TAMPA, Fla. — The Cincinnati defense forced five second-half Tampa Bay turnovers in a row that fueled an offensive barrage — as the Bengals came from behind to knock off the Buccaneers 34-23 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The win puts the Bengals (10-4) alone in first place in the AFC North, while Tampa falls to 6-8.
The Bengals rallied to put points on the board late in the second quarter when quarterback Joe Burrow connected on four straight passes, two to Ja’Marr Chase for 24 yards, and two to Tyler Boyd for 23 yards.
That allowed Evan McPherson to nail a 41-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-3 at the break.
Up to that point, Tampa Bay had charged for 261 yards on 40 plays, while the Bengals were limited to 83 yards on 20 snaps.
“We were down 17 points and had no rhythm in the first half,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “And our guys, really at the half, just took a deep breath and said that they could take over the game. The first half wasn’t what we are about. Our offense has four straight three-and-outs. We could tell that we would have some possessions in the second half and our special teams really kicked it up a notch.”
On Tampa Bay’s first possession of the second half, it tried a fake punt on fourth down deep in its own territory.
But former Bengal and Buccaneer running back Giovani Bernard botched the snap, and Cincinnati recovered on the 16-yard line.
McPherson connected on a 21-yard field goal to make the score 17-6.
On the next possession, Bengals cornerback Tre Flowers picked off Tom Brady at the 31-yard line.
Seven plays later, Burrow found Tee Higgins for a five-yard TD with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
The two-point conversion failed, but the Bengals closed the gap to 17-12.
The third straight Tampa Bay turnover came when Bengals defensive lineman D.J. Reader forced a Brady fumble that was recovered by Joseph Ossai.
“We just played our style of ball in the second half,” Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson said. “We rallied to the ball and made our plays. We knew we could do it.”
That fumble led to a Burrow to Tyler Boyd three-yard touchdown pass that was followed by a successful two-point conversion via a slant pattern from Burrow to Higgins.
“That was the turning point in the game right there,” Burrow said. “Defense and special teams stepping up and giving us the ball with four straight possessions inside the 50.”
Ossai made his second fumble recovery on the next Buccaneer series, when running back Leonard Fournette dropped the ball for the fourth straight turnover.
Burrow wasted no time, and found Chase for an eight-yard TD strike with 12:45 to go in the game.
“Our defense gave us the ball with short fields all second half,” Burrow added. “They really stepped up.
Burrow finished the game with 200 yards passing and completed 27 of 39 attempts with four TDs and one interception.
Brady struggled in the second half, but tallied 312 yards and completed 30 of 44 passes with three touchdowns and two picks.
Bengals cornerback Eli Apple said the difference in the two halves was the pressure applied to Brady.
“We got to get that old man tap dancing, man,” Apple said. “Have to get him out of the pocket. Had to get him uncomfortable.”
The defeat was the first time in Brady’s 23-year career that he lost a game when leading by at least 17 points.
Before Sunday, he was 89-0 with a lead of 17 points or more.
Brady’s second interception — and the Bucs’ fifth turnover — came when Ossai hit Brady as he threw the ball, causing it to flutter into the hand of Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt.
“I’m sure at some point in my life I have,” Taylor said, about if he has ever seen a team take the ball away on five consecutive drives. “You know, sometimes they come in bunches. We preach it like crazy. A lot of those were tough. Tre Flowers’ was not easy. Germaine Pratt’s was not easy. When the ball is on the ground, sometimes it doesn’t bounce your way and the other team recovers it. In this case, our guys found a way to come up with it.”
Cincinnati played without defensive end Trey Hendrickson and cornerback Mike Hilton, but also sustained injuries to Sam Hubbard and corner Cam Taylor-Britt.
“We have a short week and have to get some guys healthy,” Burrow said.
The Bengals travel to New England on Saturday at 1 p.m.