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Buccaneers' Bowles, Brady concerned with lack of production

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Rex: Bucs lost the second Mike Evans was suspended (1:16)

Rex Ryan and Ryan Clark discuss what went wrong for the Bucs in their loss to the Packers. (1:16)

TAMPA, Fla. – On third-and-3 with 1:08 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady dropped back, saw that the pocket around him was quickly collapsing and realized he had no open receivers downfield. After dodging two Green Bay Packers defenders, the 45-year-old took off running.

“I saw a lot of open green grass and no Packers," Brady said. "I could turn a 40-yard gain into 18 [yards] better than anyone in the NFL. Unfortunately, I slid, I broke my knee brace, and I had to get it on the sideline. But if I’m running it, it’s usually not a good thing, so I’ll give it to the guys who run with it.”

It would have been just the Bucs’ second third-down conversion of the game, but it was called back because of a holding call on third-string left tackle Brandon Walton, illustrating how dire things have become for one of the NFL’s most potent offenses the last two years.

Brady was without his top three receivers -- Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones -- in the 14-12 loss to the Packers (2-1).

The Bucs (2-1) will get Evans, who's serving a one-game suspension, back this week. Coach Todd Bowles said after the game that Jones, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury, was well enough to play but the team decided to hold him out one more week. So he should be back as well. It's unclear when Godwin will return after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.

But without the trio (and the core pieces of his O-line), Brady and the offense have not looked the same.

“It’s concerning,” Bowles said when asked about the offense. “It’s concerning. We didn’t have to have those guys to win this ball game. We just needed to play smarter.

"[The Packers] had a good ball game. They took care of the football for the most part. We shot ourselves in the foot, and it’s something we can’t do. Talent had nothing to do with the way we shot ourselves in the foot.”

The Bucs finally did reach the end zone, on a 1-yard touchdown strike from Brady to wide receiver Russell Gage, with :18 seconds left to make it 14-12. But before they could run a 2-point conversion attempt, the Bucs were called for a delay of game penalty, pushing them back from the 2-yard line to the 7. When Brady looked for Gage, he had two defenders – Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage – draped all over him.

“Our job is to go out there and score points. We’re just not doing it. You’re not gonna score many points if you don’t execute,” said Brady.

The Bucs’ three offensive touchdowns through three regular-season games are tied for the fewest of any team Brady been on in a three-game span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The other? Brady’s 2003 New England Patriots.

“How could you not be [concerned]? You are not going to win a lot of games only scoring one touchdown a game," tight end Cameron Brate said. "You don’t want to point to guys being out – we just have to figure out a way to sustain drives and stay ahead of the sticks. We have a lot of talent on offense, but it doesn’t mean anything if we are not scoring points.”

Through the first three weeks last season, the Bucs were averaging 30 offensive points per game, they converted 41.7% of their third-down attempts and their red zone efficiency was 71.4%.

This year, they’re averaging 14.67 offensive points per game, their third down conversion rate is 28.6% and their red zone efficiency is 40%. As a team, the Bucs are tied for 10th in scoring at 17 points per game.

But even the red zone stat doesn’t tell the whole story, as they’ve only been to the red zone five times – second fewest of any team in the NFL.

For comparison, next week’s Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, have had a league-leading 13 trips to the red zone.

“It’s so frustrating because the guys we do have on offense – even without Mike, Chris and Julio – we have plenty of talent to score points," Brate said. "When you’re not doing it, it kind of just snowballs. And you just feel the pressure – it’s hard. We’ve played terrible on offense the first three games. I guess we ran the ball well in Dallas, but the past two games, we didn’t play well at all.”

While the defense gave up two early touchdowns to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they clamped down to deliver a shutout in the second half, holding the Packers to 1-of-8 on third downs. They also got an interception by Logan Ryan in the third quarter, and Vita Vea forced a fumble that Ryan recovered.

“The defense played well again today,” Brate said. “They forced some turnovers and made some great third-down stops, and I’m sure they’re frustrated with the offense. We’re not pulling our weight so we’re just gonna have to figure it out.”

The Bucs fumbled three times near midfield – two from wide receiver Breshad Perriman, including one on a botched double reverse.

“Those fumbles hurt,” said Gage, who caught 12 of 13 targets for 87 yards. “We were getting in field goal range, for sure, so those were points. Ultimately, we win that game [without the fumbles]. I have to learn to hold onto the ball. We know the deal. We know we have to finish drives; we have to be better in those areas because turnovers can kill you. Defense did a great job of taking it away from them – we can’t give it back.”

When Brady was asked if he thinks they can turn it around, his tone didn’t affirm any kind of certainty -- either because he wants to motivate his teammates or because he genuinely doesn’t know.

“Uh…yeah, we’ll see,” Brady said. “We’ll keep working at it. For sure.”