Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defense forces four turnovers as Bucs rout Bears for first home win (w/ video)

TAMPA — On a day of big hits by the Bucs defense, the most painful blow might have been struck by safety Chris Conte.

Not only did he intercept Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, returning it 20 yards for a touchdown and drawing an excessive celebration penalty, Conte, who had just scored his first NFL touchdown against the team that let him walk two years ago, head-butted teammates on his way to the sideline.

When he reached Dirk Koetter, still wearing a helmet, Conte struck the Bucs coach above the right eye, opening a small cut that was still bandaged long after the 36-10 win over the Bears, the Bucs' first victory this season at Raymond James Stadium.

"Man, Chris Conte acts like he never scored a touchdown before," Koetter said. "When you come off after you score a touchdown, it's okay to head bump guys that have helmets on. But when the coach is coming over … he head-butted me right in the head and about broke my glasses, my hat was off."

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Koetter was asked if he was in the concussion protocol.

"I might be," he said, smiling. "So far so good. I'm going to have a couple Miller Lites after this. Or maybe that's Bud Lights. Or maybe one of each."

Long before Sunday, the defense had been giving the Bucs headaches. Coming off back-to-back horrific performances in losses to the Raiders and Falcons, two of the NFL's hottest offenses, beating up on the hapless Bears, who entered the game averaging 16.4 points, provided much needed atonement.

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The Raiders and Falcons had combined for 1,087 yards, the fourth worst two-game stretch by a defense in 50 years. Of those, 823 yards and eight touchdowns had come through the air.

Aside from an improbable Hail Mary from Cutler to receiver Cameron Meredith, who caught a pass deflected off Conte for a touchdown on the final play of the first half, the Bears were held to a field goal Sunday. Tampa Bay produced four turnovers and sacked Cutler four times, one that produced a fumble that was knocked out of the end zone for a safety.

The 4-5 Bucs gained ground on the entire division since every other NFC South team lost Sunday.

Jameis Winston played huge, passing for 312 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

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In fact, he answered the Hail Mary at the start of the third quarter with a ridiculous heave of his own. Darting around in the backfield like a drop of water on a hot skillet, Winston launched a 39-yard pass to Mike Evans. After a delay-of-game penalty, Winston fired a 43-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Martino.

"He's going to do some things sometimes that I don't like," Koetter said. "But Jameis is going to make some plays. … But you've got to love that kid and the way he battles."

By far, the story of the day was the Bucs defense, which had been maligned under coordinator Mike Smith. After a Nov. 3 loss to Atlanta, Smith used the extra time from the Thursday night game to simplify the communication and got more aggressive in his pressure packages and coverage.

The Bucs blitzed Cutler relentlessly, including linebacker Darryl Smith, who forced the high throw to tight end Logan Paulsen that Conte took to the end zone.

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"That was one of the things we identified in our little mini-bye and we were sitting back a little too much. We needed to pressure more," Koetter said.

Conte understandably was pumped about his interception. "I probably went a little too crazy," he said. "But I've been waiting for this game for probably two years, so to win and have an interception like that meant a lot to me."

For the defense, and Koetter, the healing already has begun.

     
         
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