TAMPA — The Bucs lost their third straight game Sunday, falling 26-21 to the Bears, but here are five things you might have missed:
1 Alterraun Verner taking away a takeaway, again. Who knows how the game might have gone if Gerald McCoy's batted pass, intercepted by Will Gholston and returned to the Bears 15-yard line, hadn't been negated by a facemask penalty on Verner.
Instead of being in great position for a double-digit lead, the Bucs saw the Bears come down the field and tie the score at 7. And it has happened before that a Verner penalty negated a huge turnover in a close game.
When the Bucs played at the Colts on Nov. 29, Sterling Moore stripped a ball that the Bucs recovered at the Indy 23-yard line while trailing just 19-12. Instead, Verner's defensive holding penalty kept the Colts' drive alive, and they added a touchdown for the final margin.
"I'm assuming somehow I grazed it and they saw the head jerk and they called it," Verner said. "No question, it's unfortunate … as a player, you never want to be the guy that seems to let the team down on a play. It's very frustrating."
Verner had gotten his nickel job back only because an injury to Chris Conte mandated moving Keith Tandy to safety, where he played well with a career-best 10 tackles.
2 Crazy long plays to Bucs tight ends. The two longest catches for Bucs tight ends in the past decade … both took place Sunday. Jameis Winston hit Cameron Brate for a 46-yard gain down the sideline, and with one second left in the game, his Hail Mary throw was caught by Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a 43-yard score.
To find a longer play from a Bucs tight end, you have to go back to Ken Dilger, who had a 45-yard catch in 2004 and a 48-yarder in 2003.
After a five-way tie entering the game for the team lead, Seferian-Jenkins and RB Charles Sims now lead the Bucs with four TD catches each entering the final week of the season.
3 Zero takeaways, again. We've mentioned this before: The Bucs don't win under Lovie Smith when they don't get a takeaway. They're 0-7 now under Smith without getting one, including their past four losses, all to teams that had losing records at the time.
The Bucs have just one takeaway — Lavonte David's late clinching INT in the win against the Falcons — in their past five games.
"We don't have enough," Smith said. "(I) don't know the answer why. It's more than just putting an emphasis on it. It's not like we had a lot of opportunities to intercept the ball. They just haven't come for whatever reason. It's something we have to continue to try to figure out."
4 Is Bobby Rainey's job in jeopardy? It was a lackluster day for Rainey, who had 3 yards on his two punt returns, with back-to-back punts where he lost the ball but was able to recover.
Touchbacks are the norm on kickoffs, but the Bucs used rookie WR Donteea Dye on the kickoff return to open the second half — he returned it 19 yards to the 22. Thing is, the Bucs' best field position to start 11 drives (ignoring the blocked punt) was … their own 23. That's a lot of long fields to get points.
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5 Penalties, killing the Bucs. Yes, Tampa Bay had a season-low four for 47 yards Sunday, but consider this stretch of three flags in 10 plays in the second quarter.
Facing a third-and-5, the Bucs offense negated a first-down throw across midfield with a 10-yard penalty. Then on defense, Verner's penalty negated a turnover that would have set them up in the red zone, and as the drive continued, a pass interference call in the end zone set the Bears up at the 1-yard line. Three penalties, zero Bucs points, seven Bears points, one Bucs loss.