Thursday, August 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-49ers Turning Point, Week 7: Against the odds, Tampa Bay comes back

Admit it. You thought the Bucs were done.

Finished.

Right after Colin Kaepernick escaped pressure and — on the run — threw a perfect 17-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Draughn.

San Francisco, 14. Tampa Bay, 0. One quarter, and the game was over.

If you weren't one of those fans who says things like, "There's plenty of football left," you weren't being negative. You know the odds — and you know the Bucs.

"There's plenty of football left" isn't an uplifting thing to hear in Tampa Bay. The Bucs aren't a team that rallies. They don't go on to win games like Sunday's 34-17. That's something other teams do. "There's plenty of football left" is how "You like that?!" happens.

Of the 28 NFL teams that have been in the league since Tampa Bay's inaugural season in 1976, the Bucs have the third-fewest come-from-behind wins.

When they trail by 14 or more points after the first quarter, they usually go on to lose, and lose big. Before this week, the Bucs had been in that predicament 39 other times. They lost 34. By an average of 17 points.

And it's not just the Bucs who struggle to recover from such deficits. In the season's first six weeks, nine teams trailed by 14 or more points after the first quarter. Eight lost (the Ravens beat the Browns in Week 2 after trailing by 18 points).

History backed up your bleak outlook after Draughn's touchdown, but so did math. At that point, the Bucs stood only a 10 percent chance of winning, according to Pro Football Reference.

Admit it. You expected them to crumble.

Then the Bucs did something very un-Bucs. Something very wonderfully un-Bucs.

They didn't fold. They didn't panic. They didn't press. Not even after Ryan Smith's foolish kick return pinned them deep in San Francisco territory.

Instead, the Bucs chipped away at the 49ers defense. Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 5 yards. Then 7. Peyton Barber rushed for 2.

Jameis Winston put his awful first quarter behind him (he completed 2 of 5 passes for 42 yards and an interception) and hit tight end Cameron Brate for a 9-yard gain and Mike Evans for a 12-yard gain.

The Bucs got Adam Humphries involved, first on an end around and then on a screen pass.

They were unfazed by the 49ers' aggressiveness. In fact, they used it against them. On first and 10 from the San Francisco 42, Winston lobbed a screen pass to Antone Smith over the blitzing 49ers defensive front. Smith, signed a week ago, caught the pass 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, weaved through blocks from Brate, tackle Demar Dotson and receiver Cecil Shorts, and raced to the San Francisco 12. The Bucs even caught a little bit of a break when officials penalized the 49ers for a phantom horse-collar tackle.

After a Rodgers run of 2 yards, Winston, under pressure, floated a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans.

Eleven plays. 94 yards. The Bucs' longest drive of the season.

It wasn't the go-ahead score — that came 10 minutes later — but it was a turning point. Tampa Bay managed to climb back into the game against a 49ers team prone to making mistakes and allowing big plays.

It didn't take long for San Francisco to fall apart. On a second-and-13 play on the next drive, Kaepernick tried to escape pressure from Gerald McCoy and threw a long pass outside the numbers to Vance McDonald. Bradley McDougald jumped in front of McDonald to intercept his first pass of the season and the fourth of his four-year career.

After the interception, Rodgers picked up 45 yards on a run off the left end and Barber picked up 14 more on a run up the middle.

Rodgers' and Barber's runs, which helped set up a Roberto Aguayo 38-yard field goal, were two of six Bucs rushes of 10 or more yards. Tampa Bay had 10 such runs in its first five games.

In all, the 49ers turned the ball over three times, and the Bucs scored 13 points off those turnovers. In their last game against the Panthers, the Bucs managed only three points off four turnovers.

Now the Bucs are 3-3. They're in the hunt for the NFC South lead because on Sunday they did precisely what team after team has done to them in recent seasons. They maintained their composure, rallied and capitalized on mistakes.

Admit it. You didn't see it coming.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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