The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent Christmas in Arizona but didn't get their presents until late into the evening on Sunday night.
Ryan Succop's fourth field goal of the game, a 40-yard shot six minutes into overtime, gave the Buccaneers a 19-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Week 16. The franchise's first Christmas game ever resulted in a much-needed victory in a very tight NFC South division race, after both the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints won on Saturday.
The Buccaneers improved to 7-8 with the win, maintaining some distance over the 6-9 Panthers and Falcons. Carolina defeated the Buccaneers in Week Seven, which makes the two teams' meeting next Sunday in Tampa a matchup that could decide the NFC South.
"It always means something when you're playing for something at the end of the year," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "You want to be playing December football, want to play good December football and want to play meaningful games. Next week, they need it and we need it so it's going to be a good battle."
The Buccaneers trailed by 10 points with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter after a 22-yard James Conner touchdown run. Tom Brady then rallied the Buccaneers to a seven-play, 67-yard drive, most of it on a 44-yard catch-and-run by RB Leonard Fournette. Brady completed the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to rookie RB Rachaad White on third-and-goal. DL Will Gholston then recovered a botched handoff between QB Trace McSorley and RB Keaontay Ingram near midfield, setting up a field goal drive that tied the game at 16-16 with 2:27 left in regulation. Succop was good from 42 yards out to set up the extra time, connecting for the fourth time in four tries.
"He's done a great job," said Bowles of Succop. "He's been very consistent. He came back healthier than he was last year, so I think that helps a lot. The hold's been great, the snap's been great, he's been doing his job, so I can't say enough about him."
Arizona won the coin toss to start the overtime period but the Buccaneers' defense forced a quick punt. Two completions to WR Russell Gage for a total of 36 yards put the visitors into position for Succop's game-winning kick. That completed the 45th fourth-quarter comeback of Brady's career and his 57th game-winning drive. Both are all-time NFL records.
"Keep it close in the fourth quarter and you know you've got a shot," said Brady. "In the fourth quarter we executed pretty well, broke some tackles, ran hard, a lot of guys made plays in the pass game, contested catches, guys hit as soon as they caught it and came up with it. The defense really stepped up. Down 10 in the fourth quarter on the road, it was good to find a way to get a win."
The game was tied at 6-6 at halftime but the Cardinals scored the next 10 points. As impressive as Brady was in the end game, Bowles called the win a complete team win.
"I think it was a total effort in the second half, especially the fourth quarter," he said. "Our defense getting stops and our offense cashing in with timely plays. It seemed like we played better in the fourth quarter. If we can transfer that to the other three we'd be pretty consistent. But it was a hard-fought win. We needed it and we got it, no matter how pretty it looked or didn't look pretty. Now we're set up for next week."
CB Marco Wilson's two interceptions, both on downfield passes to WR Mike Evans, were the big plays in helping Arizona build its late lead, in a game that saw neither offense muster much sustained success for most of its run time. Wilson's second pick, late in the third quarter, led to Matt Prater's third field goal and Arizona's first lead of the game. Arizona then made it a two-score game on Conner's 22-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes left in regulation.
Brady completed 32 of 48 passes for 281 yards and one touchdown, but he was also intercepted twice. After throwing only three interceptions in the first 12 games of the season, Brady has now been picked off twice in three straight outings, tying for the longest streak in his illustrious 23-season career.
Brady's favorite targets were WR Chris Godwin and RB Leonard Fournette. Godwin worked the middle of the field for 63 yards on eight grabs and Fournette hauled in nine passes for 90 yards, including a 44-yarder on the drive that led to White's touchdown. Fournette also ran 20 times for 72 yards, and his 162 yards from scrimmage are the most for any Buccaneer player this season.
"He ran really hard," said Brady of Fournette. "He was on a mission. He ran through arm-tackles, ran hard, caught the ball well, pass-protected well. This team has a lot of resiliency; we fight hard. We're 7-8. That's not where we want to be but we've got a chance to win a championship next week."
Tampa Bay's defense mostly stifled third-string quarterback Trace McSorley, making his NFL starting debut after Kyler Murray suffered an ACL tear and Colt McCoy sustained a concussion in successive weeks. McSorley completed 24 of 45 passes for 217 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass and was picked off by Keanu Neal on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half. However, McSorley hit WR Marquise Brown on a 47-yard strike in the third quarter that preceded the go-ahead field goal and appeared to put the home team in position to pull off the upset.
ILB Lavonte David led the Buccaneers' defense with 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed, and OLB Anthony Nelson recorded the team's lone sack, forcing a fumble in the first quarter that ended an Arizona scoring threat in the red zone. ILB Devin White, who recovered the McSorley fumble, was an effective pass rusher with three QB hits and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting recorded two key pass break-ups, both on third down.
The Bucs took a shot downfield on the very first play of the game, with Brady running play-action, and his pass down the right sideline to Julio Jones drew a 30-yard pass-interference call on CB Antonio Hamilton. White took his first carry for 18 yards and his second for seven more to get the ball to the Arizona 20. A second-and-three pass went off TE Cade Otton's hands, and a shot to an open Jones in the end zone was out of reach. The Bucs settled for Ryan Succop's 38-yard field goal to open the scoring.
The Cardinals' first drive started at their own 25 after a kickoff touchback and went backwards on the first play when Mike Edwards and Devin White clamped down on a sideline screen to Conner and dropped him for a loss of two. McSorley's first pass was an 11-yard strike to WR Greg Dortch, and a jet sweep to Dortch on third down moved the sticks. The Cardinals went into hurry-up mode and four-yard runs by McSorley and Conner (on a Wildcat snap) made it third-and-two. CB Carlton Davis broke up a fly down the right sideline to Brown to force a punt. However, the Cardinals didn't punt, instead ran a fake with P Andy Lee throwing to LB Kamu Grugier-Hill for enough to keep the drive alive. Conner then broke free around right end for 11 into Bucs territory and McSorley found Dortch over the middle for 23 more to the Bucs' 17. Facing a third-and-six at the 13 moments later, the Cardinals called a timeout and then came back to disaster. Nelson got quickly around the left tackle and buried McSorley for a seven-yard sack, sending the ball flying in the process. White recovered it and returned it 13 yard to the Bucs' 43.
A false start got the ensuing drive off to a bad beginning but Fournette went up the middle on the next play and refused to go down, bashing for 14 yards. J.J. Watt tripped up Fournette in the backfield to prevent the third-and-one conversion. Another Fournette run got nothing and the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-two at the Cardinals' 47. A third straight Fournette run was stopped short and the ball went over on downs.
The Cardinals committed a holding penalty to start the next drive. Arizona couldn't recover from that mishap and ended up punting away from their 49 with four minutes left in the first quarter. Deven Thompkins fair caught it at the 10.
A quick pass down the line to WR Russell Gage started the next drive with 10 yards and a first down. The Bucs faced a third-and-six at the 24 three plays later and Brady's pass to Otten was dropped, leading to a punt. Otton's fine open-field tackle on return man Pharoh Cooper led to Arizona starting anew at its own 39.
An RPO handoff to Dortch opened up a lane around left end for a gain of 20 into Buccaneers' territory. McSorley dialed up a deep bomb to WR DeAndre Hopkins but it was out of reach, and on third-and-10 McSorley's scramble only gained three. Kicker Matt Prater came in to tie the game with a 56-yard field goal in the last minute of the opening period.
The first quarter came to an end on a five-yard catch by Fournette. Two plays later, Brady fired a quick strike to Godwin for five yards to convert a third-and-two. Tackle Josh Wells, starting in place of Donovan Smith, was injured on the play and had to be carted off the field. A deep shot to WR Scotty Miller down the left sideline failed to connect, but a pitch to Fournette to the left worked with a phalanx of blockers helping him get 28 to the Cardinals' 39. Two plays later, a tunnel screen to Godwin moved the chains again as he powered forward for 12 yards. After another Godwin quick pass on third down led to a fourth-and-one at the 18, the Bucs went for it on fourth down and got it on a Brady sneak to the 16-yard line. An incompletion and an underneath pass to Fournette led to a third-and-four at the 10, and a touchdown pass to Jones was erased by an illegal shift call. Brady hit Otton on a pass that would have then converted the third down but Tristan Wirfs was flagged for holding, pushing the ball back to the 25. An underneath pass to Fournette didn't come close to converting the third-and-19 but did put Succop in range to hit a 34-yard field goal.
The Bucs' coverage team dropped Cooper at the 14 on the ensuing kickoff and the Cardinals quickly faced a third-and-11 after a failed McSorley keeper and a pressured incompletion. McSorley's third-down attempt to Hopkins bounced on the turf in front of the receiver and the Cards punted away from their 13.
The Bucs got the ball back at their 48 and faced a third-and-one after a run and a catch by White. Brady moved the chains with a pass over the middle to Godwin, who sat in spot in a zone and got 10. On the next play, however, Brady took a deep shot in Evans' direction and it was intercepted by Wilson, who then got up and returned the ball 39 yards to the Cardinal's 41.
Arizona took over with five minutes left in the first half. Two Conner runs got the ball into Bucs territory and made it first-and-10 at the 46. An impressive leaping PBU by CB Sean Murphy-Bunting against Hopkins led to a third-and-10 and McSorley was pressured into a quick incompletion by Devin White, leading to another punt.
The Bucs had three minutes left in the half when they took over at their own nine-yard line. A run and a catch by Fournette led to a first down at the 21, bringing on the two-minute warning. Brady's pass two Gage on third-and-one was incomplete and the Bucs punted with 1:18 left in the half. The Cardinals got the ball back at their own 30 with 1:07 on the clock.
The Cardinals used the remaining time to mount another field goal drive and tie the game at 6-6 heading into halftime. The big play was a 17-yard sideline catch by Dortch. Prater came on to try a 53-yard field goal and bounced it off the left upright and through.
Arizona had the ball to start the second half but punted after a three-and-out, with Nelson making a timely tackle on Dortch on third down. Lee's punt took a fortunate bounce for Arizona and rolled all the way down to the Bucs' nine. Unfortunately, the Bucs answered with a three-and-out of their own, with Brady missing Godwin on an out on third-and-two. Jake Camarda's 52-yard punt and a penalty on Arizona pushed the ball back to the Cardinals' 18.
A holding call on the home team pushed the line of scrimmage back to the nine, and the drive ended three plays later. Thompkins fair caught the ensuing punt at the Bucs' 30. Fournette started it off with a six-yard run over right guard, but was tripped up two yards short of the sticks on a toss-sweep left. Brady handed off to Fournette out of the shotgun on third down and the back was able to pick his way for a first down. Two plays later, Godwin ran another tunnel screen and got 10 down to the Cards' 46. A false start two snaps later made it second-and-11 but a quick route over the middle to Gage got just enough to create a new first down at the 35. Three plays later, on third-and-11, Brady tried to find Evans on the left sideline but Wilson came down with his second interception at the Arizona 19.
Arizona ground out a first down on three plays, then two plays later McSorley launched a deep ball to Brown for a 47-yard gain down to the Bucs' 20. A McScorley keeper for no gain ended the third quarter. The Cardinals couldn't muster any more offense after switching sides and Prater came on to give them a 9-6 lead with a 39-yard field goal.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 17 and quickly fell into a third-and-two after a six-yard on a counter by RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn. The visitors burned a timeout before third down, and Brady's next pass was nearly intercepted by LB Zaven Collins. On the following punt, Cooper got to the sideline and leaped over one defender to get all the way back to the Bucs' 33.
That put Arizona in position to mount the game's first touchdown drive. McSorley converted a third-and-one with a two-yard sneak and on the next play Conner found his way around left end for a 22-yard touchdown run. The extra point made it 16-6 with 11 minutes to play.
Thompkins returned the following kickoff out to the Bucs' 33, and a swing pass to Fournette on first down broke free for a 44-yard gain, the longest reception of the veteran back's career. Another pass to Fournette converted a third-and-five and made it first-and-goal at the eight, and three plays later Brady found White for a three-yard score. After Succop's extra point, it was 16-13 with eight minutes to play.
The Cardinals got a first down on two short passes and Conner followed with an 11-yard run to the Cardinals' 49. Arizona called a timeout at 4:53 facing a third-and-one at the Bucs' 42, and then tried a deceptive play-action toss-sweep to RB Keaontay Ingram. Ingram dropped the ball and William Gholston fell on it for the Bucs at the Tampa Bay 45.
Facing a third-and-six moments later, Brady went to his favorite target and Godwin hauled in a 12-yard pass to the Arizona 39. The Bucs got another first down at the 26 but then fell into a third-and-eight, and the Cardinals called a timeout at the 2:36 mark. A shot to Godwin in the end zone failed, so the Bucs brought in Succop, who tied the game with a 42-yarder.
An ineligible man downfield penalty hurt the Cardinals to start the next drive, and the Bucs used two timeouts to help put Arizona into a third-and-six with 1:54 to play. The Tampa Bay defense hurried McSorley into a quick throw to Hopkins and it skipped on the turf incomplete.
A 14-yard return on the ensuing punt gave the Bucs a drive start at their own 34. Brady missed Otton on a seam pass to start the drive but got seven on another throw to the rookie on second down. Unfortunately, a third-down run by Fournette was stopped two yards short and the Bucs punted it back with less than a minute to play.
The Cardinals got the ball to midfield but a key pass-breakup by Murphy-Bunting forced the Cardinals to try a Hail Mary pass as the fourth quarter expired and it was intercepted by Keanu Neal.
That sent the game into overtime and the Cardinals won the toss. The Bucs' defense got the Cardinals into a third-and-11 but Brown made a diving catch off the edge of the turf to move the sticks. The play was originally ruled short but reviewed and ruled a first down. Three plays later, it was third-and-nine and, after using a timeout, the Cardinals tried a downfield shot to Hopkins but missed.
Lee punted the ball down to the Bucs' 12. After two short passes produced a first down, Brady got the ball deep down the left sideline to Gage for 23. A 16-yard pass to Evans made it first down at the Arizona 13 and Brady then hit Gage again for 13 more. The Bucs kept it on the ground from there for two more plays before bringing on Succop for the game-winner.