TAMPA, Fla. — Down 17-0 to The GOAT, the Bulldog Bengals scored the next 34 points to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a 34-23 victory over Tom Brady’s Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bengals’ signature stifling defense in the second half ripped off four straight turnovers, covering Brady after halftime while quarterback Joe Burrow won his first summit with Brady by throwing a touchdown pass to each of the big three receivers in Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Ja ‘Marr Jage. He added a fourth to hometown hero Mitchell Wilcox at the end of a grueling 6:57 scoring drive on a 12-yard flip with 2:21 remaining to seal Cincinnati’s sixth straight victory, as chants of “Who Dey” rained down from the overflow crowd. traveling Bengals faithful.
The fourth turnover, tied for the most against a Brady team, came with the Bengals up 10 early in the fourth. Edge Joseph Ossai drilled Brady as he threw, it bounced into the air and linebacker Germaine Pratt picked it off the turf.
The defense did it without their top two sackers in the second half. Trey Hendrickson was inactive with a wrist injury, while Sam Hubbard left early in the second quarter after injuring his left calf. Also early in the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt went down and newcomer Allan George, up from the practice squad, was suddenly in his second NFL game.
Brady had 194 yards at halftime, but was limited through the next quarter and a half as Cincinnati’s defense imposed its will. Brady finished with 312 yards, becoming the first opposing quarterback to pass for more than 300 against the Bengals this season, but much of that came on a final drive when defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit played preventative defense.
Meanwhile, Burrow had just 200 yards on 27-of-39 passing, but he beat Brady in the ever-important efficiency game at 104.6.
Bengals cornerbacks were waiting for The GOAT to get his first interception of the season when Tre Flowers went to the ground in front of tight end Cameron Brate at the Bucs’ 31 and two third-down crushing penalties on Tampa allowed Burrow to hit Higgins who was running across the field. back end zone for a five-yard touchdown with 5:40 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-12.
The Bengals didn’t get the two-point conversion, but they didn’t have to wait long thanks to their relentless defense. On third down, linebacker Logan Wilson and nose tackle DJ Reader shared a sack, Reader fumbled and wide receiver Joseph Ossai recovered at the Tampa Bay 13. Burrow then picked up his first first down in six attempts on third down from the Bucs 3 when he hit Boyd behind cornerback Dee Delaney. Boyd, who saw the bone sticking out of his dislocated finger last week, gave the Bengals the lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter. When Higgins tilted his big body for a two-point box-out at the goal line, it was 20-17.
The defense did it again right away. Bucs running back Leonard Fournette fumbled and Reader came up with it at the Bucs 39. Burrow aimed two third-down throws, one to Chase down the left sideline and then an 18-yard dart to Wilcox in the middle of the field as he ran up. in his pocket and turned it over. Wilcox, playing at the college stadium, set up Chase’s eight-yard touchdown for a 27-17 lead with 12:45 left in the game.
The Bengals got their first possession of the second half on a botched fake punt and started at the Tampa 16. Burrow drove to the 6 on a scramble, but the NFL’s fourth-best red zone offense couldn’t score a touchdown. On third down, Bucs blitz and safety Mike Edwards crashed into the Burrow trying to hit Chase one-on-one and cornerback Carlton Davis III muscled it away and they picked off Evan McPherson’s chippy to cut it to 17-6.
The Bengals used the final 1:39 of the half and five rushing Burrow passes for 47 yards to microwave the first points of the game on McPherson’s 41-yard field goal with the gun that cut the lead to 17-3. Burrow, in the NFL’s top three in most of the major passing categories, was held to the lowest passing yards in the first half of his career with 86 yards.
The Bengals marched as sharply on the opening drive as they did on the opening drive of their last loss six games ago in Cleveland. Same deal. Tipped pass for an interception, Burrows’ 10th of the season, but first against a team outside the AFC North. Burrow hit his first three for 30 yards against soft coverage, and from the Bucs 40, he went into play. Leaping safety Keanu Neal got a hand on it and that man, Carlton Davis III made a diving catch and was just on it.
The turnover resulted in a 3-0 deficit. Brady had time to convert and third-and-six and third-and-eight, hooking on the latter over the middle for 16 yards until Mike Evans quickly came off the line against rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt. After free safety Jessie Bates III had an interception thrown away from him in the end zone, Brady took a slide to the Bengals 3 and they got a chip-shot field goal.
The Bengals went three-and-out when Burrow had to take what appeared to be a coverage sack and Brady turned a 43-yard punt into a fourth-and-one touchdown pass to wide receiver Russell Gage, Jr., as Gage got separation on Taylor-Britt in the left corner to make it 10-0 in the first minute of the second quarter.
Brady’s fourth-and-one through a post slot to Evans kept the drive going despite cornerback Eli Apple draped over him. The play survived head coach Zac Taylor’s challenge, and Brady looked to capitalize on the young secondary as Evans ran untouched through a zone and was wide open for a 24-yard gain. Up 10-0, Brady had 112 yards to Burrows’ 39. A few minutes later, Evans had five catches for 83 yards, reaching his first 100-yard day since he had 123 against Baltimore on Oct. 27.
As the offense tried to get back on track, 10-0, they had back-to-back three-and-outs. The first stemmed from linebacker Lavonte David’s unblocked blitz that sacked Burrow, and he made a great play not to lose the fumble. Then on the next series on third-and-three from the Cincinnati 47, new nemesis Carlton Davis won a physical against Chase on a back-shoulder throw on the sideline.
The Buccaneers took advantage of doubling the Bengals’ snap count in the first half (40-20), wearing down the defense in a 10-play, 85-yard drive that took nearly five minutes for Brady’s five-yard touchdown pass to wide. receiver Chris Godwin that made it 17-0 with 1:39 left in the half. With the Bengals down their top two rushers, Brady pitched and caught for two touchdowns and 194 yards and a 127.8 passer rating in the half.