Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs get touchdowns from offense, defense, special teams to beat Chargers 34-24

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — When Bucs cornerback Leonard Johnson takes an interception to the house, he can actually take it to the house he grew up in, just across Tampa Bay in Clearwater.

The former Largo High quarterback made the biggest play in Sunday's 34-24 victory over San Diego, stepping in front of an ill-advised pass from Philip Rivers and returning it 83 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Cornerback LeQuan Lewis would like to find a home — any home — in the NFL, having spent time with five teams in the past year. He played three games this season with the Cowboys, including their Week 3 win over the Bucs.

But after being promoted from Tampa Bay's practice squad on Tuesday, Lewis registered the first interception of his career on a deep pass by Rivers intended for Danario Alexander with 3:09 remaining, setting up Connor Barth's game-sealing 45-yard field goal.

On a day that will be remembered for the aerial brilliance and brain cramps of Rivers, it was the two undrafted free agents — neither of whom played a significant Bucs role a month ago — who produced the biggest plays for the league's worst pass defense.

Johnson, who said he had not scored a touchdown since high school, received the game ball.

"I'm keeping that," said Johnson, a 22-year-old rookie from Iowa State who has three interceptions in his last three games since becoming a starter. "I'm keeping everything I can get my hands on."

The Bucs got two more touchdown passes by quarterback Josh Freeman, to Dallas Clark and Tiquan Underwood. And they scored on a blocked punt by Dekoda Watson that was returned 29 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Adam Hayward.

It was the fourth time in team history the Bucs scored on offense, defense and special teams in the same game.

The victory, before an announced 54,813 at Raymond James Stadium, was the Bucs' fourth in their past five games and improved them to 5-4, three games behind the Falcons (8-1) in the NFC South.

But when you glance at the stat sheet, you have to wonder: Who won this game anyway?

The Chargers (4-5) held a huge edge in time of possessions (36:41-23:19), first downs (23-12), total yards (426-279) and third-down efficiency (67 percent to 33 percent).

"Our guys played team football," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "It's like a pitcher. Maybe he doesn't have his fastball that day, but he works the whole game with different pitches and battles through it. That's what our team did, held each other up."

In his last game two weeks ago, Rivers was 18-of-20 for 220 yards with two touchdowns in a win over Kansas City. On Sunday, he carved up the Bucs for three touchdown passes in the first half.

Johnson, starting in place of Aqib Talib (who was traded to New England on Nov. 1), had a hand in the Chargers' first touchdown — an 80-yard catch and run by Alexander in which Johnson failed to make an easy tackle after 15 yards.

"You're going to have a lot of plays you want to forget, and he did," safety Ronde Barber said of Johnson.

In a game with five lead changes, the Bucs kept trying to hold serve. But when you score on a blocked punt and an interception return, it puts the defense right back on the field.

The Chargers did a good job of bottling up running back Doug Martin. Coming off a franchise-record 251 rushing yards and four TDs at Oakland, the rookie from Boise State was held to 68 yards rushing on 19 carries (3.6) but caught three passes for 51 yards.

Freeman, who has thrown 13 touchdowns and one interception in his past five games, connected with Underwood on a 15-yard pass for a 24-21 lead with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter.

That's when Rivers threw the game away. On third and 4 at the Bucs 23, Rivers rolled right and, one step from going out of bounds, tried to throw a pass over the head of Johnson to receiver Eddie Royal. Instead, he hit Johnson between the numbers.

"The funny thing is, I heard him say, 'No!' " defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said of Rivers. "I promise you he did. I looked and I thought he was about to run out of bounds. I turned around and said, 'Yeah!' "

Johnson tightroped the sideline, stepping over a tackle attempt by tackle Jeromey Clary and high-stepping the last 15 yards for a touchdown.

"The ball just kind of stayed in my hand longer than I wanted, and it took a nosedive right to him," Rivers said. "In hindsight, I wish I had thrown the ball over his head, but I probably just shouldn't have thrown the ball, period."

But he did, and Johnson knew the way home.

 
Comments
Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

TAMPA — In the jubilant moments after a Bucs win, Dirk Koetter will sometimes ask for a game-used ball from his equipment staff, hold it high in the locker room and present it to the player who was most crucial to the victory.NFL players can ask for ...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Koetter says Bucs not distracted by Jameis Winston’s off-field issue

The Bucs are 1-0 since news broke last Friday of Jameis Winston being accused by an Uber driver of groping her during a ride in March of 2016.That's really all the evidence coach Dirk Koetter needs to say the issue has not been a distraction to the t...
Published: 11/22/17
Updated: 11/23/17
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Published: 11/22/17
Updated: 11/23/17
Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

TAMPA — The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said it’s too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner."We haven’t turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, preparing for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. "It’s ...
Published: 11/22/17
McCoy is only Bucs player in Pro Bowl voting top 10s

McCoy is only Bucs player in Pro Bowl voting top 10s

The Bucs aren't faring well in early Pro Bowl fan voting, with DT Gerald McCoy as the only Tampa Bay player ranking in the top 10 at his position.McCoy, seeking his sixth straight Pro Bowl selection, ranks seventh among NFL defensive tackles, one wee...
Published: 11/22/17
NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

Happy Thanksgiving! It's already week 12 of the NFL season, and the football feast is set to begin. It all starts at at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, when the Lions try to win their fifth straight Thanksgiving Day game against a Minnesota team out to bec...
Published: 11/22/17
Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman takes a closer look at the three former Bucs who are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.He also looks at the constant churn on the Bucs’ practice squad and why Julio Jones’ stats have dropped off this season,...
Published: 11/22/17
Bucs’ Barber, Lynch, Rice among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Bucs’ Barber, Lynch, Rice among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Simeon Rice — teammates on the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl championship team — are among the 27 semifinalists to be considered for this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class.Lynch is a semifinalist for the sixth st...
Published: 11/22/17
Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

It’s a Thanksgiving Football Wednesday as Rick Stroud and Tom Jones preview the Bucs-Falcons game, USF-UCF, Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan and more.The guys agree on the Bucs game outcome with Rick saying they can’t win. They also agree that Tha...
Published: 11/22/17
Bucs-Falcons: It’s time to start believing Miko Grimes

Bucs-Falcons: It’s time to start believing Miko Grimes

TAMPA — The most valuable player for the Bucs is Brent Grimes.It felt odd typing that, but it’s time to say it.In Grimes’ two seasons in Tampa Bay, the Bucs haven’t won a game without him. This season they are 4-3 when he plays, 0-3 when he doesn’t.H...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17