TAMPA, Florida – All week the defense talked about the challenge of playing Tampa Bay's multi-dimensional passing attack. With speed in wide receiver DeSean Jackson, size with receiver Mike Evans, and a combination of the two in Chris Godwin, the Bucs receivers are as dangerous as any trio in the league. Add in tight end O.J. Howard and his athleticism and Tampa Bay's receiving corps is downright scary.
So the Eagles worked in the days leading into Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium stressing the importance of keeping the ball in front of the defense. "NO BIG PLAYS" was the mantra.
The performance didn't match the blueprint in Sunday's 27-21 loss to the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay scored on touchdown passes of 75 yards (on the game's first play from scrimmage to Jackson), 75 yards (to Howard), and then completed passes of 20 yards (to Howard), 17 yards (Godwin), 9 yards (Evans), 9 yards again (Evans again), and finally 8 yards and a touchdown (Godwin) in a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter to loosen up the Eagles' defense.
As good as the Eagles were defensively in the season-opening 18-12 win over Atlanta, they struggled just as much on Sunday afternoon in the heat and humidity of Tampa. Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick followed up on his four-touchdown, 417-yard passing day in New Orleans a week earlier with three first-half touchdown passes as he completed 14 of 19 passes for a whopping 271 yards.
Fitzpatrick added a touchdown pass to Evans early in the third quarter, his fourth of the day, as Tampa Bay took a commanding 27-7 lead with 9:19 remaining in the quarter.
"We have to execute, and we didn't," cornerback Ronald Darby said. "We knew how good they were coming in, but we didn't do our jobs. We didn't tighten things up when we needed to. That's disappointing."
Fitzpatrick-to-Jackson on the first play set the tone. Jackson, the former Eagle who has always been a handful playing against Philadelphia, lined up on the right side of the offensive formation against cornerback Jalen Mills in one-on-one coverage. Fitzpatrick had time and he floated a pass to the middle of the field that Jackson, running a skinny post pattern, chased down. Jackson danced past Mills on a tackle attempt and raced into the end zone untouched.
Mills accepted responsibility on the play, saying, "I need to be better there. We knew they were going to take some shots. It wasn't a surprise at all to us. They just beat us there."
Safety Malcolm Jenkins said he failed to give inside and deep support to Mills on the play, giving Jackson space to make the catch and run.
"It's on me," Jenkins said. "I have to be in the right position and I wasn't."
Tampa Bay delivered a powerful punch on the game's first play and the Eagles never recovered. Fitzpatrick did a terrific job getting the football out quickly and not allowing the Eagles' pass rush to take him out of his game, and the secondary could not keep up with Tampa Bay's vaunted passing attack.
Darby missed a tackle that allowed Howard to get up the sideline on his 75-yard play, the coverage busted and left Godwin wide open on the 8-yard touchdown, and Mills was beaten by Evans on a slant route on the third-quarter touchdown connection.
"Just too many mistakes all day," said linebacker Nigel Bradham, making his 2018 debut after serving a one-game suspension in the opener. "They just had too many big plays."
Tampa Bay rang up 436 total net yards and averaged 7.5 yards per offensive play. Fitzgerald did a good job getting the football out of his hand quickly and accurately, as he tore the defense apart.
"We have to bounce back and we will," Jenkins said. "We're 1-1. There is a lot of football left, but we have to be better than we played today."
Check out all of the best photos from Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on September 16, 2018.