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Rachaad White, Mike Evans and Shaquil Barrett scored touchdowns, and Chase McLaughlin kicked two field goals as the Bucs beat the Bears 27-17 in their regular-season opener Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka had two of Tampa Bay’s six sacks, as the defense hounded Chicago quarterback Justin Fields from the start. Vita Vea had 1-1/2, Barrett and Cam Gill each had one, and Logan Hall added 1/2-sack.
Barrett and Christian Izien made late fourth-quarter interceptions to preserve the win. Barrett returned his 4 yards for the clinching touchdown.
The Bucs improved to 2-0 for the third consecutive season and first in that span without Tom Brady. The Bears dropped to 0-2.
Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 26 of 34 passes for 317 yards. He threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Evans, who finished with team highs of six receptions and 171 receiving yards.
A 70-yard pass play from Mayfield to Evans in the second quarter set up White’s 4-yard scoring run, putting the Bucs ahead 10-7. White, with 73 yards on 17 carries, led a revitalized rushing attack that averaged 3.5 yards on 34 carries.
McLaughlin kicked field goals of 26 and 25 yards, the latter giving the Bucs a 13-10 halftime lead. He had a 40-yard attempt blocked by Rasheem Green.
Justin Fields scored on a 1-yard run on the Bears’ opening possession, putting them ahead 7-3. Cairo Santos kicked a 52-yard field goal late in the second quarter, tying the score at 10.
Fields’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool with just over six minutes remaining trimmed the Bears’ deficit to 20-17.
But Barrett ended Chicago’s hopes with a 4-yard interception return for a touchdown just before the two-minute warning, restoring Tampa Bay’s two-score advantage. Izien’s pick on the Bears’ next possession iced the Bucs’ win.
Here’s how it happened:
Signs of life
Leading by a field goal with more than six minutes still to play, the Bucs leaned heavily on a rushing attack that ranked last in the NFL a year ago and averaged just 2.2 yards per carry last week against the Vikings.
It got the job done, running off nearly four minutes of clock time before flipping the field and setting up the clinching defensive touchdown.
Running back Rachaad White picked up first downs on the drive with an 8-yard reception and 13-yard run around right end.
The Bucs reached the Bears 46 before Luke Goedeke was penalized for a false start and White was dropped for a 2-yard loss, setting up third and 17 from the Tampa Bay 47.
Baker Mayfield completed a 10-yard pass to Chris Godwin over the middle, but Godwin was tackled well short of the first-down marker.
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After a 36-yard Jake Camarda punt was downed by Derrek Pitts, the Bears got the ball back at their 7 with 2:24 remaining.
The field position was significant.
The Bears attempted an inside screen from the 6, and Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett intercepted the ball at the 4. Barrett bulled his way into the end zone for a pick-six that extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 27-17 with 2:03 to play.
The Bucs got their second takeaway on the Bears’ next possession, as Antoine Winfield Jr. broke up a pass intended for Chase Claypool and Christian Izien grabbed the ball out of the air for an interception.
Not done yet
Running back Khalil Herbert breathed some life into the Bears’ dormant offense midway through the fourth quarter, taking a screen pass into the blitz and gaining 23 yards up the left sideline to the Chicago 46.
They didn’t waste it.
Three plays later, Justin Fields found DJ Moore deep down the middle for a 22-yard gain to the Bucs 36. Tampa Bay cornerback Jamel Dean was injured on the play.
Fields went back to Moore on the next play, resulting in a 12-yard gain to the 20.
Keeping to the air, Fields then fired a dart to Chase Claypool over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown pass, trimming the Bears’ deficit to 20-17 with 6:17 remaining.
Fields went 6-for-6 for 92 yards on the drive.
Try, try again
Takeaways, taken away. Twice.
The Bucs thought they had forced their first turnover of the game late in the third quarter, when inside linebacker Devin White hit Bears quarterback Justin Fields as he tried to throw. The ball came loose, and Tampa Bay safety Christian Izien recovered at the Chicago 48.
But the call was reversed after a replay review, ruled an incomplete pass instead.
No matter. Cornerback Zyon McCollum, starting in place of injured Carlton Davis, intercepted a Fields pass intended for Chase Claypool along the right sideline on the very next play.
Or did he? That play didn’t stand, either, as it was ruled that McCollum did not have control of the ball as he came down out of bounds.
The Bucs didn’t get a turnover, but they got the ball back, anyway. The third-down incompletion resulted in a Bears punt.
It’s a deadly combination for Bucs opponents: quarterback Baker Mayfield keeping plays alive and receiver Mike Evans extending them.
The two connected on a big play for the second time midway through the third quarter, as Mayfield avoided the rush, saw Evans work himself open, got him the ball and then watched as Evans raced up the left sideline for a 36-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 49.
Ten plays later, Mayfield hit Evans deep down the left sideline for a 32-yard touchdown, extending the Bucs’ lead to 20-10 with just over four minutes remaining in the quarter.
Earlier, Mayfield and Evans hooked up for a 70-yard completion, setting up Rachaad White’s second-quarter touchdown run.
The throws to Evans weren’t Mayfield’s only big plays on the drive.
He completed six of seven passes, side-armed a throw to tight end Cade Otton to set up fourth and 2 from the Bears 32 (Rachaad White picked up the first down) and recovered a fumble by tight end David Wells to retain possession for Tampa Bay at the Chicago 32.
No shortage of time
Never sleep on Baker Mayfield.
The Bucs quarterback showed during last week’s season-opening win over the Vikings that he can thrive in the two-minute offense, driving his team for a tying touchdown late in the first half.
He did it again against the Bears, driving the Bucs 69 yards in 12 plays to set up a go-ahead field goal.
Mayfield completed three passes for 24 yards, scrambled twice for 10 yards and, maybe just as important, stayed upright in the pocket long enough to avoid a sack and throw the ball out of the back of the end zone on third and goal from the 6.
It allowed Chase McLaughlin to kick a 25-yard field goal, his second of the game, putting the Bucs ahead 13-10 at the half.
Back on the move
The Bears put together their best drive since their opening possession late in the second quarter, moving the ball 56 yards to the Bucs 24-yard line.
Justin Fields got things started with an 8-yard completion to Chase Claypool along the left sideline for a first down at the Chicago 30. On the next play, Roschon Johnson raced 29 yards off left tackle to the Tampa Bay 41.
Three plays later, Fields found tight end Cole Kmet underneath for 11 yards, setting up third and 4 from the 35. Fields went right back to Kmet over the middle, picking up 11 yards and a first down at the 24.
But Vita Vea and YaYaDiaby, and then Cam Gill sacked Fields twice in a three-play span, pushing Chicago back 10 yards and bringing up fourth and 20.
The Bears had to settle for a 52-yard Cairo Santos field goal and 10-10 tie with 1:55 to play in the half.
When extended drives produced only field goals on their first two possessions, the Bucs found a quick strike more rewarding.
Early in the second quarter, Mike Evans caught a Baker Mayfield pass at the Tampa Bay 44-yard line, cut across the field and raced to the Bears 7 before being brought down to complete a 70-yard reception.
Three plays later, Rachaad White ran 4 yards over left guard on third and goal to put Tampa Bay ahead 10-7 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
All for naught
Baker Mayfield took the Bucs back down the field on their second possession, completing two passes for 33 yards and scrambling twice for 9 more.
The Bears appeared to have him sacked on a first-down play from the Chicago 26, but Mayfield ducked under defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue, cut to the right sideline and ran for 8 yards before being forced out of bounds.
Mayfield’s 1-yard run one play later set up third and 1 from the Bears 17-yard line, but a false start penalty on left tackle Tristan Wirfs made it third and 6.
Mayfield threw incomplete for wide receiver Trey Palmer deep down the right sideline, but the rookie receiver had cut off his route on an apparent miscommunication.
Chase McLaughlin was sent out to the field to attempt his second field goal of the game, but Rasheem Green blocked McLaughlin’s 40-yard try, giving Chicago possession at midfield.
Wide receiver DJ Moore, who had just two catches in the Bears’ opening-week loss to the Packers, made two big ones on Chicago’s first possession.
The former Panthers wideout had two receptions for 64 yards, including a 31-yard gain to the Bucs 6 on third and 5 as the Bears drove 75 yards in six plays to take a 7-3 lead with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter.
Quarterback Justin Fields finished the drive with a 1-yard run around right end, going untouched into the end zone.
Off and running
After going three-and-out to begin last week’s game against the Vikings, the Bucs offense drove most of the length of the field its first time with the ball.
Tampa Bay drove 67 yards on 12 plays on its opening possession and took a 3-0 lead on a 26-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal.
Baker Mayfield was 4-of-6 passing for 46 yards on the drive, which stalled at the Chicago 8. Chris Godwin caught two passes for 23 yards, including a 16-yard gain to the Bucs 43 on third and 8.
Mayfield later connected with Mike Evans for 20 yards to the Bears 27 on a third-and-11 play.
The drive nearly stopped before it got started as Jaquan Brisker jumped an in-breaking Evans route on the second play, but the defensive back dropped the ball.
Deven Thompkins picked up a first down with an 11-yard run on an end around. Chase Edmonds ran for 14 yards later in the drive to pick up another.
Seeing is believing
Are they for real?
Tampa Bay will get its first in-person peek at the new-look Bucs this afternoon, when they play the Bears in their home opener at Raymond James Stadium.
Muted expectations gave to cautious optimism after last week’s 20-17 victory over the Vikings in Minneapolis, a game few outside the organization expected the Bucs to win.
Once they settled into the game, there was a lot to like:
After going three-and-out on five of its first six possessions (one resulted in a field goal), Tampa Bay’s offense came to life in the final minutes of the first half. As the two-minute warning approached, the Bucs increased their tempo and Baker Mayfield led them on a seven-play, 61-yard drive, capped by a 28-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans.
The Vikings quickly responded, needing just six plays to move 62 yards to the Tampa Bay 13. But safety Christian Izien intercepted Kirk Cousins’ pass for K.J. Osborn at the 2, and the Bucs went into the half tied at 10.
A 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to start the second half put the Bucs ahead and chewed up nearly nine minutes of the third-quarter clock. After the Vikings tied the score early in the fourth, a successful fourth-down conversion by Mayfield keyed a field-goal drive later in the quarter that put Tampa Bay ahead to stay.
The Bucs defense held, with cornerback Carlton Davis breaking up a third-down pass for Jordan Addison, and the offense repaid their efforts by keeping the ball for the final 3:52. Tampa Bay converted two third downs on the drive, with Mayfield gaining 4 yards around right end and then three plays later finding Chris Godwin for 11 yards along the right sideline.
After starting 3-of-11 passing for 12 yards, Mayfield went 18-for-23 for 161 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way. He showed poise, savvy (cracking the Vikings’ defensive signals), creativity (flipping the ball to running back Rachaad White to avoid a sack) and mobility that Tom Brady lacked during his three seasons in Tampa Bay.
The two players who entered camp unhappy with their contract situations, Evans and inside linebacker Devin White, both made significant contributions: Evans, despite a couple of drops, finished with team highs of six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. White was Tampa Bay’s leading tackler with 12, including seven solo and one for loss.
Sixth-round pick Trey Palmer, who flashed so often during camp, showed that he can be a capable replacement for injured Russell Gage as the No. 3 receiver, making a 7-yard touchdown reception.
An offensive line that started just one player (center Robert Hainsey) in the same position he played in 2022 had no false start penalties, only two holding infractions and did not allow a sack.
While a running game that ranked last in the NFL a year ago averaged just 2.2 yards (73 yards on 33 carries), offensive coordinator Dave Canales was more positive, pointing out that it reached 52% of its run-efficiency goal of 4 yards per carry and had only one negative running play, which is unusual for a zone scheme.
The 33 rushing attempts (they averaged 22 last season) were a step in the right direction. It’s up to backs Rachaad White, Sean Tucker and Chase Edmonds to make more of them.
Now back in Tampa Bay, can the Bucs continue to curry favor with their fans? No better way to impress someone than in person.
They’ll get their first chance today.
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