- ESPN Staff Writer
- Previously a college football writer for The Dallas Morning News
- University of North Texas graduate
TAMPA, Fla. — The Cincinnati Bengals answered any questions about their toughness with a historic comeback against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
The Bengals won 34-23 in a game that featured a first for one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks — it was the first time in 90 games that a Brady-led club lost a home game after leading by 17.
The Bengals scored 34 consecutive points and showed Brady just how tough Cincinnati’s defense was after some comments earlier in the week rubbed the unit the wrong way. On the SiriusXM “Let’s Go!” podcast, Brady said the Bengals had a “fairly tough” defense.
Cincinnati’s defenders poked fun at the comments after it forced four turnovers — three by Brady — in the win.
“Hearing that from an old, savvy vet from him, we’re a ‘fairly tough defense,’ with four turnovers, what would you say — tough as nails?” Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt said after the game.
Things started poorly for Cincinnati (10-4) against a Bucs team that led the AFC South but had a sub-.500 record. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was picked off on the team’s first drive, the offense sputtered from there and Cincinnati surrendered a season-high 261 first-half yards. The only respite for the Bengals came on the final drive of the half, when Cincinnati went up-tempo and produced a field goal to cut the Buccaneers’ lead to 17-3.
Even if Brady’s comments weren’t meant to be a dig, Bengals defensive tackle BJ Hill said the unit’s early performance fit the description.
“That’s how we played in the first half, I’m not going to lie to you,” Hill said. “But we just came out in the second half and played our tails off.”
Things started to spiral for Tampa Bay (6-8) after a botched fake punt gave the Bengals the ball deep in Tampa Bay’s territory. Starting with cornerback Tre Flowers’ interception on the ensuing Buccaneers drive, Brady and the offense committed four straight turnovers. Two fumbles and another interception allowed Cincinnati to start four straight possessions on Tampa Bay’s side of the field.
“The two fumbles were my fault — it was uncharacteristic,” said Brady, who added that one of the interceptions was a bad throw and the other came on a quarterback hit.
Bucs coach Todd Bowles defended the decision to go for a fake punt with the team up 17-3.
“It was fourth-and-1. They had a front that we could take advantage of and we blocked well — we could have ran for four or five yards — we missed the ball,” he said.
The Bengals offense that sputtered for most of the game capitalized on the short fields and took the lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter, when quarterback Joe Burrow found wide receiver Tyler Boyd for a 3-yard touchdown. Burrow was 27 of 39 for 200 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Television cameras showed Burrow dealing with a pinky issue on his right hand, one that he said was “nothing serious” during his postgame news conference.
The third-year quarterback said he won’t call Sunday’s win one of his favorite performances. However, Burrow said it shows that teams like this year’s Cincinnati group is one that can just find ways to win games.
“We’re never out of it,” Burrow said. “We’ve been in these situations before and we always come back and make it a game. Today, we were able to come back and really put them away there in the second half.”
Burrow didn’t believe that Brady meant any ill will about his midweek comments regarding Cincinnati’s defense. But that didn’t stop the Bengals charged with stopping Brady from referencing it often. As Bengals cornerback Eli Apple walked off the field, he shouted “The future is now, old man” to reporters standing near a tunnel entrance at Raymond James Stadium.
Hill said there was some banter between some Buccaneers and Bengals players when Cincinnati fell behind early.
“They really didn’t say too much when we got up on them,” Hill said. “I told them, ‘Just wait until the second half.’ I knew what we were going to do in the second half. And we did that.”
Bengals safety Jessie Bates III said that throughout the week, Cincinnati’s players talked about having a unit that was as tough as nails. That was on full display in the comeback win that handed Brady a type of loss he had never experienced in his 23-year career.
“We don’t really care about what people say,” Bates said. “It is how it is, week in and week out. Somebody’s going to say something. At the end of the day, they got to see us.”
ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this story.
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