TAMPA – A battered defense made just enough plays to give the Buccaneers a chance to beat the Patriots at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night but the Tampa Bay offense failed repeatedly to take advantage in what proved to be a 19-14 Patriots victory.
The Bucs won the takeaway battle, getting a first-quarter interception from rookie safety Justin Evans and a fumble recovery from reserve defensive tackle Will Clarke, but they failed to turn either into points on a night when the Bucs kicking woes only got worse.
Less than a year removed from the nightmare that was Roberto Aguayo, the Bucs continued to get similar results from veteran replacement Nick Folk, who missed field goal tries of 31, 49 and 55 yards just three days after he left seven points on the field during a 25-23 victory over the Giants.
The Bucs offense got a boost from the return of running back Doug Martin, who ran 13 times for 74 yards and the team’s lone touchdown, but the Bucs were just 2-for-11 on third down and struggled throughout the night to maintain continuity and move the ball.
Against a Patriots defense that came into the game allowing 457 yards per game, the Bucs didn’t surpass the 200-yard marker until the fourth quarter, when quarterback Jameis Winston connected on a 41-yard pass to DeSean Jackson.
That gain helped the Bucs move deep into Patriots territory while trailing 16-7 but Folk’s third miss of the night prevented the Bucs from cutting their deficit to one score and may have spelled the end of Folk’s tenure with the team.
The Bucs eventually cut the deficit back to one score one possession later on an 18-yard Jameis Winston touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Brate but the Bucs failed to cover the on-side kick and the Patriots ran down the clock.
Martin did early on in his comeback exactly what the Bucs hoped he would. He gave their offense a boost, particularly during the Bucs first drive of the second quarter.
Martin ran six times for 48 yards during that drive, including twice for the final 10 yards of the drive to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead on a 1-yard dive into the end for his first touchdown.
The Bucs gave that lead up on the Patriots next possession, which ended with Brady hitting Chris Hogan with this 7-yard touchdown pass in front of Vernon Hargreaves with 3:42 left in the half:
— NFL (@NFL) October 6, 2017
The Patriots tacked on a field goal to finish the first-half scoring, but the Bucs no doubt considered that a win after a 40-yard Danny Amendola punt return and a penalty set the Patriots up at the Bucs 27-yard line.
That win was part of a solid defensive effort overall in which the Bucs recorded a pair of sacks and scored a key pressure on a third-and-5 play at their own 9 to force a field goal late in the first quarter.
The Bucs strong defensive effort continued into the second half when two straight pass breakups, one by rookie Justin Evans and one by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, forced the Patriots to settle for 45-yard field goal at the end of their first possession.