CHICAGO — For the first time all season, the Bucs let Tom Brady down.
You could tell by how many times they had to help him up.
He was sacked three times against the Bears on Thursday night, hit on eight other occasions and saw his offensive line commit penalty after penalty.
The Bucs quarterback staked his team to a 13-point lead. The Bears erased it by halftime.
His teammates couldn’t protect Brady, or the few points they hung on the scoreboard.
It caught up to the Bucs in the end, as former Buc Cairo Santos kicked a 38-yard field goal with 1:13 remaining to give the Bears a 20-19 win.
The Bucs had one last chance to win, but Brady’s pass for tight end Cameron Brate on fourth and 5 from the Tampa Bay 41-yard line was incomplete, and Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs with 33 seconds remaining.
It appeared that Brady may have not realized it was fourth down. After the play, he looked to the sideline and held up four fingers. You didn’t have to be great lip reader to know he said, "Fourth down.''
"Yeah, you’re up against the clock, and I knew we had to get chunks, so I should’ve been thinking more first down instead of a chunk play,'' Brady said.
The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Bucs (3-2), who played their second game in five days.
Ryan Succop kicked four goals, including a 25-yarder with 4:49 remaining that gave the Bucs a 19-17 lead.
The Bucs had 11 penalties for 109 yards. It got them behind on first and second down. It made sustaining drives impossible.
Yet even after all that, Brady and Tampa Bay had the ball and the lead with 2:48 left in the game. Get a couple of first downs and they walk out of Soldier Field with their fourth straight win.
Instead, from their 16, running back Ronald Jones lost 2 yards on first down. Brady then fired incomplete to Jones and receiver Tyler Johnson, burning nearly no clock in the process.
"I didn’t have this team ready to play,'' coach Bruce Arians said.
"We’ll see who we are next week (their next game is against the Packers on Oct. 18). This is one game I thought we got outcoached and we got outplayed.''
The Bucs are beaten up. They have plenty of bumps and bruises.
By the end of the night, receiver Mike Evans couldn’t run, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn couldn’t breathe, and offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith couldn’t block. Many of the Bucs' best offensive weapons were left in Tampa.
Defensive tackle Vita Vea was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury.
The Bucs blew a 13-0 lead in the first half despite dominating most of the action. Carlton Davis intercepted his third pass of the season, and Brady made the Bears pay with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Evans.
Succop added a pair of field goals, and it looked as if the Bucs were on their way.
But Bears quarterback Nick Foles has shown an ability to strike quickly, and he led the Bears on a 75-yard touchdown drive starting with seven minutes left in the half, capped by running back David Montgomery’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Then came one of the biggest plays of the game.
Vaughn, who caught the winning touchdown pass Sunday against the Chargers, caught a short pass from Brady, was hit hard by cornerback Kyle Fuller and fumbled.
Originally, the play was ruled an incomplete pass. But the Bears challenged and won, and took over on the Tampa Bay 27.
A few plays later, Foles threw a pass high in the end zone to tight end Jimmy Graham, who outjumped cornerback Jamel Dean for the touchdown. The Bears went to halftime leading 14-13.
The game seesawed back and forth, but the Bucs couldn’t put it away.
In the second half, the Bucs were outplayed by the Bears defense. Wirfs and Smith didn’t hold up to a fierce pass rush led by Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.
At one point, Brady lit into his offensive line on the sideline.
"Yeah, he was telling guys to wake up,'' said Jones, who went over the century rushing mark for the second straight game with 106 yards on 17 carries. "We keep shooting ourselves in the foot. There’s no way we should’ve lost that game. When you look at it, it was ugly. We just beat ourselves.''
Brady finished 25 of 41 passing for 253 yards and a touchdown. While he had never lost to the Bears or on Thursday night, he ran into a familiar nemesis in Foles, who beat him in Super Bowl 52 with the Eagles.
The Bucs are going to need this four-day weekend to get healthy again. Then comes a gauntlet of mostly prime-time games against the Packers, Raiders, Giants and Saints.
"The second half, we’d have a negative play and get behind on down and distance. That’s not where you want to be,'' Brady said. "I guess we all have to do a better job. This isn’t any one position; this isn’t any one player. It’s a team-wide thing, and we’ve all got to learn from each other quickly and make improvements quickly.''
Brady and the Bucs have 10 days to stew about the loss. They felt they were the better team. They did have the best quarterback.
Brady said the next week and a half will be tough.
"It shouldn’t sit (well) with us because when you don’t play well, it should sit with you,'' Brady said. "It’s tough when you don’t play well. … We didn’t, and obviously we came up short.''