Listless Bucs outlast the Giants 25-23
The victory, like the flag that was dropped in the end zone after the two-point pass attempt fell incomplete, was picked up later than expected Monday night. After a short huddle with referee Brad Rogers and his crew, it was determined that Bucs rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., did not interfere with Giants running back Dion Lewis.

"The ball hit Antoine in the back," coach Bruce Arians said. "To me, there was no pass interference. I thought it was a good call. I don't know why it took so long." The same could be said for why it took until almost the final play for the Bucs to beat the Giants 25-23.

The Bucs trailed this game 14-3 and 17-15 to a lowly Giants team that fell to 1-7. But when they needed them most, the Bucs' best players came to life at MetLife Stadium. Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting sparked a second-half surge by intercepting Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.

Quarterback Tom Brady, who missed some open receivers in the first half, threw second-half touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans to give the Bucs a lead they had to cling to until the Giants' final offensive play. "The interceptions were huge for us," said Brady, who completed 28 of 40 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. "...We obviously didn't play the way we're capable tonight but it's still good to go get a win. Six and two, and obviously we've got a big one coming up this week."

That big one may have been on the Bucs mind. After being hailed as the best team in the NFC, they easily could have been looking ahead to Sunday's NFC South showdown against the Saints. "In the past, we would've found a way to lose a game like that," Evans said.

In fact, the Bucs did lose a game like that, 20-19 to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night Oct. 8. Arians was so aware of that possibility, facing a one-win Giants team, that he told his club during a meeting Sunday night not to assume they would win this game.

"There's an old adage about assuming," Arians said. "I can't go into the whole thing, but it was written on the blackboard. You know, just remember last year coming out at halftime we assumed we had the game won. And we blew one, and this one, we won."

A year ago, in Jones' NFL debut, he overcame an 18-point deficit to beat the Bucs, 32-31. This time, it was Jones' mistakes that got the Giants into trouble when the game seemed in hand.

Linebacker Shaquil Barrett did not have a sack again Monday. But he had his hands around Jones when he threw both interceptions. "He caused both of them," Arians said. "His numbers aren't the same but he's getting a lot of push. He had the quarterback in the grasp both times and the young quarterback, he's still trying to do too much. When you're in the grasp of those guys, it cost them the ball game with those two picks. But God bless him. He's hard to handle and he's a kid who thinks he can make a play."

Whatever the reason, on a frigid 39-degree night at the Meadowlands, the Bucs took some time to warm up. Davis' interception of Jones to start the third quarter led to the third field goal by Ryan Succop, who connected on all four of his attempts in the game. Then Brady finally got the Bucs in the end zone with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, his third of the season. The two-point conversion pass to Evans failed but the Bucs had their first lead, 15-14.

"Second down was what was killing us," Arians said. "We kept missing some guys open and ended up in third and 9s, 10s and 11s when it should've been third and 5s just hitting some easy guys. But second half we kind of fixed it. Then great throw to Mike. Great throw to Gronk." The Giants answered, with Jones connecting with Evan Engram for 30 yards. Graham Gano's 33-yard field goal left Tampa Bay trailing again, 17-15 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter. But it was Murphy-Bunting's interception of a Jones' pass to Golden Tate in the fourth quarter that loomed largest. Then came Evans' 8-yard touchdown. "It was a perfect throw," Evans said.

It was an imperfect win. "We got hit in the mouth and credit (Giants coach) Joe Judge. He had his team ready," Arians said. "They played their tails off. But we made enough plays to win the game and you never apologize for winning.''

Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 3 November 2020