Bucs collapse in second half of loss to Bengals

by Gary Shelton on December 19, 2022

in general

Monday, 4 a.m.

They climbed so high ...

... and they fell so far.

The fact that the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Tampa Bay Buc 34-23 on Sunday afternoon shouldn't surprise anyone. The Bucs lose a lot these days, and the Bengals win a lot.

What as news was the way it happened, when the Bucs played their finest first half of the season, and spent the second half self-destructing. It was as if the goal of the game was to lose, and the Bucs worked overtime to do it with turnovers, penalties and strange play calls.

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Put it this way: If you turned it off at the half, you're better off. It was so fast, so complete, so telling of the season this team has had.

It was the most dramatic fizzle of the season, perhaps of many seasons. The Bucs turned the ball over on four out of 10 plays in the third period, watching a 17-0 lead dissolve into another loss.

The Bucs fell to 6-8. They still have a shaky lead in the awful NFC South, not that that's anything to brag about.

"We’re pissed off," Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. "Same old song-- Bucs vs Bucs. We play a good first half and come out in the second and shoot ourselves in the foot either by turnovers or penalties or field position . The half we played in the second half was Bucs beating Bucs."

As it turns out, the Bucs ran up the score on the Bucs.

In the third period, the Bucs:

-- Botched a fake punt on fourth-and-one at their own 26-yard-line. With a two-touchdown lead, you might debate that a fake punt would be in order. Instead, back Giovani Bernard looked as if he was unaware the snap was coming and was tossed for a loss.

Bowles admitted the team went for the first down despite the field position. "We would have gained four or five yards," he said. "We just didn't handle the ball."

Yes, Bowles said, Bernard knew the play was coming.

It was a gamble of reward vs. risk. Even if the Bucs made the first down, they would have had 70 yards to go. The Bucs gave the Bengals a reason to believe in themselves a reason to doubt.

-- Brady threw two interceptions, fumbled once and botched a halndoff to Leonard Fournette.

“Unforced errors," said. Brady, who took the blame for both fumbles. "You can't win football games like that. Two good quarters don't win you any games."

-- After stopping the Bengals on a fourth down and three with a 23-yard sack, the Bucs were guilty of defensive holding.

"We play hard, and we play tough," Bowles said. "We've got to play smart for 60 minutes:”

-- Later in the drive, the Bucs stopped Tee Higgins a yard short on third-and-eight. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka was called for a face mask.

-- In the first half, the Bucs had 261 yards. In the second half, they had 135. Mike Evans caught five passes for 83 yards in the first half. He didn't catch a pass in the second.

-- In all, the Bucs suffered an embarrassing collapse, playing one half of what could be and another of what is. Fans have seen so much of the Bucs' second half.

Once again, Brady was better statistically than he was in reality. He threw for 312 yards, but his turnovers greased the second half slide.

One the slide started, there was nothing to break the Bucs' fall. They will be favored in their last three games, but not overwhelmingly so. And the way they're playing, winning three in a row against anyone seems like a stretch.

The Bucs have given up 69 points in their last two losses.

The Bucs, who have lost three of four, play against Arizona on Christmas Day. The kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m.

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