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The Bucs’ defense and special teams shortened the field, and they made short work of the Bears Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to become the first team in franchise history to start a season 6-1.
Just over a year after suffering an embarrassing one-point loss in Chicago, Tampa Bay had its fun with the Bears, forcing five turnovers in a 38-3 victory that could — and maybe should — have been a lot worse.
A 43-yard Jaelon Darden punt return, Dee Delaney interception and Vita Vea fumble recovery set up three quick scores, as the Bucs jumped out to a 21-0, first-quarter lead. They expanded their advantage to 35-3 at halftime.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, three to Mike Evans, including the 600th of his career. He also tossed a scoring pass to Chris Godwin (Brady’s top target with eight catches for 111 yards) before taking a seat on the bench with the Bucs leading by 35 and more than seven minutes remaining. Brady finished 20 of 36 for 211 yards and the four scores.
Leonard Fournette rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He caught two passes for nine yards.
Tampa Bay could have had another 14 points but was stopped inside the Chicago 2-yard line on two second-half possessions (once settling for a field goal), and Ryan Succop missed a 43-yard field goal attempt.
The Bucs defense forced Bears quarterback Justin Fields into five turnovers, including three interceptions, as Tampa Bay started six possessions in Chicago territory. A third Fields fumble was recovered by a teammate.
In addition to Delaney, Pierre Desir and Jordan Whitehead had interceptions for the Bucs. Shaquil Barrett had Tampa Bay’s other fumble recovery.
With 100 yards on 18 carries, the Bears’ Khalil Herbert became the first player to reach the century mark against the Bucs this season.
Here’s how it happened:
Giving it away
The Bucs got the ball in Bears territory for the sixth time when Pierre Desir intercepted Justin Fields at the Bears 37 to open the fourth quarter. It was Fields’ third interception and fifth turnover of the game. (Another fumble was recovered by a teammate.)
A 34-yard Tom Brady pass deep down the middle to Chris Godwin moved the ball to the Chicago 1.
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But for the second straight Tampa Bay possession, the Bears defense held and the Bucs had to settle for a 22-yard Ryan Succop field goal and 38-3 lead.
Done for the day
Bears defensive lineman Bilal Nichols was ejected late in the third quater after throwing a punch to the facemask of Bucs center Ryan Jensen.
As it happened, the infraction took Nichols off the field for Chicago’s biggest defensive stand of the game.
The Bears stopped the Bucs four times from inside the 2-yard line to force a turnover on downs. Tom Brady went 1-for-2 for no yards, and Ronald Jones carried twice for no gain.
Can’t go on
Cornerback Dee Delaney, whose interception set up the Bucs’ second touchdown, injured an ankle and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Heating up ... then sputtering out
Bears quarterback Justin Fields, held to 50 passing yards in the first half, threw for 58, including a combined 42 on back-to-back passes, on Chicago’s first possession of the third quarter.
He found Darnell Mooney for 22 yards down the left sideline, then threw a short pass over the middle that Khalil Herbert took for 20 yards as the Bears drove to the Bucs 25.
But Fields’ pass for Mooney on third and 12 was too high, bouncing off his fingertips into the hands of Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead. It was Fields’ second interception and fourth turnover of the game.
St. Petersburg man gets Brady’s 600th TD ball, gives it back
Bedecked in an old school Mike Evans No. 13 jersey, Byron Kennedy was standing at the intersection of surreal and historic when the two converged Sunday afternoon.
In that improbable moment, Kennedy, a 29-year-old St. Petersburg High alumnus, literally was handed a priceless NFL memento by Evans himself — only to hand it right back moments later.
Taking their chances
Trailing by 25 late in the first half, the Bears went for a first down on fourth and 4 from near midfield.
The drive ended like so many others for Chicago, with a sack and a change of possession, as Jason Pierre-Paul dropped Justin Fields for a one-yard loss, giving the Bucs possession at the Bears 48.
Chicago forced an incompletion on third and 1 from the 39, but a holding penalty against linebacker Alec Ogletree on tight end Cameron Brate extended the drive, giving the Bucs a first down at the 34.
Tom Brady dumped the ball off to running back Leonard Fournette on third and 10 from the 20, but Fournette was stopped just short of the first-down marker. The Bucs went for the first down, and Fournette gained three yards up the middle.
After a couple of incompletions, Brady found Mike Evans in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown, Brady’s fourth of the game and third to Evans. Ryan Succop’s extra point put the Bucs ahead 35-3 with nine seconds remaining in the half.
The long and short of it
A 46-yard pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans set up the Bucs’ fourth touchdown of the first half.
Brady hit Evans in stride deep down the left sideline to move the ball from the Bears’ 48-yard line to the 2.
Fittingly, Brady went right back to Evans on the next play, the pair connecting on a fade pass for a touchdown that extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-3 with 3:35 to play in the half.
Empty, so running
The Bears weren’t making any headway throwing the ball, so they turned to their ground game during a mid-second-quarter drive.
Khalil Herbert carried the bulk of the load, rushing three times for 31 yards as Chicago drove to the Tampa Bay 10. But they got no closer, as Herbert was stopped for no gain and Justin Fields twice threw incomplete.
Chicago had to settle for Cairos Santos’ 28-yard field goal and a 21-3 deficit with just over six minutes remaining in the half.
Herbert already has rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries against a Bucs defense that is among the toughest in the NFL to run against.
Bucs cornerback Jamel Dean was shaken up on the drive and left the field.
Four of a kind
The Bucs took over in Bears territory for the fourth time in the half when Jason Pierre-Paul hit Justin Fields from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Shaquil Barrett. Barrett then fumbled, and Devin White picked up the ball and advanced it another 15 yards to the Bears 25.
Alas, the Bucs came away empty-handed, as Tom Brady threw three incomplete passes and Ryan Succop missed wide right on a 43-yard field goal attempt.
Oddly, Brady’s six straight incompletions following his touchdown pass to Mike Evans tied a career high.
600 and counting
The Bears might be better off if their offense stayed on the sideline.
A blitzing Shaquil Barrett stripped the ball from quarterback Justin Fields on Chicago’s fourth possession, and Vita Vea recovered at the Bears 35 to give the Bucs possession in Chicago territory for the third time in the quarter.
An 11-yard pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans and 12-yard Ronald Jones run quickly moved the ball to the 12. After Jones ran for three yards, Brady hit Evans on a slant pattern for a nine-yard touchdown and 21-0 Tampa Bay lead.
It was the 600th touchdown pass of Brady’s career, yet another NFL first.
Making themselves at home
The Bucs gained possession in Bears territory for the second time in three possessions when cornerback Dee Delaney intercepted Justin Fields and returned the ball 26 yards to the Chicago 40.
A 21-yard pass over the middle from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin moved the ball to the 9. Brady went back to Godwin three plans later, resulting in a four-yard touchdown in the middle of the end zone and a quick 14-0 lead.
Shortening the field
Rookie Jaelon Darden gave the Bucs outstanding field position to start their opening drive with a 43-yard punt return that was the longest in the league this season.
Darden was pushed out of bounds at the Bears 32. After a pass interference penalty against Kindle Vildor on Chris Godwin moved the ball 15 yards to the 17, the Bucs needed just two plays to get into the end zone.
Running back Leonard Fournette did all of the work, bursting 15 yards up the middle to the 2-yard line, then scoring on the next play to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead. The drive took just 51 seconds to complete.
Welcome to Tampa
Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. obliterated Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields on the Bears’ opening possession.
Rushing unobstructed on a safety blitz, Winfield flattened Fields from behind, forcing a fumble that running back Khalil Herbert recovered at the Chicago 19.
The play resulted in a six-yard loss and set up third and 16. Fields got the six yards back with a completion to tight end Jesse James, but James was tackled well short of the first down marker, forcing the Bears to punt.
Not the same game
Don’t get it twisted. This afternoon’s game against the Bears isn’t the same matchup it was a year ago.
The Bucs’ 20-19 loss was on a Thursday night, in Chicago. Tampa Bay was playing on short rest, four days after having to rally from a 17-point deficit to beat the Chargers in the closing minutes. Both teams entered with 3-1 records. Veteran Nick Foles, the Super Bowl 52 MVP, was the Bears’ starting quarterback.
The Chicago team that will enter today’s game at Raymond James Stadium is 3-3. It is quarterbacked by rookie Justin Fields (two touchdowns, three interceptions, three fumbles, 18 sacks), who is still finding his footing in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Bucs are 5-1, playing at home, well-rested after a nine-day break and safely past the closest comparison to the 2020 Chicago game, a Thursday night win Oct. 14 in Philadelphia.
Quarterback Tom Brady is feeling good, fully acclimated to the Bucs’ scheme and personnel and showing surprising mobility. Running back Leonard Fournette has given the offense an extra dimension, both carrying the ball and catching it out of the backfield. And receiver Chris Godwin, who missed last season’s game, and defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was carted off with a leg injury, are back on the field.
Nevertheless, there are similarities.
The Bears still have a ferocious defense, ranking eighth in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 20.7 points per game, and seventh in total defense (330.8 yards per game). Linebacker Khalil Mack is tied for sixth in the league with six sacks.
Penalties continue to be a problem for a Bucs team that was flagged 11 times for 109 yards in last season’s loss.
And, memo to Brady: you still only get four downs to make a first down.
It’s good news, bad news on the Bucs’ injury front.
Edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, still battling lingering hand/shoulder issues, could play, coach Bruce Arians indicated. Safety Antoine Winfield has passed his concussion protocol and is cleared for action.
But inside linebacker and second-leading tackler Lavonte David (ankle) and cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring) will not play. Tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs) and receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) also are out.
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