The first half against the Buccaneers really could not have gone much worse for the Cincinnati Bengals. Before the drive that ended in Evan McPherson’s field goal attempt that scored 17-3 at the half, the Bengals had managed only three first downs in the entire stanza, all coming on the first drive that ended in an interception. On the other end, Brady had his way with the Bengals’ defense, picking them apart routinely and working down the field easily every time they touched the ball. In fact, the only Buccaneers’ drive that didn’t end with points came from a missed field goal, the lone break Cincinnati seemed to get before the intermission.
At halftime, however, both teams came out looking completely different. In an NFL weekend that was characterized by comebacks and wild finishes, the Bengals served their fans up with one of their own, scoring 31 unanswered points before Brady and the Bucs’ offense put up a garbage-time touchdown. The ball did not leave the Tampa Bay side of the field for the entire third quarter, in fact, as Brady fumbled twice and was intercepted in that frame alone. Even still, the Bengals’ offense seemed to struggle to move the ball on a beat-up Buccaneers’ defense, but when you start on the opponent’s twenty-yard-line every series, you will eventually put up touchdowns, and that’s what Burrow and company did.
Bengals’ First Half Woes Rear Their Head Against The Buccaneers
We have seen the Bengals lay some eggs in the first half this season; games against Pittsburgh, Dallas, New Orleans, and Cleveland immediately come to mind. However, what they did in Tampa Bay in the first half felt like a new low at the time. The Bengals seemingly could not move the ball on offense, managing only 86 yards in the opening half, most of which came on their first and last drives. That first drive looked eerily similar to their opening drive against Cleveland back on Halloween, moving down the field easily before a tip drill interception deflates them. And for much of the first half, they looked even worse than they did in that game.
The offense couldn’t stay on the field, and the defense couldn’t escape it. The Buccaneers only failed on third down three times in the entire first half, and one of those was followed by a fourth down conversion for Tampa Bay’s first touchdown of the game. Indeed, it looked as though the losses of Trey Hendrickson and Mike Hilton, which were not small losses but seemed surmountable, would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Bengals’ defense. They allowed the most yards they had all season to an offense that looked anemic just last week, and it was starting to look like it would be a long afternoon in Cincinnati.
Defense Comes To Play After The Break, Bengals Make Brady’s Life Miserable
With how bad the first half went, it seemed as though we could expect more of the same after the break, with Tampa Bay receiving the ball to start. However, the Bengals’ defense came up big and forced a fourth and short situation that would end up being the game’s turning point. Todd Bowles called a fake punt to former Bengal Giovani Bernard, but Bernard himself seemed surprised that the ball went to him, and it turned into a turnover on downs deep in the Buccaneers’ territory. While the Bengals would only answer with a field goal, the momentum was now firmly in Cincinnati’s favor, and on their next few attempts, they went for the throat.
A series of events ensued that not only swung the game in Cincinnati’s favor but seemed to completely demoralize the normally fiery Brady. Reserve cornerback Tre Flowers was able to secure a key interception that turned into a touchdown to Tee Higgins to trim the lead to 17-12. Then a sack-fumble by DJ Reader and Logan Wilson turned into a touchdown to Tyler Boyd that gave the Bengals their first lead. Then Brady fumbled a routine handoff to Leonard Fournette, which the Bengals turned into a Ja’Marr Chase touchdown that all but ended the game. Brady wasn’t done sharing, though, as he threw another interception to Germaine Pratt to pour more salt in Tampa’s wounds.
It truly was a comedy of errors for a Buccaneers team that looked very steady in the first half. It appeared as if Todd Bowles’ team spent halftime making celebratory dinner plans while Lou Anarumo was scheming to win the game, as the Tampa Bay team we saw in the second half looked like they barely belonged on a professional football field. Credit to Zac Taylor and his staff for taking advantage of Tampa’s miscues, but they owe a lot of their second-half success to a complete meltdown on the other sideline. Luckily, with the holidays right around the corner, the Bengals’ defense will have a perfect excuse to send a Christmas card to the Brady-Bündch…uh, just Brady, residence.
Burrow Not Flashy But Leads Bengals To Big Win
Joe Burrow seemed to be slightly off for large portions of the afternoon, and even he seemed to acknowledge it. While he finished with a very respectable 69.2% completion and four touchdowns, you could tell on the sideline that he was disappointed with his first-quarter interception, the sixth such one that came on a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage already this season. He also only reached 200 yards on 39 attempts for a less-than-impressive 5.1 yards per attempt. However, he did enough to secure a sixth straight win for the Bengals, putting them in a great position in the playoff push.
With the Ravens’ loss to the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, the Bengals had regained first place in the AFC North before they even took a snap on Sunday. While it looked like they were in danger of handing it right back, they made the plays they needed to in all three phases to secure a one-game lead with three games to play. Cincinnati is also knocking on the door of clinching a second straight trip to the postseason. While Kansas City pulling out an overtime win over Houston was discouraging in the chase for the top seed, the Bengals might go into the postseason as the scariest team in the AFC.