- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
CLEVELAND – The Buccaneers have perfected the nail-biter.
Trouble is, they're all ending the same way.
Tampa Bay lost another close one Sunday as a costly penalty by rookie wide receiver Mike Evans wiped out a key first down in the final minutes and the Buccaneers made too many other mistakes while falling 22-17 to the Cleveland Browns.
The Buccaneers (1-7) allowed the Browns (5-3) to block a field goal, deflect a punt and Tampa Bay was called for a neutral-zone infraction on fourth down near the goal line, giving Cleveland a second chance it turned into a touchdown in the third quarter.
"There's no doubt we're heading in the right direction, but you know, you could say that about four games ago," first-year coach Lovie Smith said. "We've got to find a way to win a game now is what we have to do. That's what we haven't been able to figure out and we're running out of time."
Brian Hoyer threw a 34-yard TD pass to Taylor Gabriel with 8:59 remaining as the Browns completed a favorable stretch of their season to set up a key matchup with AFC North rival Cincinnati on Thursday.
Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon threw a pair of 24-yard TDs to Evans for the Buccaneers (1-7), who led at halftime for the first time this season and were up 17-16 in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs were driving for a potential go-ahead score in the final two minutes when Evans, who caught a pair of 24-yard TD passes, was called for pass interference on a 9-yard completion on fourth-and-1, wiping out a first down. Evans did put his hands on cornerback Buster Skrine to create some space.
"The defender grabbed me first," Evans claimed. "I have a big body, so I pushed him back and then I broke out and caught the ball."
On fourth-and-11, Glennon threw an incompletion and the Buccaneers didn't get the ball again.
Smith wouldn't blame the officials, but made it clear he didn't agree with some of the flags that flew at his Buccaneers.
"I've never seen officials lose a game, but it seemed like a lot of the calls, I would have called a few of them differently," he said. "They called it. We needed to overcome it."
Hoyer's TD pass to Gabriel was set up by Cleveland linebacker Craig Robertson, who broke through Tampa Bay's line and deflected a punt to give the Browns the ball at the Bucs 35.
Two plays later, Hoyer dropped back and was about to be hit by Tampa Bay's Lavonte David on a blitz. But rookie running back Terrance West alertly stepped up and got a piece of the Buccaneers linebacker, giving Hoyer enough time to loft his scoring pass to Gabriel and give the Browns a 22-17 lead.
Earlier, the Browns blocked a field goal attempt by Patrick Murray, who was also short on a 55-yard kick.
And, a costly penalty by Tampa Bay star defensive end Gerald McCoy helped the Browns take a 16-10 lead in the third quarter. The Browns were lining up for a go-ahead field goal when McCoy, who signed a six-year, $95.2 million in October, was whistled for a neutral-zone infraction. Cleveland converted on fourth-and-1 and two plays later, Hoyer hit a wide-open West.
"Special teams really hurt us today," Smith said. "Can't have a punt block, a field goal block, jump offside and let them continue a drive to score a touchdown. All those plays really hurt us."
Glennon went 17 of 33 for 260 yards, and fell to 1-4 while filling in for injured starter Josh McCown.
His second 24-yard scoring pass to Evans put the Bucs ahead 17-16.
Glennon floated a pass to the back shoulder of Evans, who made a twisting catch and was able to get both feet in for the score. As he did after his first score, Evans looked at Cleveland's sideline and rubbed his fingers together in the "money-making" gesture his former college teammate, Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, made famous at Texas A&M.
"Mike really stepped up," Glennon said. "Like I've been saying, he's getting better and better every week. It's going to be interesting to see how teams start playing us because they're really now going to have to pick and choose what they want to do with those two guys (Evans and Vincent Jackson). You can see why he was drafted so high and what he's capable of doing."
NOTES: Bucs RB Bobby Rainey had 87 yards on 19 carries. He was cut by the Browns last season. ... McCoy had two sacks and was praised afterward by Hoyer, who was informed the 300-pounder had said nice things about him leading into the game. "He came up to me during the game and he's like, 'Hey, I meant everything I said,'" Hoyer said. "You couldn't ask to see a nicer guy." ... Tampa Bay hosts Atlanta next week.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL