The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended their two-game losing streak and solidified their hold on a wild-card playoff spot with a 26-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Tom Brady was 15-for-23 for 198 yards and two touchdowns, as the Bucs started slow, but wrestled control from the Vikings in the second quarter after numerous Minnesota penalties gave the Buccaneers chances to extend drives and ultimately score. Vikings kicker Dan Bailey had a day to forget, missing three field goals and an extra point.
One of the keys to the Buccaneers winning this particular game was for them to try and make positive plays on third down on both offense and defense early in the game that would allow them to achieve a fast start.
But It looked early as if the Bucs got too much rest during the bye, as Tom Brady was overthrowing receivers on a couple of third down plays. And on defense, the Bucs were able to stop the Vikings' first drive after running the ball down their throats with star running back Dalvin Cook, but could not during the next series, with Cook leading the way again. His 1-yard run gave the Vikings a 6-0 lead after Bailey's missed extra point.
Bailey impacted the game again on the Vikings' third possession, a steady diet of intermediate passes and Cook runs that once again allowed Minnesota to drive into Tampa Bay territory, but this drive ended in a missed 36-yard FG by Bailey that made Joe Buck and Troy Aikman wonder whether he'd be with the team after halftime.
Brady finally found a little rhythm on the next Tampa Bay possession, hitting Mike Evans across the middle for 20, and then hitting Scotty Miller on a 48-yd TD bomb three plays later, giving the Bucs a 7-6 lead.
Now to the penalties. The Bucs' final drive before the half was extended when Harrison Smith lowered his helmet to hit LeSean McCoy on a 3rd and 4 that was stopped short with 1:04 left. Then a pass interference on rookie DB Jeff Gladney in the end zone against Evans with 48 seconds left allowed RoJo to plunge it in from 1, extending the Bucs lead to 14-6.
Perhaps the dagger in this came when the Bucs got the ball with 30 seconds left in the half at their own 28. A couple of short passes later, the Bucs were able to spike the ball with a second left at the Minnesota 47. Brady threw a Hail Mary toward Rob Gronkowski, and the Vikes were called for a pass interference in the end zone, allowing an untimed field goal by Ryan Succop to extend the Bucs' lead to 17-6 at halftime.
Courtesy of ESPN.com's Jenna Laine is this statistic: That was the first DPI call in the last 20 seasons that occurred on a play starting in the last 5 seconds of a half and starting 30+ yards from the end zone.
LeSean McCoy started the third quarter in the backfield and showed some spring in his little-used legs with runs to keep the sticks moving, and then Brady lofted a 29-yard completion to Mike Evans down the left sideline for a first and goal from the Minnesota 6. From there, Jones ran for 4, and Gronkowski caught a 2-yd TD pass to give the Bucs a 23-6 lead after Succop missed the extra point.
The Vikings then sustained a long drive down the field to get back into the game, getting to within nine after a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Irv Smith from Kirk Cousins. The two-point conversion was successful, making the score 23-14.
Minnesota threatened again on its next possession, but a stout Bucs defense sacked Vikings QB Kirk Cousins on back-to-back plays, and with 9:00 left, Bailey missed his third field goal attempt of the game, allowing the Bucs to maintain their nine-point lead.
From there, it was just a matter of the Bucs defense shutting down the Vikes, although Minnesota was able to convert two fourth downs with under five minutes left, but pressure from the defensive line was getting to Cousins throughout the fourth quarter.
On the Vikings' final offensive play, a fourth-and-13 from the Bucs' 48, Jason Pierre-Paul came through with a forced-fumble sack of Cousins, JPP recovering the ball on the play as well. The Bucs ran out the clock, and celebrated their eighth win of the year.
Up next for the Buccaneers is a tough game in Atlanta against their NFC South division rival Falcons.
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