TAMPA – Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter went into the locker room at halftime on Sunday imploring his players to not let one bad play ruin what for them had been a very good first half.
Despite giving up a demoralizing score-tightening 50-yard touchdown pass on a Hail Mary pass as time ran out in the first half, the Bucs bounced back and turned in a second half that was almost as good as the first.
The result was a 36-10 victory over the Bears in which Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winton became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to reach the 40 touchdown-pass plateau.
At 22 years, 312 days, Winston reached that milestone when he hit tight end Cameron Brate with a 10-yard scoring strike late in the second quarter. Winston’s best was yet to come, though.
On the third play of the second half, Winston was chased back into his own end zone by two Bears pass rushers. He somehow managed to escape, though, to throw a 39-yard pass to Mike Evans.
On the very next play he found Freddy Martino alone near the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bucs a 24-10 lead and all the momentum they needed to record their first home win of the season.
It wasn’t just Winston who contributed, though. The Bucs defense did its part, too, forcing four takeaways in the first half alone and tacking on a safety during the second half.
The only real miscue for the defense, other than struggling to stop rookie running back Jordan Howard, came on that Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half.
On a first-and-10 play from the 50, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler rolled out of the pocket and threw back against the grain into the end zone, where Bucs safety Chris Conte was the first to get a hand on the ball
Conte, who had already returned an interception for a touchdown, attempted to slap the ball away but it wound up in the hands of Bears receiver Cameron Meredith, whose score cut the Bucs lead to 17-10.
That proved to be little more than a speed bump for the Bucs, who improved to 4-5 overall on the season. The Bears, meanwhile, fell to 2-6, including 0-5 on the road.