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David Njoku’s one-handed touchdown reception in the final minute of regulation tied the game, and Nick Chubb won it in overtime as the Browns beat the Bucs 23-17 Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Amari Cooper beat Carlton Davis in one-on-one coverage, and the receiver took a Jacoby Brissett pass 45 yards to the Tampa Bay 3-yard line on the Browns’ second overtime possession, setting up Chubb’s decisive 3-yard run over right guard.
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Bucs (5-6) and kept them 1/2-game ahead of the Falcons (5-7) in the NFC South.
Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes earlier in the game to stake Tampa Bay to a 17-10 lead. His 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Ko Kieft midway through the third quarter gave the Bucs their first lead of the game.
Brady finished 29-of-43 for 246 yards with the two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked three times.
Chris Godwin caught a team-high 12 passes for 110 yards, including a 10-yard scoring reception in the first quarter. Mike Evans caught two passes for 31 yards, surpassing 10,000 receiving yards for his career.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop converted a 42-yard field goal late in the first half to tie the game at 10.
Anthony Schwartz scored on 31-yard run on a reverse on Cleveland’s opening possession. Cade York added a 51-yard field goal for the Browns.
Here’s how it happened:
After forcing a Browns punt, the Bucs took over at their 19-yard line following an illegal block in the back penalty against Zyon McCollum on the return.
A 14-yard pass from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Bucs’ 39.
But Rachaad White was stopped after a 1-yard gain and Brady threw incomplete for Mike Evans deep down the right sideline, bringing up third and 9.
Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs was carted off the field after Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah leaped over running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and landed awkwardly on the left side of Wirfs’ body. He was replaced by Josh Wells.
On the following play, Brady was sacked by Myles Garrett, who beat left tackle Donovan Smith, forcing another Bucs punt with 2:45 to play.
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The Bucs converted two third downs and appeared to pick up a third on their first overtime possession , but an illegal hands to the face penalty against tackle Donovan Smith negated Tom Brady’s 10-yard completion to Rachaad White, making it third and 14 from the Tampa Bay 43.
Brady’s pass for Mike Evans was incomplete, and the Bucs punted the ball to the Browns, who took over at their 21-yard line.
Tampa Bay converted third downs earlier in the drive on a neutral-zone infraction penalty against Myles Garrett and a 7-yard completion to Chris Godwin.
Not over yet
The Bucs seemingly wrapped up the game when Rakeem Nunez-Roches sacked Jacoby Brissett with less than three minutes left in regulation, forcing a Browns punt.
But Tampa Bay’s offense went three-and-out, taking just 14 seconds off the clock, and punted the ball back to Cleveland.
Donovan Peoples-Jones’ 12-yard punt return gave the Browns possession at the Tampa Bay 46-yard line with just over two minutes still to play. A 28-yard run by Nick Chubb quickly moved the ball to the 12.
After Chubb was stopped following a 1-yard gain, Devin White broke up a pass over the middle for Kareem Hunt. Lavonte David then dropped David Njoku for a 1-yard loss, bringing up fourth and 10 from the 12.
But Njoku improbably made a one-handed catch in the end zone with 32 seconds remaining to tie the game.
Taking their lumps
A Bucs secondary that lost cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and had to play without cornerback Carlton Davis and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. for stretches earlier in the game saw cornerback Jamel Dean leave in the final minutes.
Dean was shaken up after being pulled down by Browns receiver Anthony Schwartz while defending a pass deep down the left sideline with just over six minutes remaining.
Schwartz was called for offensive pass interference on the play, but Tampa Bay declined the penalty.
Dean later returned to the game.
Stopped in their tracks
A Browns offense that that had been held to one first down in the second half picked up two on successive plays midway through the fourth quarter.
Anthony Schwartz took a short Jacoby Brissett pass 17 yards down the left sideline and Nick Chubb ran for 15 off right tackle as Cleveland moved to the Tampa Bay 45.
But after a 2-yard run by Chubb, Devin White and Carl Nassib sacked Brissett for a 7-yard loss and a Kareem Hunt reception gained only 6.
Facing fourth and 9 from the Bucs 44, the Browns went for the first down. Brissett appeared to connect with Amari Cooper for a first down down the right sideline, but Cooper dropped the ball, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Bucs opened things up during a late third-quarter drive that stretched into the start of the fourth, with Tom Brady throwing deep three times.
Rachaad White gained 11 yards around left end to the Bucs 41 as the third quarter came to a close. After Brady overthrew a wide-open Chris Godwin deep down the middle of the field and White was stopped after a 1-yard gain, Tampa Bay faced third and 9 from its 42.
Brady overthrew Mike Evans down the right sideline, but cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. was penalized for pass interference, giving the Bucs a first down at the Cleveland 45.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn picked up 4 yards to the 41 before Brady underthrew Julio Jones deep over the middle, setting up third and 6. A false start penalty pushed Tampa Bay back 5 yards to the 46.
Brady threw to Cameron Brate on the right side, but the tight end was stopped after a 9-yard gain. Rather than attempt a 55-yard field goal, the Bucs tried to draw the Browns offside. When it failed, resulting in a delay-of-game penalty, Tampa Bay opted to punt.
Mike Evans’ first catch of the game was a big one, as Tom Brady found a wide-open Evans early in the third quarter for 28 yards and a first down at the Tampa Bay 48.
The catch put Evans over 10,000 receiving yards for his career.
Two pass later, Julio Jones took a toss 15 yards around right end to the Browns 36. A 22-yard Brady pass to Chris Godwin then moved the ball to the 14.
After short passes to Evans and running back Rachaad White brought up third and 1 from the 5, Brady hit tight end Ko Kieft, who was lined up in the backfield, in the right flat for a touchdown.
Kieft’s first career scoring play gave the Bucs a 17-10 lead, their first of the game, with 7:41 to play in the quarter.
Donovan Peoples-Jones gave the Browns great field position on their first possession of the second half, returning a 62-yard Jake Camarda punt 29 yards to the Cleveland 42.
But a Jacoby Brissett pass to tight end Harrison Bryant, Nick Chubb run over right guard and Brissett incompletion deep down the left sideline for Amari Cooper resulted in no gain, and the Browns were forced to punt.
Rolling the dice
The Bucs took a chance late in the first half, going for a first down on fourth and 1 from their 38-yard line.
Tom Brady dove between the center and left guard, picking up 2 yards.
Tampa Bay quickly took advantage, as Brady completions of 7 and 23 yards to Chris Godwin quickly moved the ball to the Browns 30.
But two incompletions and a 6-yard pass to tight end Cameron Brate brought up fourth and 4 from the Cleveland 24.
Ryan Succop’s 42-yard field goal tied the game at 10 with 39 seconds to play in the half.
All for naught
The Browns were on the move midway through the second quarter, as Nick Chubb took a short Jacoby Brissett pass 16 yards to the Bucs’ 48.
One play later, Brissett rolled to his left, broke a tackle from cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and gained 17 yards to the Tampa Bay 31. Chubb then picked up 8 more yards to the 23.
Facing third and 2, Kareem Hunt bulled over left guard for 9 yards and a first down at the 14.
But that was as far as Cleveland would get.
Three plays lost 7 yards, setting up third and 17 from the 21, and Amari Cooper was stopped for no gain after a short reception.
Adding insult to injury, Cade York pushed his 39-yard field goal attempt wide left, keeping the score 10-7 with just over four minutes remaining in the half.
Leading by a field goal, the Browns gambled early in the second quarter, going for a first down on fourth and 1 from their 41-yard line.
Kareem Hunt picked up the necessary yards on a 2-yard run over left guard.
But after three more plays netted only 5 yards, Cleveland wasn’t so bold. Facing fourth and 5 from their 48, the Browns opted to punt the ball back to the Bucs.
Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis was shaken up after diving to break up a pass late in the first quarter.
Davis was in coverage when Jacoby Brissett threw incomplete to Donovan Peoples-Jones down the right sideline on third and 8 from the Tampa Bay 33-yard line.
The Browns had to settle for a 51-yard Cade York field goal and 10-7 lead with 2:22 remaining in the quarter.
Davis quickly returned to the game, but safety Antoine Winfield Jr. left shortly afterward. Winfield was evaluated for a possible concussion but later returned, as well.
Off and running
Running back Rachaad White did the bulk of the work as the Bucs drove 75 yards in nine plays on their opening possession to tie the game at 7.
White, making his second career start, carried three times for 46 yards, including a 35-yard run to the Browns 30-yard line, Tampa Bay’s longest run of the season and only second of more than 20 yards.
White also had runs of 7 and 4 yards and caught a pass for 5 more. Ke’Shawn Vaughn carried twice for 10 yards as Tampa Bay amassed 56 rushing yards on the drive — more than they totaled in five games earlier this season.
Tom Brady completed all four of his passes for 24 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin on a slant pattern, tying the game at 7 with 5:11 left in the quarter.
Browns on the board
The Browns drove 78 yards in seven plays for a touchdown on their opening possession.
After Nick Chubb rushed for 5 yards, Jacoby Brissett found Donovan Peoples-Jones and Amari Cooper for gains of 7 and 12 downs, respectively, and a pair of first downs to the Cleveland 46-yard line.
William Gholston dropped Chubb for a 1-yard loss before Brissett connected with Peoples-Jones for 9 yards, setting up third and 2 from the Tampa Bay 46. Chubb picked up the first down and more, gaining 15 yards around right end to the Bucs 31.
Anthony Schwartz did the rest, going 31 yards for a touchdown on a reverse around right end to give the Browns a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
The good news for the Bucs? The Browns have lost seven straight games when they have scored the opening touchdown.
Something different about these Bucs
Coming out of their bye week, the Bucs have the same head coach. Same offensive coordinator. Same basic systems. Same personnel.
Yet, there is something different about this team.
For the first time in months, they have the look of a winner.
For one thing, they’re healthier. Julio Jones, who missed five games with a knee injury, is back in the lineup. Fellow wideout Chris Godwin — who offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich calls “the heartbeat of our football team” — is back to being himself after working his way back from ACL and MCL tears.
Second-year player Nick Leverett has supplanted rookie Luke Goedeke at left guard. Rachaad White, who rushed for 105 yards in his first career start two weeks ago against the Seahawks in Munich, has brought speed and shiftiness to the running game.
Schematically, the Bucs have “changed some things to help people,” head coach Todd Bowles said.
One of those things was running the ball more, taking some of the pressure off quarterback Tom Brady. The threat of the run allowed the NFL’s most responsible quarterback (two interceptions, 14 sacks) to throw downfield more, resulting in a nice run (161 yards)-pass (258) balance in the 21-16 victory over the Seahawks.
Bowles spoke to his team about accountability before the trip to Germany, and no player seemed to take those words to heart more than inside linebacker Devin White.
White — called out by Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp for an apparent lack of effort two weeks earlier — had one of his best games as a pro, recording nine tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and three quarterback hits despite learning of the death of his father just days before the game.
Akiem Hicks, who sustained a plantar fascia tear in Week 2, returned to help fortify the defensive front. Cornerback Carlton Davis (hip) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) are back anchoring the secondary after missing time with injuries.
Now, a team that was looking up at the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South after a 27-22 loss to the Ravens on Oct. 27 — the Bucs’ third straight, dropping them to 3-5 — sits atop the division after winning two in a row.
Same team, different look.
Vita Vea will start for Bucs today
Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea will play today against the Cleveland Browns.
Vea, who leads the team with a career-high 6-1/2 sacks, suffered a foot injury during the bye week, according to head coach Todd Bowles.
Vea did not practice until Friday but will be needed today to stop a potent Browns rushing attack led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Read Rick Stroud’s full story here.
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A little light reading
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game:
Bucs’ Devin White refuses to feel defeated by personal losses
Bucs’ Leonard Fournette out with hip injury Sunday at Cleveland
No, the Bucs offense is not good. But is it good enough?
Byron Leftwich is tuning out everyone calling for his job
As Bucs return from layoff, can they recapture the momentum found in Munich?
Vita Vea returns to Bucs practice after 2-day absence
Bucs’ Rachaad White ready for a bigger role, Byron Leftwich says
Julio Jones finally is coming around. Not coincidentally, so is the Bucs offense
Sorry Manchester United, we kinda like the Glazers
Bucs’ Cameron Brate has a lot to be thankful for
Warrick Dunn’s compassion now spans 25 years and counting
Bucs’ resurgent run defense braces for another stern test in Cleveland
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