TAMPA – A game in which an opponent scores 36 points should have reflected a defensive disaster but the Bears were not one, save for a small handful of cataclysmic plays. Two, actually, the missed sack by rookie Leonard Floyd and Willie Young on the third play of the second half, and a coverage slip-up one play later for a 43-yard touchdown. Both occurred when the Bears had game momentum within their reach.
“We come back out [in the second half] and they go right down and score on us,” said coach John Fox.
The Bears limited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 2.6 per rushing attempt, with no carry longer than 10 yards. They sacked quarterback Jameis Winston four times, and the Bears held Tampa Bay to just 164 yards in the first half.
But breakdowns were inevitable with the offense running just nine plays for a total of five yards in the third quarter and sustaining none of its final 12 possessions (out of 13) longer than 2:52 and turning the football over to the Buccaneers on five different occasions. By game’s end seven different Bucs had pass receptions of 10 yards or longer.
“I’ve got go and watch the film and see what happened defense-wise,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee, although he didn’t need to see any replays to raise the bar for how the defense prepares in practices.
“You’ve just got to get pissed off and study film more,” McPhee said. “We gotta take out there on the practice field and dominate practice. When we go against the scout team, they shouldn’t complete a pass or gain a yard. That’s got to be the focus.”
Defensive line: C-
The defensive line was generally stout and got some pocket push on Winston while shutting down Tampa Bay’s run game. Eddie Goldman marked his return from an ankle injury with a sack of Winston in the third quarter. Goldman was reported to have an ankle issue after the game but “it felt pretty good, and it felt real good just to be back out there,” said Goldman, who finished with four tackles, one for loss.
Goldman was active for the first time since the Philadelphia game but Will Sutton remained the starter and was credited with four tackles. With Mitch Unrein down with a back injury, rookie Jonathan Bullard got his first NFL start but contributed just one tackle.
Defensive end Akiem Hicks was strong against the run, with three tackles, one for loss.
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Floyd batted down a pass and got a hit on Winston that won’t show up in the stats because the play was nullified by a Tampa Bay penalty. That was in the first quarter; Floyd then sacked Winston in the second when Young got excellent outside pressure to flush Winston into Floyd.
But those were overshadowed by Floyd and Young failing to get a scrambling Winston down on the third play of the second half, allowing Winston to get free enough to throw a desperation pass that swung the tide of the game irrevocably in favor of Tampa Bay. “[Winston] just made a good move, got me off balance,” said Floyd, whose 1.5 sacks give him 4.5 in the last three games. “Then he kept repeating, I kept after him but he just stepped up and let it ride” for a 39-yard completion that was a decisive momentum-turner for the game.
“We just gotta get him on the ground, that’s all,” Young added.
The pass rush was too inconsistent to help the secondary lock down on Tampa Bay receivers, who had too many open catches and too many significant gains on breakdowns.
Adrian Amos was beaten cleanly across the middle by tight end Cameron Brate for Tampa Bay’s second-quarter touchdown. Tracy Porter lost track of wideout Mike Evans on a broken play that resulted in a 39-yard completion on a desperation heave by Winston. One play later Cre’Von LeBlanc let wide receiver Freddie Martino break behind him for what was a clinching 43-yard TD in the third quarter.
If there was any irony to the situation it was that Evans, Tampa Bay’s leading receiver and TD producer, managed no scores and and 27 total yards on his other three receptions. And Martino’s was his only catch of the game.
“It was a route from the other side and I just recognized it late,” said LeBlanc, who had three tackles for the game.
Harold Jones-Quartey gathered in a pass off the hands of wideout Cecil Shorts for a first-quarter interception inside the Tampa Bay 25. The takeaway produced nothing as Jay Cutler lost the football on a strip-sack at the Tampa Bay 4.
Special teams: D
Connor Barth gave the entire team a much-neede boost with a 54-yard field goal late in the first quarter after Tampa Bay’s defensive touchdown. Pat O’Donnell had another effective game, averaging 42.6 yards net on five punts, two down inside the 20.
Deonte Thompson made a dubious decision to run back a kickoff late in the second quarter, fielding the ball in the end zone while some blockers appeared to assume Thompson would take the touchback.
Eddie Royal returned punts but fielded one inside the Chicago 5 and was nearly taken down in the end zone before leaving the offense at the 2. That series resulted in a strip-sack on which the football went out of the back of he end zone for a safety.