TAMPA — In a seesaw game full of big plays, the Bucs' defense seized the momentum — and the lead for good — when DE George Johnson forced a fumble by Jaguars rookie RB Corey Grant and DE Jacquies Smith recovered the loose ball for the Bucs' first defensive touchdown of the year.
"We said coming off the sideline that we needed a big play," said Johnson, who lost his starting job two weeks earlier but came through with a huge takeaway. "You see what happened. It changed the whole game. That's our main goal is to try to score on defense, and we actually did that."
Smith, who got his first NFL touchdown, was credited with a 3-yard score. He landed on the ball after the fumble, but nobody touched him, so he stretched the ball into the end zone, perhaps with a teammate's help.
"Somebody pushed me," Smith said. "I'm still trying to figure out who it was. It was like piranhas, everybody trying to get that ball and get in. I just thought to stretch it out and see what happens."
How big was the play in the Bucs' 38-31 win? 'That's huge,' " DT Gerald McCoy said. "That changed the game right there. At some point, somebody has to make a play, and you saw a flurry of them out of nowhere from all different people."
PERFECT DEBUT: After two weeks of kicking uncertainty — rookie Kyle Brindza was cut after missing five field goals and two extra points in the previous two games — veteran Connor Barth was perfect in his latest Bucs debut, making all three field goals and going 3-for-3 on extra points.
"It was just awesome," said Barth, who hit field goals from 35, 45 and 47 yards in the first game of his second stint with the Bucs. "Just cool to come in here and see everyone excited. It was an opportunity, and I'm happy to come out and do my job."
BIG SPARK: The Bucs' first touchdown came on a 17-yard scoring drive set up by Bobby Rainey returning a Jaguars punt 58 yards. It was the Bucs' longest return since Micheal Spurlock had a 77-yarder in 2009.
"Credit goes to those guys blocking up front," said Rainey, who also had a 25-yard punt return to set up a late touchdown. "I'm always trying to be the difference-maker, period. I'm always trying to make a play."
LOSING EFFORT: Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, who played at UCF, had a career-high four touchdown passes in the loss. He had never thrown more than two in any of his previous games. His 303 passing yards were the second most in his two-year career.
THIS AND THAT: Bucs rookie WR Donteea Dye made his NFL debut, coming up with a tackle on special teams. His only catch was nullified by a penalty. … Rookie T Reid Fragel, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, played extensively as a sixth lineman, an easy role for a player who spent his first three years at Ohio State as a tight end. … The game drew an announced attendance of 58,490, up just more than a thousand from last week's announced 57,468 for the Panthers game. … S Chris Conte left the game with ankle injury and did not return. S Keith Tandy left with a knee injury but said after the game it wasn't significant. The Bucs had six players out with injuries, most notably G Logan Mankins, CB Johnthan Banks and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
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