Four Chicago Bears turnovers in the first half – leading to 14 points for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set the tone for the rest of the game on a sunny, warm afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.
The Tampa Bay defense was under pressure coming into the game, having conceded a astronomical 1,087 yards in their previous two games – both of which were at home – and having been publicly called out on a local radio station by their former linebacker, and Hall of Famer, Derrick Brooks.
However, the Bucs defense stepped up this week, and Jay Cutler and his offense were on the receiving end of a brutal onslaught, that would have had the infamous 'Tampa Two' defense of John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber and gang purring.
Jay Cutler was having a horror show
After both sides traded punts on their opening drives, the game exploded into life when Cutler faced with a 3rd & 2 on the Bucs 46, tried to force a pass to receiver Alshon Jeffery at the 30, but the pass was read all the way by Bucs corner Brent Grimes and it was intercepted.
The Bucs couldn’t capitalize and were forced to punt, but their disappointment was short-lived, as on the first play after the change of possession, Cutler was again intercepted with former Bear Chris Conte jumping in front of Logan Paulson to take it in for a Pick-Six.
The Bears managed to get on the board with a huge 54-yard field-goal from their former Bucs kicker Connor Barth.
Jameis Winston handed the Bears offense a chance to redeem themselves on the next drive, as he was intercepted by Harold Jones-Quartey, giving the Bears great field position on the Bucs 24 yard line.
But Cutler’s nightmare first half continued when he was sacked by rookie defensive end Noah Spence, who ripped the ball from the forlorn Bears quarterback to force a fumble that was recovered by Kwon Alexander.
Doug Martin made his first start since week two
The game saw the return of Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, although he struggled to make much of an impression.
Martin was only ever going to have limited reps in his first game back, but the fact that he was on the field at all seemed to give the whole Bucs side a lift.
The same could not be said about the Bears, however, and the next time they had the ball they again brought about their own undoing.
Running Back Jordan Howard was the latest Bear to have butterfingers as he had the ball stripped by William Gholston, and Bradley McDougald recovered for the home side.
Four plays later and the Bucs were in the end zone again – Winston finding the impressive tight end Cameron Brate for the score.
The Bucs added to their lead through a Roberto Aguayo field goal to give the hosts a 17-3 lead.
Jay Cutler’s hail-mary touchdown looked to have given the Bears some momentum
The Bears got the ball back, and finding themselves on the 50-yard line with only five seconds of the half left, Cutler threw a bomb downfield in apparent vain hope.
The pass was tipped in the end zone by the Bucs, but it floated upwards and into the grateful arms of a falling Cameron Meredith for an unlikely touchdown.
The play should have provided impetus to a misfiring Bears offense for the second half, but – unfortunately for them – it failed to, and that pass was about as good as it got for them.
Winston and the Bucs were rampant in the second half
The second half was one-way traffic. The Buccaneers belied their status as perennial strugglers in front of their home fans, as they dismantled the beleaguered Bears – who only converted two of nine 3rd downs all night – piece by piece.
A quick-fire drive to start the second half led to a 43-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Freddie Martino.
Aguayo, seemingly leaving his kicking problems behind, added to the lead with another field goal, leaving the Bucs 27-10 ahead.
If that did not seem insurmountable to the dejected visiting Bears fans in the crowd, the safety that the Bears conceded following yet another fumble – Cutler again dropping the ball out of the back of the endzone following another sack by the inspired Bucs defense – signaled that their humiliation was complete.
The situation was compounded on the Bucs next drive, with Winston pulling all the strings to lead a 19 play drive that lasted 9:56 and resulted in a Martin touchdown run.
The Bucs won the game; no one could argue that it was not fully deserved
While Cutler and the Bears offense imploded time after time, it was more often than not, down to a Buccaneer defense that performed outstandingly and constantly dominated the Bears offensive line.
The result leaves the Bucs at 4-5, two games behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South, while the Bears are adrift at the bottom of the NFC North on 2-7.
If they can continue to show this level of intensity in the weeks to come, and with Winston directing things behind the Center, and a fully fit Martin as an extra outlet, on top of the talented wide receiving group they have, then it is not impossible that Tampa Bay could yet make a run at the playoffs.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, already look like they are playing for pride in the remainder of the season, and quite where they go from here will say a lot about the man-management and motivational skills of head coach John Fox, and the leadership qualities of Cutler.