TAMPA — Devin White had the football in his hands, a touchdown on his mind and legs that would prevent him from reaching the end zone.
The Bucs linebacker intercepted Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts late in the first half with his team trailing by a touchdown.
Had he not been battling a groin injury that limited him in practice all week, that play might have changed the scoreboard and perhaps the outcome of Monday night’s 25-11 loss to the Eagles.
“That was a pick six all day,” White said. “I wanted to reverse field and go score. It’s been a long time since I caught a pick. Actually, the Super Bowl. I was so excited but frustrated at the same time. I got in the shower and asked, ‘Why me?’”
The distance between the Bucs and the defending NFC champion Eagles Monday was longer than the run White couldn’t make with the interception.
The Eagles were more physical, holding Tampa Bay to only 41 yards rushing. They were more explosive on offense, with running back D’Andre Smith rushing for 130 yards and receiver A.J. Brown catching nine passes for 131 yards.
In the end, the Bucs probably did well just to lose by a couple of touchdowns. The Eagles were only 1-for-5 in the red zone, including the final possession, which ended at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line.
The loss dropped the Bucs to 2-1 and into a tie with the Falcons and Saints in the NFC South heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans.
After the game, coach Todd Bowles told his team to take responsibility for the mistakes that cost it the game.
“It was a hard-fought game,” he said. “We own it. We own it. They stayed in third and short, and they got some first downs and some good first downs. We didn’t play a good ballgame. They were partly a lot to do with that. We can’t sulk about it. We’ve got to get ready for New Orleans. We’ve got to get nursed up, get the injured guys healthy, and we’ve got a division game this week.”
It could have been worse, except the Bucs intercepted Hurts twice, including a diving pick by Dee Delaney at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line.
But even that effort went south when running back Rachaad White was tackled on the next play by linebacker Nicholas Morrow for a safety.
The Bucs weren’t sharp from the outset. The offense sputtered to start the game, the defense gave up some chunk plays in the passing game and the special teams had a breakdown. A 52-yard punt return by Britain Covey set up the Eagles’ first score, a 36-yard field goal by Jake Elliott.
While the Bucs defense bent, it did not break much in the first half. On his first three drives, Hurts was contained, going 6-of-12 passing for 76 yards.
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But after Tampa Bay tied the game at 3 on a 33-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin, Hurts got hot. He went 5-of-6 for 80 yards, avoiding the rush and throwing a 34-yard touchdown to Olamide Zaccheaus.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield had his worst game, going 15-of-25 for 146 yards with a touchdown to Mike Evans and threw his first interception of the season.
“We started too slow,” Mayfield said. “And that’s a good football team. So anytime you give them more opportunities to have the football in their hands, they’re going to capitalize. We just have to better on offense as a whole.
“I’ve got to do better and take advantage of different outlets and things I had available early on. They’re a great defensive front, so anytime you have an advantage with some of the pass options and in the run game, you need to take those. We’ll move down the road, and we’ve just got to play better as a whole.”
While the Bucs were unable to stay ahead of the sticks, averaging 2.4 yards per rushing attempt, Mayfield was victimized by a couple of early drops by Evans. However, Evans made a highlight reel, one-handed catch in the fourth quarter that set up his 1-yard touchdown reception, his third of the season.
“I mean, it’s a long season,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, we wanted to win this one. It was a big game for us. We didn’t come out and play our best by any means. … Just, mentality-wise, we’ve got to start faster. It’s a Monday night game. We should be pumped up and ready to go. Be aggressive as an offense. We’re damn good when we do our job. We just need to take advantage of it.”
White was still upset after the game he was unable to turn his interception into a touchdown. But he said there was no finger-pointing after the game in the locker room.
“The first thing Baker said was, ‘We’re going to start faster for you, we’ve got to,’” White said. “At the end of the day, you hold up your side of the ball, and I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got your back. ... It was one game. It was a big game. I wanted to beat them so bad., But at the end of the day, we’ll see them again. We’re going to the playoffs. I’m saying that right now.”
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