Brady, Bucs continue struggles vs. AFC in blowing big lead to Bengals

TAMPA, Fla. — How can things go so terribly wrong for the Buccaneers?

Trailing 17-0 just before halftime, the Bucs saw the Bengals score 34 straight points, with Tom Brady committing four turnovers in a span of 11 offensive plays, leading to a disastrous 34 loss -23 in Cincinnati at Raymond James Stadium. The Bengals (10-4) have now won six in a row.

The Bucs finish the season 0-5 against AFC opponents, and the loss drops them to 6-8 with three games to play. They’re still in first place in the NFC South, thanks to the Panthers and Falcons also losing on Sunday, and they still control their destiny when it comes to winning a division title.

The Bucs led 17-0 right before halftime and appeared to be in complete control of the game, outscoring the Bengals by a 261-36 margin. Brady had thrown for 194 yards and two touchdowns and the Bucs defense had an out and hadn’t given up a third down conversion all game.

The Bengals got a field goal before halftime, and then a special teams fumble and four turnovers put Cincinnati up 24 points. On what appeared to be a fake punt, the ball was snapped to tailback Giovani Bernard, but he didn’t seem to expect it and the ball went off the side of his helmet for a downbound swing. Even then, the Bucs defense held Cincinnati to a field goal, maintaining a 17-6 lead.

Brady then threw an interception to Tre Flowers in the corner, and two defensive penalties extended Cincinnati’s drive, which ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Tee Higgins. Brady was then sacked and pushed, with the Bengals recovering at the Bucs’ 13-yard line, setting up a Burrow to Tyler Boyd touchdown. Burrow also hit the two-point conversion on Higgins for a 20-17 lead.

Another possession, another loss for the Bucs, who saw a pass from Brady to Leonard Fournette, recovered again by the Bengals and converted for a touchdown. This time it was two third-and-8 conversions, setting up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase for a 27-17 lead.

Then more of the same, as Brady was hit while throwing and the pass was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt, which led to no Bengals points.

Brady committed as many second-half turnovers Sunday as he had in the first 11 games this season. In the last three games, he has seven, going from one interception in the win against the Saints to two in the loss to the 49ers and two picks and two lost fumbles in Sunday’s loss.

The Bucs defense, which had played well despite the short fields well into the third quarter, couldn’t get a stop late. Needing two scores, the Bucs defense saw the Bengals get the ball with 9:18 left and ran it for 2:21, with Burrow’s fourth touchdown pass to tight end Mitchell Wilcox.

As disappointing as the Bucs’ loss was, they still lead the NFC South, as the Panthers and Falcons also lost earlier Sunday, joining the Saints at 5-9, all three within one game of the Bucs. Tampa Bay is still in control of its playoff future, needing a win against Carolina in two weeks and another win (or losses to the Panthers and Falcons) to clinch the division title, even with a losing record.

Fortunately, the Bucs are done with the AFC, and now head to Arizona on Christmas Day, one game ahead of the other three teams in the division. All they need is a win against Carolina on Jan. 1 and another win or losses by the Panthers and Falcons to clinch the division title.

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Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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