Bucs 19 Vikings 13 - the game report
What's better than a bye week and some relaxing time with the family? How about some home cooking, Raymond James Stadium-style? Coming off a rejuvenating bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shook off slow start to beat the Minnesota Vikings, 19-13 and remain undefeated at Raymond James in 2008. Going to 5-0 at home for the first time in franchise history, the Bucs managed to keep up in the fast-paced NFC South.
The score of the game and the apparent level of competition was much more even than the statistics, as the Bucs outgained Minnesota 363 yards to 210 on the day. The game was very much in doubt until the closing minutes, when Matt Bryant broke a 13-13 tie with a 29-yard field goal and S Will Allen forced a fumble by RB Maurice Hicks on the ensuing kickoff.
Bryant added his fourth field goal to give the Bucs a six-point lead with 3:30 to play and the Bucs' defense followed with a critical three-and-out. Minnesota got the ball back one more time when Bryant missed a potential game-clincher from 46 yards but a sack and a forced fumble on successive plays by DE Jimmy Wilkerson sealed the win.
"[The defense was] great down the stretch in key situations," said Jon Gruden. "I liked the way the offense moved the ball today, especially to start the third quarter. It was a big win against a hot Minnesota Vikings team, and we needed it. We had some turnovers there at the end of the game that clearly turned the game today. I think Jimmy Wilkerson's play at the end of the game was as big as any. What a great hustle pursuit play."
The game was close throughout largely because the Buccaneers struggled in the red zone once again. Tampa Bay drives reached inside the Viking 20-yard line five times but produced just one touchdown and four field goals.
The one time the Bucs did finish matters in the red zone they managed to tie the game in the third quarter in rather incredible fashion. After a pair of holding calls erased a potential first-and-goal and then a scoring catch-and-run by Antonio Bryant, the Bucs faced second-and-25 at the Minnesota 32. Garcia somehow floated a 31-yard pass between defenders to TE Jerramy Stevens down to the one-yard line, erasing an afternoon of red zone disappointment. FB B.J. Askew scored on the next play, running it in for the first touchdown of his six-year NFL career. Other than a three-yard carry in last year's playoff game against the Giants, that was also Askew's first run in two seasons as a Buccaneer.
The Bucs were fortunate to have Askew back on the field after a five-week absence due to a hamstring injury, as it took only two plays for them to suffer another loss in the backfield. RB Earnest Graham, who had worked for two weeks to overcome a knee injury, hurt his ankle on his first carry of the game and did not return.
That put the onus on veteran back Warrick Dunn, who ran for 53 tough yards on 20 carries as part of a 108-yard ground-game effort overall. More importantly, it left it to the Bucs' passing game to pick up the slack, and that it did. Garcia, who was sacked only once for no yards, moved around nimbly in the pocket all day, completing 23 of 30 passes for 255 yards and a 101.4 passer rating.
"Garcia was great today," said Gruden. "He's completing almost every pass. I thought our pass protection for most part was very good. We wanted to run the ball and get some balance today. We didn't have much success at times running the ball but Garcia played really well."
With starting TE Alex Smith out due to an ankle injury, Garcia made great use of Stevens, who set career highs with six catches and 84 yards. Bryant was once again a big part of the passing attack, catching five passes for 59 yards, including a third-down grab that set up the go-ahead field goal.
The Vikings ran the ball effectively behind MVP candidate Adrian Peterson, though Peterson never quite broke out. The second-year back came into the game with a streak of four straight 100-yard games but that run ended when he was held to 85 yards on 19 carries. Peterson made much of his yardage on wild improvisations, spinning away from defenders and reversing field again and again.
The Bucs' pass defense recorded a season-high five sacks, by five different players, and held QB Gus Frerotte to 14 completions and 138 yards. Rookie CB Aqib Talib broke up a deep pass attempt in the closing minutes of the game to preserve the Bucs' six-point lead.
It wasn't always pretty – as in Dallas three weeks ago, defensive penalties were instrumental in preserving the opponent's only touchdown drive of the game – but it was what the Bucs needed on a day that the division-leading Carolina Panthers also won to go to 8-2. Tampa Bay is now 7-3, moving a game ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, who lost at home to the Denver Broncos. The New Orleans Saints got back to .500 with a win at Kansas City and are still very much in the playoff picture.
As has become their custom when they win the coin toss, the Buccaneers deferred to the Vikings in the first half and thus kicked off to start the game. Minnesota's first drive was short-lived, as Barber and Ruud sacked Frerotte on consecutive plays to force a quick three-and-out and a punt from the 15.
The Bucs got off to a much better start, as a play-action pass to Clayton gained a quick 20 yards to the Vikings' 46. Unfortunately, Graham hurt his ankle on the second play of the game during a three-yard run and had to leave the game for good. That appeared to hurt the Bucs immediately, as Dunn was called on twice after the Bucs got to third-and-one at the Minnesota 37. His first carry gained nothing up the middle and on fourth-and-one he was trapped two yards deep in the backfield by LB Chad Greenway.
The Vikings thus took over at their own 39 and, after a botched snap on first down, Frerotte hit TE Visanthe Shiancoe for a 23-yard gain down to the Bucs' 38. Three runs by Peterson got the ball down to the 20 but a false start and a three-yard loss on a pass to Peterson put the Vikings in third-and-10. A draw play came up seven yards short and the Vikings settled for a 43-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell to open the scoring.
Tampa Bay responded with a drive into Minnesota territory. Garcia scrambled left and then right on a third-and-three, giving Dunn time to scramble down the right sideline. Garcia saw Dunn's raised hand and hit him on the run for a gain of 36 down to the Viking 23. However, a personal foul on Jeremy Trueblood at the end of a failed Wildcat-formation snapped put the Bucs into a third-and-17 back at the 30. Dunn manufactured a nice nine-yard gain out of a screen pass but the Bucs were forced to accept a tie game on Bryant's 39-yard field goal.
Peterson spun out of a potential tackle for a loss by Barber and made it around left end for a gain of 22 early in the ensuing drive. On the next play, a 16-yard completion to Berrian had a roughing-the-passer penalty on Wilkerson tacked on the end and the Vikings were down to the Bucs' 13-yard line.
A holding call on Barber made it first down at the seven as the second quarter began. The Bucs stuffed Peterson on first and second down but Frerotte threw a bubble-screen to Wade on third-and-goal from the four that found the end zone as Wade fought through a Buc defender to stick the ball over the goal line. The Vikings had a 10-3 lead with 13:33 left in the first half.
Garcia hit Bryant on a quick slant to get 12 yards to start off the next drive, and a pair of completions to Stevens – five and 20 yards – put the ball at Minnesota's 35. Dunn's 12-yard catch and Smith's eight-yard run helped get the ball down to the six, and it was first-and-goal at the three after DE Ray Edwards was flagged for a late hit on Garcia. A pitch to Dunn lost four yards and a scrambling pass to Clayton fell incomplete, making it third-and-goal. A shovel pass to Smith didn't fool the Vikings at all, leaving the Bucs to kick another field goal. Bryant nailed it from 26 to cut the lead to 10-6.
Unfortunately, the Vikings' offense came right back and drove into Buccaneer territory. An 18-yard catch-and-run by Shiancoe got the ball down to the Bucs' 37, though a wild trick play with WR Sidney Rice trying to throw to Shiancoe failed. Peterson powered over the middle for a gain of three on third-and-one to make it first down at the 25. DE Kevin Carter's tackle of Taylor for a loss of two helped push Minnesota into a third-and-nine and the Bucs stopped a screen to Peterson. The Vikings regained their seven-point lead on Longwell's 37-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay had 1:42 left on the clock to mount a two-minute drive but failed to gain a first down and had to punt. Josh Bidwell's punt rolled down to the Viking 24 with 0:47 left. The Vikings ran three plays to kill the first-half clock.
Deferring at the beginning of the game allowed the Bucs to start with the ball in the second half, and a first-down pass over the middle to Bryant was good for 23 yards to start the drive. A reverse between Clayton and Bryant gained nine yards to the Minnesota 44 and a five-yard run by Dunn two plays later made it first-and-10 at the 33. Three plays later, Smith got the call on a third-and-one power run and barreled up the middle for seven yards.
Garcia tried to hit TE John Gilmore on a seam pass but S Darren Sharper's well-timed hit broke it up. Holding calls on Stevens and G Davin Joseph then erased a 10-yard run by Dunn and a touchdown catch by Bryant, respectively, and pushed the Bucs into a second-and-30 at the 37. After an offside call against the Vikings, Garcia responded with a stunning 31-yard seam pass to Stevens that put the ball at the one-yard line. Stevens held on despite another big hit from Sharper, and Askew ran it in on the next play, taking an underneath handoff as the fullback and spinning out of a tackle at the goal line to get in.
Minnesota's next drive reached a critical point near midfield when the Bucs stopped Peterson a yard short on his third-and-two run. The Vikings chose to go for it on fourth-and-one and called a play-action pass. Barber stormed right in and appeared to be in line for his second sack but Frerotte ducked under the tackle and got off a seam pass to Peterson, who was steaming downfield with Brooks in pursuit. The pass found its target but Brooks managed to knock it out of Peterson's hands at the last moment.
The Bucs' offense thus took over at the Viking 49. Garcia's five-yard scramble left the Bucs in a third-and-inches at the 49 and Dunn moved the sticks with a four-yard run behind Askew. Unfortunately, Smith fumbled the ball away two plays later, giving the Vikings possession at their own 28.
The Vikings got into Buccaneer territory three plays later when Frerotte scrambled right and found Rice for a gain of 17. A 19-yard strike to Berrian on the next play made it first down at the Bucs' 29, but LB Cato June stopped Peterson for a loss of three on the next snap. After DT Chris Hovan sacked Frerotte for a loss of six, the Vikings faced a third-and-19 to open the fourth period. Carter chased down Frerotte for another sack on the next play, forcing a punt that sailed into the end zone for a touchback.
The Bucs soon faced a third-and-two and Garcia got the first down by scrambling out of trouble and sliding past the first defender thanks to a good pump fake. Another first down on a Garcia scramble took the ball to midfield and Dunn followed with a catch for eight yards and a run for 11. The drive eventually stalled at the Minnesota 11 when Dunn was stopped on a third-and-one run by LB Napoleon Harris, so the Bucs settled for Bryant's 29-yard field goal and a 16-13 lead with 5:36 to play.
The disappointment of missing out on four points was lessened seconds later when Allen poked the football out of the right arm of return man Maurice Hicks on the ensuing kickoff, forcing a fumble that WR Brian Clark recovered for Tampa Bay at the Viking 26.
Two Dunn runs made it third-and-two and Garcia went to Bryant again to convert, hitting him in the left flat for a gain of nine and a first down at the 10. After Dunn ran for two yards, the Vikings called their first timeout with 3:47 to play. Minnesota's defense held on the next two plays, forcing a pair of incompletions. Bryant hit his fourth field goal of the day, a 26-yarder, to make it a six-point lead with 3:30 to play.
Tampa Bay's defense then came up with its biggest stop of the game, thanks in large part to DE Gaines Adams' speed rush around right tackle. Adams hit Frerotte's arm as he was throwing, forcing a wobbly incompletion. LB Derrick Brooks dropped WR Aundrae Allison for a loss of one on third down and Frerotte's fourth-down pass skipped in front of Rice.
The Bucs, however, gained just one yard on three Dunn carries, leaving Bryant to try for a clinching field goal from 46 yards. Bryant missed for the first time in five tries, with his kick just sailing wide to the right.
That gave the Vikings another chance form their own 36 with 1:55 to play but it didn't go well. In fact, each of three plays got progressively worse for the visitors, beginning with a deep bomb attempt to Wade on first down. CB Aqib Talib nearly intercepted the pass and Wade was called for pass interference, pushing Minnesota back to its own 22. Wilkerson sacked Frerotte for a loss of six on the ensuing first-down play. On the next snap, Frerotte threw a short pass over the middle to Taylor and Wilkerson forced a fumble that CB Ronde Barber recovered to clinch the win.