Bucs make quick work of mistake-prone Bears
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a built-in excuse for being rusty or ineffective.
After nearly a week of Hurricane Irma-forced inactivity, they were seemingly playing from behind as their NFL season finally began Sunday.
“We were so eager and excited to play,” Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston said. “We just wanted the opportunity.”
When the Bucs got some opportunities, they pounced.
Taking advantage of four first-half takeaways, Tampa Bay struck early and often to defeat the mistake-prone Chicago Bears 29-7 at Raymond James Stadium.
“This tells me great things are coming,” said Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, who had a game-high nine tackles. “Getting turnovers is the name of the game. That’s a huge goal and we got that done today.”
The Bucs (1-0) led 26-0 at halftime, a team-record advantage at the break in a season opener. It was Tampa Bay’s largest halftime advantage since 2001.
“Four giveaways in the first half was not good news,” said Bears head coach John Fox, whose team slipped to 0-2 after beginning with a home loss against the Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s tough to win that way, especially against a good team on the road. We did a little better in the second half, but we dug ourselves too deep of a hole.”
Fox said he planned to continue with Mike Glennon as the starting quarterback. Glennon, Tampa Bay’s third-round draft pick in 2013 who played four seasons for the Bucs, completed 31 of 45 passes for 301 yards and played the entire game. Fox was quick to quell any talk of a quarterback controversy as the fan drumbeat already has begun to play rookie Mitchell Trubisky, the draft’s second overall selection.
“We have to get better as a team at every position,” Fox said. “I don’t think you can pin this one on the quarterback. The whole team made too many mistakes.”
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said he was pleased with the effort, particularly because the hurricane played havoc with the team’s routine and rescheduled its planned opener at Miami into November.
“We have an awesome group of guys, the right guys, and there’s very good leadership in that locker room,” Koetter said. “We can get better, but we’ll take a win any way we can get it.
“By no means was it perfect, but we took advantage of the opportunities in the first half. That was really good to see.”
Tampa Bay’s offense did its part by turning two of the takeaways into touchdowns — a 13-yard pass from Winston to wide receiver Mike Evans and a 1-yard run by Jacquizz Rodgers, who started for Doug Martin, serving the final three games of a substance-abuse suspension.
Winston was 18 of 30 for 204 yards before giving way to Ryan Fitzpatrick late in the fourth quarter. Winston’s favorite target was Evans, who had seven receptions for 93 yards.
Meanwhile, Glennon was haunted by a pair of critical second-quarter errors.
With the Bucs leading 10-0, Glennon fumbled after being sacked by Noah Spence and it was recovered by David at the Chicago 35-yard line. The Bears stopped Tampa Bay on third-and-goal from the 6, but the Bucs got new life when Bears linebacker Willie Young was flagged for defensive holding. Rodgers scored on the next play, a 1-yard run for a 17-0 advantage.
On the next series, Glennon swung a pass attempt to Josh Bellamy in the left flat on third-and-9, but Bucs cornerback Robert McClain stepped in front and sailed into the end zone for a 47-yard interception return.
Nick Folk missed the point-after attempt, keeping the score at 23-0, but he made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 50-yarder on the half’s final play and a 42-yarder.
Tampa Bay nearly registered the team’s second shutout win in the past 13 seasons, but Glennon finally got Chicago on the board by hitting Deonte Thompson on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 1:43 remaining.
“I think we could’ve done a better job of closing out the game,” Bucs safety Chris Conte said. “But all in all, when you create turnovers, it’s a good formula for winning the game. After what happened (with the hurricane), it’s good to win like this for sure.”
Winston said it was something to build upon for Tampa Bay.
“It was good to get out there, have the fans get out there and play some football,” Winston said. “When you have something that affects your family like the storm did, you have a chance to reflect. We were determined to get this win.”
NOTES: Bears LB Nick Kwiatkoski (pectoral muscle) and LG Tom Compton (hip) left in the first half, then were ruled out of the game. Bears RG Josh Sitton (ribs) was later ruled out during the second half. ... Bucs LB Kwon Alexander, whose first-quarter interception set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown, left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and didn’t return, putting more stress on a linebacker corps that was already missing backup Devante Bond. ... The Bucs — along with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins — wore a “ONE FLORIDA” decal on their helmets to signify the state’s resilience following Hurricane Irma. ... Bucs TE O.J. Howard, a first-round pick from Alabama, had his first NFL catch with a 17-yard reception in the third quarter. ... Bucs S T.J. Ward, the former Pro Bowler who was acquired after being cut by the Denver Broncos, made his Tampa Bay debut with a second-quarter splash play. He dumped Bears RB Tarik Cohen for a 3-yard loss. “It’s great to have T.J. here,” Koetter said. “He’s going to help us a lot.”