On a day when the Tampa Bay defense got picked apart by Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers, the Buccaneers still found themselves with a chance to stage a fourth-quarter comeback.
But each time the Bucs got into position to make it a one-score game, Baker Mayfield and the offense couldn’t deliver.
Mayfield threw a fourth-down incompletion in the end zone and an interception on back-to-back drives to the red zone in the fourth quarter, sending Tampa Bay to its fifth loss in six games, 27-14 to the 49ers on Sunday.
“It’s just us. We’ve got to get out of our own way,” Mayfield said. “We got some good opportunities today that we didn’t exactly take advantage of, and so when you’re playing a team like that, you have to. It’s just the story.”
There was plenty that went wrong for the Bucs (4-6) in their latest loss that denied them a chance to tie idle New Orleans in the weak NFC South.
Purdy posted a perfect passer rating and led five consecutive scoring drives as San Francisco delivered several big plays, including a 76-yard TD pass from Purdy to Brandon Aiyuk.
The run game never got going once again and Mayfield lost a fumble to thwart one promising drive in the first half. The offense didn’t have much success until late, but the Bucs still had a chance to make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay had cut a 20-point deficit to 13 on a 1-yard run by Rachaad White in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. The Bucs forced a quick punt and were in position to cut into that even more on the next possession when they drove to the San Francisco 12.
But Mayfield then threw incomplete passes on the next two downs — including a near interception — before being pressured on a fourth-down blitz that ended with another incomplete pass to Mike Evans in the end zone with rookie Ja’Ayir Brown in coverage.
A forced three-and-out and a long punt return gave Tampa Bay another shot at the San Francisco 9. But Mayfield threw a pass that was deflected and intercepted by Brown.
“We had our chances in the red zone,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We got down there two or three times. We just couldn’t punch it in. Fought like heck to get back in the game. Gave up some plays in the third quarter, got back in it in the fourth. Two or three toward the end in the fourth quarter got down there and had some chances, and we just couldn’t punch it in.”
With the losses mounting, Bowles was in no mood to celebrate his team’s resiliency after falling into a big hole. He knows the Bucs can’t squander many more chances if they want to catch the Saints in the race to win the NFL’s weakest division.
“It’s not a moral victory that we fought,” Bowles said. “Our victories come when we can cut out the mistakes and we can win ballgames. We understand that going forward.”