Bucs Escape from New York with Sixth Win, First Place
It wasn't pretty. It was a win, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have equaled the best first-half record in franchise history. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stormed back from a 14-3 first-half deficit to defeat the New York Giants, 25-23 on Monday night at MetLife Stadium. The win improved Tampa Bay's record to 6-2 and kept them in first place in the NFC South over the 5-2 New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers and Saints will battle for division supremacy next Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady engineered the 38th fourth-quarter comeback win of his career, the second-most in NFL history to Peyton Manning. Brady's 47th game-winning drive ties Dan Marino for the third-most in NFL annals. The comeback was complete when he hit a diving Mike Evans on an eight-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left in the game, completing a six-play, 67-yard drive that followed Sean Murphy-Bunting's first interception of 2020. The Buccaneers overcame a slow start that included an early turnover and issues in and around the red zone.

"We did not find energy fast enough," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "Credit to [Giants Head Coach] Joe Judge – he had his team ready and they played their tails off. But we made enough plays to win the game and you never apologize for winning. We had a very slow start offensively [and] defensively I don't like to see people run on us but we made the plays that count."

After Evans touchdown and Ryan Succop's fourth field goal, the Buccaneers still had to survive one last drive by Daniel Jones and the Giants' offense, and in fact Jones hit Golden Tate on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to make it a two-point game. Rookie S Antoine Winfield Jr. saved the Buccaneers from overtime by breaking up a pass to RB Dion Lewis on the two-point conversion attempt. The officials initially threw a flag on the play but huddled up and determined that no foul had been committed. WR Justin Watson then recovered the Giants' onside kick attempt to seal the victory.

"It was a great play," said Brady of Winfield's pass break-up. "I think he sensed the ball was coming and put his arm out and the ball hit him in the arm. It was game-saving play for us. … They had to make a two-point conversion and Antoine made the play."

The Buccaneers rallied from a double-digit deficit to win for the third time in eight games in 2020, showing a resiliency the team had been lacking for years. Tampa Bay also beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 38-31, in Week Four after trailing 24-7 and then defeated the Green Bay Packers in Week Six, 38-10, after falling behind 10.

In this case, the 1-6 Giants surprisingly ran out to a 14-3 lead as Daniel Jones threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Lewis after a Ronald Jones fumble and engineered another long drive that ended in Wayne Gallman's two-yard scoring run in the second quarter. Brady and the Buccaneers' offense struggled to finish drives in the first half, settling for two of Succop's four field goals on the game.

"We kept stalling around the 28, 29," said Arians. "Second down was what was killing us. We were missing guys and we ended up in third-and-nines, 10s, 11s when it should have been third-and-fours and fives. But the second half we kind of fixed it."

The tide turned for Tampa Bay with a pair of interceptions in the second half. Carlton Davis's pick on the first drive of the third quarter – his team-leading fourth of the season – led to a 34-yard field goal drive, and Murphy-Bunting's diving interception in the fourth-quarter set up the go-ahead drive. Brady hit TE Cameron Brate on a 25-yard pass just before his scoring toss to Evans. OLB Shaq Barrett, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2019 but has just three so far in the first half of 2020, continued his quietly dominant play by affecting Jones's throws on both of those interceptions.

"Those helped a lot," said Brady. "The interceptions were huge for us. We turned one over early in the game, kind of backed-up, gave them great field position for the touchdown. Then the defense really helped us out getting a few interceptions. The touchdown to 'Gronk,' he made a great catch but the ball got tipped at the line of scrimmage. He had great concentration on that. And then Mike's was an incredible catch. Those guys were making a lot of plays. We obviously didn't play the way we're capable of tonight but it's still good to go get a win. Six-and-two, and we obviously have a big one coming up this week."

The Buccaneers are 6-2 at the season's midway point for the third time in franchise history. That record led to the NFC Championship Game in 1979 and to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. After rousing wins over red-hot Green Bay and Las Vegas teams the previous two weeks, the Buccaneers kept their streak alive against a struggling Giants team despite not putting forth their best effort.

Arians helped his team rally in the second half by reminding them that New York, in Jones's first career start, had rallied the Giants from a 28-10 halftime deficit to a 32-31 win over the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. "There's an old adage about 'assuming,'" said Arians. "I can't go into the whole thing, but it was written on the blackboard. Just remember last year in the second half, coming out of halftime, we assumed we had the game won, and we blew one. This one we won."

While the Buccaneers were not happy to settle for field goals on four of their drives Monday night, they did appreciate that Succop made all four of his attempts in a very windy MetLife Stadium, the shots ranging from 37-43 yards. Succop is now 15-of-17 on the season and has made his last 10 in a row. "It's kind of a tricky win, but he's a veteran dude and that's what I love about him," said Arians of Succop. "He just goes out and gets his job done. He had a heck of a game. It's definitely a game ball-worthy game, that's for sure."

The Buccaneers' offense finally broke through in the third quarter on Brady's three-yard touchdown pass to TE Rob Gronkowski, marking the third straight week those two have hooked up on scoring plays. That pass, plus the one to Evans in the fourth quarter, both came on first-down play-action throws. Incredibly, the Buccaneers remain perfect on goal-to-go drives in 2020, having scored on all 22 of their opportunities through eight games.

Brady was a bit erratic early on but he finished with 28 completions in 40 attempts for 279 yards, those two touchdowns and no interceptions. In his last six games he has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just one pick, and he finished Monday's game with a 106.1 passer rating. Surprisingly, his most targeted player in the game was WR Jaydon Mickens, who turned a career-high eight targets into five catches for 56 yards. Mickens picked up the slack for Chris Godwin, who missed the game due to a fractured finger.

"He took the spot of the 'F' this week and that's Chris's spot," said Arians. "Chris is always involved. So we just put Mick in his spot and used basically the same plays and he did a great job for us."

The Buccaneers' defense saw its streak of 13 straight games allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards come to an end as the Giants got to 101 with a mixture of Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris (just elevated from the practice squad) and Jones on scrambles. But the defense turned up the pressure in the second half, as former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh both recorded sacks. ILB Devin White got Jones down in the first half for his fifth sack in the last three weeks.

Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 3 November 2020