The Buccaneers came closer than two years ago, but once again at Wembley they couldn't capture the bounty as the Chicago Bears held off their late resurgence to defeat them 24-18 on Sunday evening. Once the Bears had gone ahead early on with a slaloming score from star all-rounder Matt Forte they kept Tampa at arm's length right until the Floridians received the ball with 72 yards to make in a shade under two minutes. "I always, in those situations, expect to win," said quarterback Josh Freeman afterwards. "We were making plays, we were moving it." Two catches got them half way to the goal, but, with time and attempts running out, Freeman couldn't zip the ball to Preston Parker as DJ Moore made the interception and iced the game.
Moore was relieved rather than ecstatic: "Man, I'm just happy to be on the team and to look around and see all the great players that I play with! Even though we won the game, we're still building. We've got to win those type of games by more points than we did." Tampa's star safety Tanard Jackson, watching from the sideline after picking up a hamstring injury when making an interception, opined, "We made some great plays on defense to give ourselves the chance to win the game. We've just got to find a way to get started quicker."
Even the kick-off had put his team on the back foot as Michael Koenen hooked it into touch and handed the Bears a generous starting field position. Tampa, the first NFL club to return to the new Wembley and once again the designated home team, stood firm, but soon Forte had scored and on the very next play from scrimmage Tampa's own running back, Earnest Graham, tore his achilles tendon and had to be helped to the locker room on one leg leaving Kregg Lumpkin in sole possession of the backfield and prompting Freeman to take to the air. When Jackson intercepted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Freeman found Mike Williams on the goal line it looked like the Bucs were back in business, but, in the play of the game, a diving Chris Conte snatched his first career pick and despite, conceding a safety in the aftermath, Chicago never looked back.
The most entertaining turn of the evening had to be from veteran Bears receiver Roy Williams who first smiled forlornly after dropping a simple catch in yards of space, then swept past a pair of Tampa defenders en route to the end zone to make it 14-2 before rounding off the evening with a reception which denied Tampa crucial minutes, but not before juggling it from hand to hand a few times before it stuck. Many in the crowd had been hoping that the magic moments might come from already legendary kick returner Devin Hester, but, despite beginning half a dozen trademark dashes, the Buccaneers coverage closed him down quickly every time.
Early in the third quarter Forte's change-of-pace partner Marion Barber barrelled in to make it 21-5 and knock the wind out of the Buccaneers' sails as even their upbeat stadium announcer began to sound deflated, but they stuck at their task and were rewarded early in the fourth when Kellen Winslow collected a 2 yard touchdown catch. Encouraged, they even threw in a little wildcat with Michael Spurlock aiming long and just failing to reach Mike Williams. Five minutes later, however, and a fine 24 yarder from Freeman to Dezmon Briscoe had their fans, massed across one end of the stadium, believing that Tampa might be the latest of surprisingly many teams this season to mount a successful comeback. However, Roy Williams' acrobatics helped set up a Bears field goal and the necessary touchdown proved beyond the Buccaneers despite two great connections as the clock ran down. "We're finally hitting on all cylinders at the end of the game," said safety Corey Lynch. "We just didn't end it right." His coach, Raheem Morris, was admirably frank in defeat:
"Too many penalties. Too many mistakes... and when we did get it going it was not enough. It was too late... We had a great time over here. We had great preparation. You guys provided us with all that we needed to win this football game. No travel excuses, no time zone excuses, whatever you want to call it. You guys did a great job of making us at home and we did a great job of not coming out and playing well enough to win a football game."