn’t take advantage of the great field position provided by a shanked Patrick O’Donnell punt. Tampa bay took over at the Chicago 45 with plenty of time remaining and trailing 21-13. McCown’s first-down pass to running back Charles Sims went for nine yards to the Chicago 36 but it would be as far as the Bucs would go. An incompletion followed by two stuffed runs – one by Sims, the other by McCown – turned the ball over to the Bears on downs at the 2-minute warning.
“Right now it’s hard for me to say exactly what happened except for second-and-1,” Smith said of the sequence. “We had an opportunity there and you’ve got to be able to pick those up. Whatever we did wasn’t good enough. We need to handle that situation a lot better.”
Through two quarters Sunday it appeared the Bucs were headed toward an old-school, defensive-led victory despite the offense’s struggles moving the ball. Missing weakside linebacker Lavonte David, Tampa Bay completely snuffed out Chicago’s dangerous mix of running back Matt Forte and the pass catching trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, and forced Chicago into three-and-outs on four of its six first-half drives. That stat should have been five of six, but the Bears’ second series continued when William Gholston was hit with a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty on punter Patrick O’Donnell that resulted in an automatic first down.
A stream of yellow flags flying out of referees hands has been a typical sight at Bucs games this year and Sunday was no different. Officials whistled Tampa Bay for nine penalties totaling 87 yards. Chicago racked up 45 yards worth of penalty yards on six infractions.
As it did throughout the first half, though, the Tampa Bay defense stiffened up, played through the adversity and responded to Gholston’s penalty by sacking Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six snaps later that resulted in a lost fumble. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded the sack by badly beating Brian de la Puente and fellow D-tackle Clinton McDonald scooped up the loose ball.
The sack was Tampa Bay’s third on the day and it pushed McCoy’s season total to 7 1/2. All three quarterback captures, however, came on that same Chicago drive. Increasingly active defensive end Jacquies Smith and McDonald were credited with the other two sacks of Cutler.
Despite the defense’s success – the Bucs outgained Chicago in the first half 211-68 – Tampa Bay could only turn that into 10 points.
The first score came early in the second quarter after McCoy jarred the ball out of Cutler’s grip. McCown dropped a 19-yard touchdown pass into the hands of receiver Mike Evans inside the left corner of the end zone to give Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead. The rookie has now scored at least once in four straight games and six of the past seven, while increasing his TD total to eight.
Along with his electrifying talent, Evans also showed a level of immaturity by getting in cornerback Kyle Fuller’s face after the touchdown and drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that nearly came back to hurt Tampa Bay.
Chicago started its next drive near midfield when Marc Mariani returned Michael Koenen’s ensuing kick to the Bears 45. Although Tampa Bay forced a punt after three downs for the third time in as many Bears drives, Chicago punter Patrick O’Donnell pinned the Bucs at their own 2. Tampa Bay’s three-and-out then provided quarterback Jay Cutler and Chicago’s struggling offense with another short field that almost resulted in a Robbie Gould field goal, but the veteran kicker’s 54-yard attempt clanked off the left upright and kept Tampa Bay up 7-0.
The Bucs and Murray pushed their lead to 10-0 with the rookie’s 32-yard field goal near the end of the first half. Murray went 2-for-2 on the day and is now 13-for-17 on the season (76.5 percent).
Only one team emerged from the tunnels ready to go in the second half, it seemed.
Tampa Bay committed two penalties while opening the third quarter with a three-and-out and Chicago responded with by far its best march of the game up to that point. After recording just three first downs during the entire first half, the Bears took over at their own 42 and ripped off three first downs in as many plays. Cutler finished off the drive by hitting wideout Alshon Jeffery with a 2-yard touchdown pass that cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 10-7.
That was also the beginning of a nightmarish third quarter that saw the Bucs commit three of their four turnovers and a 10-0 lead turn into a 21-10 deficit.
McCown was strip-sacked from behind by defensive end David Bass midway through the period and linebacker Christian Jones recovered to give Chicago possession at the Tampa Bay 13. One play later, Chicago was up 14-13 on Forte’s 13-yard run.
As quickly as the Bucs got back on offense, McCown put them right back on defense. The 12-year vet committed his third-and-final turnover of the game when his first-down pass to Sims sailed high and the running back tip-drilled it up for Bears safety Ryan Mundy to pick off. Chicago again took over deep in Tampa Bay territory and Forte found the end zone four plays later from the 1.
Despite his erratic performance all day long, McCown pulled it together on the next drive and began moving the Bucs downfield until the turnover bug bit once more. This time veteran receiver Vincent Jackson couldn’t hold onto a 24-yard reception inside the Chicago 10, getting the ball punched out by Demontre Hurst and recovered at the 4 by Tim Jennings.
The 341 yards McCown finished with are the most he’s put up through the air in six starts but a 52.1-percent completion percentage on 25 of 48 passing left much to be desired.
“Disappointed,” McCown said after the game. “We came out and started the game the way we wanted to and the third quarter killed us. Our defense played good, they played the way we wanted them to play, it’s just that dip there in the third quarter really hurt us.”
Many of McCown’s incompletions were off-target, uncatchable balls thrown during a cool, dreary and rainy Chicago afternoon. The quarterback mentioned the weather and its impact but said it could have been managed better.
“Obviously with this weather it’s not optimal throwing conditions, but you’ve got to try and manage it the best you can,” McCown said. “But depending on what kind of ball you get when it’s snapped, it kind of dictates whether you can take a shot downfield or not. We tried to manage it the best we could.”
Tampa Bay again failed to get its running game cranked up despite having its backfield at full strength for the first time all season. Returning incumbent Doug Martin finished with 11 carries for 27 yards (2.5-yard average), followed by Sims at 22 yards on six attempts (3.7), McCown at 12 yards on three runs (4.0) and Bobby Rainey at 3 yards on one carry.
Louis Murphy (six catches for 113 yards) and Jackson (five for 117) led the Bucs receivers, while Evans managed to secure just three of his team-high 11 targets for 47 yards and the touchdown.
In addition to the defense’s three sacks, Tampa Bay made five tackles behind the line of scrimmage, hit Cutler two other times and defended three passes. Linebacker Mason Foster paced the team with eight total tackles, followed by linebacker Danny Lansanah (7), safety Bradley McDougald (4) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (4). Jacquies Smith got the start at left end Sunday and continues to impress when given the opportunity, adding a quarterback hit and a batted-down pass to his first-quarter sack.
Tampa Bay returns home next week for a 1 p.m. game at Raymond James Stadium against the 7-3-1 Cincinnati Bengals.
Sunday’s temperature at kickoff was 54 degrees, the wind was blowing at 12 m.p.h. from the south, skies were cloudy and the announced paid attendance at Soldier Field was 61,109.
Buccaneers reported defensive starters: LE Jacquies Smith, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Clinton McDonald, RE Michael Johnson, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Danny Lansanah, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Dashon Goldson, SS Major Wright and NB Leonard Johnson.
Buccaneers reported offensive starters: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Anthony Collins, LG Logan Mankins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Demar Dotson, FB Jorvorskie Lane, WR Mike Evans, QB Josh McCown, RB Doug Martin and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The only active Bucs player not to enter Sunday’s game was QB Mike Glennon.
Tampa Bay’s inactives were RB Mike James, WR Robert Herron, CB Crezdon Butler, T Kevin Pamphile, LB Lavonte David, CB C.J. Wilson and DE Da’Quan Bowers.