The Chargers put up a season-high 24 points in the first half, but scored just one more time after the break as the Buccaneers rallied from 17 down to beat the Bolts 38-31 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Tom Brady got the Bucs on the board from the opening drive after he hit tight end Cameron Brate for a three-yard score after scraping an even five minutes off the clock. The Chargers were able to respond with a huge 53-yard bomb to former UDFA Tyron Johnson, which went for his first career catch and touchdown in the NFL.
On the ensuing drive for Tampa Bay, Brady tried to throw a short out route to receiver Justin Watson from the far side of the field and cornerback Michael Davis was able to undercut it and take it all the way back 78 yards to give the Bolts their first lead of the game 14-7. The turnover was huge not only in timing, but it was the Chargers’ first turnover since their Week 1 tilt with the Bengals.
With two minutes left in the opening quarter, running back Austin Ekeler went down with an apparent hamstring injury and he was not seen for the rest of the game. From that point on, the ground game was led by both Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson.
Halfway through the second quarter, Justin Herbert threw his second touchdown of the day to former XFL tight end Donald Parham, a beautiful back-shoulder ball, for a 19-yards and a 21-7 lead. With under two minutes to go in the half, they added on a 53-yard kick by Michael Badgley and the Chargers found themselves with a seemingly comfortable 17-point lead.
Tragedy truck, however, when the Chargers received a punt that went out of bounds at the six-yard line. With 47 seconds left in the half, Herbert handed the ball of right to Kelley but the exchange was bobbled and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was right on top of Kelley before he even had a chance to secure the loose football. The Bucs recovered the fumble before turning it into a six-yard touchdown throw to Mike Evans to end the half as the Bucs were all of a sudden down just 10 points.
The Chargers received the opening kickoff to begin the second half but after a pair of two-yard runs and a sack of Herbert, they were forced to punt back to Tampa Bay. Brady then went to work, marching down the field in eight plays before hitting the tight end, O.J. Howard, up the seam for a 28-yard score to inch the score closer at 24-21.
The Bolts offense responded with an 11-play drive that seemed promising, but it stalled at the Tampa Bay 29. Michael would miss the 47-yard field goal attempt and the Chargers gave it right back TB.
It only took 44 seconds and two plays, both to speedy wideout Scotty Miller, and the Buccaneers finally wrestled the lead away from Los Angeles on a 19-yard scoring toss.
With all the momentum seemingly on Tampa Bay’s side, Herbert and the offense found a little bit more magic as they went 75 yards in three plays, capped off by a huge 72-yard bomb to second-year receiver Jalen Guyton for his second touchdown of the year.
But that’s as far as the Chargers’ magic went ...
The Bucs responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive which was capped off by a touchdown pass to rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn to give them back the lead at 35-31.
On their next drive, one where they absolutely needed to respond, Anthony Lynn decided to punt on 4th-and-1 at the Bolts’ 34-yard line after a three-and-out with nine minutes left on the clock.
Tom Brady went on to orchestrate a 12-play, 72-yard drive that took over six minutes off the clock before Ryan Succop converted on a field goal to give them a touchdown lead with 2:40 left in the game.
The final drive for the Chargers was do-or-die. However, this one ended with the latter rather than the former. Two plays in, Herbert looked to force a deep pass to Keenan Allen but it was picked off by Carlton Davis and returned into Chargers territory. After running for a first down, the Bucs were able to ice the game and kneel the clock out.
Herbert finished with 290 yards on 20-of-25 passing with a career-high three touchdowns and the lone pick. Brady tossed a season-high five touchdowns and 369 yards on 30-of-46 passing while taking zero sacks.
The Chargers will face the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football a week from tomorrow with kickoff set for 5:15pm PT.