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Blocked punt sets up Bucs for score

The Bucs’ Jeremiah George, right, sails toward Bears punter Pat O’Donnell for a block that leads to a Tampa Bay touchdown. “It was something I set up the previous punt,” George says.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Bucs’ Jeremiah George, right, sails toward Bears punter Pat O’Donnell for a block that leads to a Tampa Bay touchdown. “It was something I set up the previous punt,” George says.

TAMPA — As the Bucs took the field for the Bears' second punt Sunday, LB Jeremiah George told his special-teams coaches he would block it.

Sure enough, the Clearwater High graduate broke through the middle and got the block, with the loose ball recovered by the Bucs at the Bears' 4-yard line to set up a Doug Martin touchdown run and a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

"It just worked out perfectly," said George, who had never blocked a punt at any level. "It was something I set up the previous punt. I did a really good job of holding my guy up, so I knew he'd want to get out really fast."

George's only regret was that he missed on a chance to pick up the loose ball and score. Howard Jones fell on it after George missed.

"I ran right over to Lovie (Smith), and he's like 'You've got to scoop and score!' " George said. "I'm like 'I just blocked a punt. C'mon, man!' But I understand what they're saying."

CHANGE AGAIN: The Bucs continued to try different looks at right tackle, starting Demar Dotson for the second time in place of Gosder Cherilus, who has 13 starts this season.

"I don't think the line did as good blocking for (Martin) as they did all through the year," said Dotson, whose line gave up just one sack to the Bears in the 26-21 loss. "We left a lot on the plate. We all competed, but we just didn't do as good a job as we could have."

TWO OVER 1,000: Bucs RB Charles Sims caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from QB Jameis Winston and rushed four times for 45 yards, putting him at 1,001 yards of total offense this season. With Sims and Martin both having more than 1,000 yards of total offense, it's only the second time in Bucs history that two backs have done that. Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott did it in 1999.

MOVING UP: Winston's 295 passing yards and two touchdowns moved him into fourth place all time among rookie quarterback seasons. He has 3,717 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Winston can move up in both categories next week in the season finale against the Panthers. With 23 yards, he can pass Peyton Manning (1998) for No. 3 in passing yards, and with two touchdown passes, he can pass Andrew Luck (2012) for touchdowns. If he can throw four touchdown passes at Carolina, he would match the NFL rookie record set by Manning and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson.

CROWDS UP: With an announced crowd of 63,734 on Sunday, the Bucs finished their 2015 home games with an average attendance of 61,560, up 3 percent from last year's 59,659 and up overall for the third year in a row to a six-year high. This year's average is the highest since 2009, when the Bucs averaged 62,991.

CHANGES: The Bucs had Keith Tandy starting at safety in place of injured Chris Conte, who missed his first game of the year with a knee injury. Tandy played well with a career-best 10 tackles, including one for loss.

TIME CHANGE for finale: The starting time of the Bucs' game at Carolina on Sunday was moved back from 1 p.m. to 4:25. The Panthers have the top seed in the NFC on the line.

Blocked punt sets up Bucs for score 12/27/15 [Last modified: Sunday, December 27, 2015 11:53pm]
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