The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' extra-long road trip is finished, and so is their losing streak, precisely because they were able to finish.
The Buccaneers' first game at Raymond James Stadium in 49 days ended in a 30-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday that snapped a four-game losing streak. The game featured five lead changes and wasn't secured until rookie cornerback Jamel Dean recorded his fourth pass defensed of the day on Kyler Murray's last-ditch lob as time expired. Dean's third pass defensed was an interception at the Tampa Bay eight-yard line that prevented Arizona from building on its four-point lead with four minutes to go. It also gave the ball back to Jameis Winston, who promptly directed the Bucs' longest scoring drive of the year, a 92-yard game-winner that ended in Peyton Barber's one-yard touchdown run with 1:43 left.
"We were resilient," said Winston. "We fought with every ounce that we had and we came up with a win. A big day for the Bucs.'
The win was Tampa Bay's first home victory of 2019, following two early losses to the 49ers and Giants and a game against the Panthers in London in which it was technically the host team. Overall, the Buccaneers are now 3-6 in 2019, while the Cardinals dropped to 3-6-1. Four of Tampa Bay's last seven games are also at home, beginning next week with a visit from the New Orleans Saints.
"It gives us something to build off of because we all had a bad taste in our mouth," said Dean. "Now, after this win, we can finally see the light. That doesn't mean we can relax; we just need to step it up each week."
The Bucs' first game on their home field since September 22 followed five road trips in a six-week span (including a game in London that was officially considered a home game) and a series of close games in which it was the opponents who made the big plays at the end. That scenario appeared to be unfolding again when the Cardinals executed a bold fake punt in the fourth quarter, leading to Kyler Murray's third touchdown pass to Christian Kirk and a four-point Arizona lead. Moments later, Arizona's Budda Baker recovered a Ronald Jones fumble to give the visitors a chance to make it a two-score game.
This time, however, Dean made the big play on defense and Winston directed the Buccaneers' most "clutch" drive of the year. Dean had been pressed into action the week before in Seattle after a pregame injury to Carlton Davis, and while he had four pass break-ups in that game, too, he also had a number of plays that didn't go his way. With Davis still out, Dean had a chance to turn that experience into a better second game, and he succeeded in doing so.
"After last week, I realized that I had to prepare different," said Dean. "So the whole week, I'm watching extra film, I'm going to Coach [Todd] Bowles' office and going through film and letting him teach me the game. Because, honestly, I didn't want to have that feeling I had last week. I feel like I had a chip on my shoulder. Last week, that was not me because I know I'm better than that. Once I had a chance to go back there and redeem myself I had to make sure I took it."
After Dean's huge play, the winning drive started with a 49-yard catch by Chris Godwin that included 27 yards-after-the-catch after he bounced off a would-be tackler. It ended with Barber's third-down run around left end, following an edge block by 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea. The Buccaneers hadn't had a touchdown drive of more than 78 yards prior to Sunday but they were not to be denied after the defense gave them a chance to win the game.
"The defense did their job," said Winston. "We've got to do our job. Chris Godwin made a heck of a catch and run, put us in great position. Our goal-line, our offensive line, dominated all day. They finished strong by getting Peyton Barber in the end zone."
Finally, Tampa Bay's defense turned over one last drive by Arizona, which needed only a field goal to tie. CB Vernon Hargreaves broke up a second-down pass to help put the Cardinals in a fourth-and-five but was then flagged for pass interference on a fourth-down incompletion. Jason Pierre-Paul hit Murray's arm for an incompletion with 10 seconds left and Dean kept a wobbly floater from getting to Pharoh Cooper as time expired.
"Our offense showed a lot of poise, a lot of guts, giving the lead up and then taking it back," said Head Coach Bruce Arians, whose first home win with the Buccaneers came against the team for which he served in the same capacity from 2013-17. "Then finally, defensively, finishing out at the end. Offensively, we can talk about turnovers, we can talk about penalties, but we made plays to win the game. Putting that many points on the board you should win the game."
The fourth-down call on Hargreaves was one of a handful of significant plays involving flags thrown and not thrown. Barber's game-winning touchdown came three snaps after a pass-interference call on a pass intended for Mike Evans made it first-and-goal at the one, and that penalty was only called after a replay review. Arians also challenged a pass-interference call on M.J. Stewart on Arizona's final touchdown drive, believing it to actually be an offensive infraction on Larry Fitzgerald, and there was a separate pass-interference penalty on a play intended for Evans on the Bucs' last drive. Arians finished the game with no additional clarity as to what will and will not be called pass-interference this season.
"I'm just going to keep challenging," he said. "Because if that wasn't offensive pass-interference on Larry, I don't know what is."
Winston was intercepted on his second pass of the game by Byron Murphy, setting up an Arizona field goal, and he had a third-quarter throw over the middle deflected and then hauled in by Jordan Hicks. Otherwise, he was sharp for most of the afternoon, completing 30 of 48 passes for 358 yards and a touchdown, and he also scrambled three times for 40 yards and a pair of key first downs. Winston became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for 300 or more yards in four straight games.
"The first one he tried to fit one into Chris and the guy undercut it," said Arians. "Other than that, he was really solid, really solid."
Tampa Bay's defense came into the game knowing it had to contain the fleet-footed rookie under center for Arizona as well as a pair of dual-threat running backs in David Johnson and Kyler Murray. Murray had a big day, throwing for 324 yards and three touchdowns and running for another 38 yards, but Tampa Bay largely contained Johnson and Drake. Those two combined for 51 yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's own backfield duo of Barber and Jones combined for 153 yards from scrimmage and two scores. Jones got the Bucs' scoring started with a nifty seven-yard touchdown run up the middle in the first quarter. The Buccaneer offense rang up 457 yards in total and converted on seven of 15 third-down tries.
Tampa Bay's defense allowed 417 yards but was resilient at the end, particularly in getting two big turnovers in the second half. In addition to Dean's game-changing pick, Lavonte David forced and recovered a fumble by Johnson at the Bucs' 11 that kept Arizona from capitalizing on Hicks's interception late in the third quarter. That was the first fumble the Cardinals had lost as a team all season – it took another replay review to get the turnover – and Dean's pick was the first one Murray had thrown in nearly six complete games.
"It was huge, huge," said Arians of David's takeaway. "To turn it over and take it right back – that's Lavonte. If there's one guy we can count on to go out there and make a play when it's crunch time, it's him."
The Bucs' offense got off to a poor start on the game's opening possession, with Winston sacked by Rodney Gunter on second down, followed by a sideline pass attempt to Godwin that was intercepted by Murphy at the Bucs' 37. Arizona got one first down from there but had to settle for Zane Gonzalez's 37-yard field goal attempt, which he made to open the scoring four minutes into the game.
The Bucs started their second drive at their own 40 thanks to a kickoff that went out of bounds and went 60 yards from there to take the lead. Jones had two gains of 17 yards on screen passes, one converting a third-and-15 and the other a second-and-12, then scored on a seven-yard run to finish the drive. C Ryan Jensen also kept the drive alive when he fell on a loose ball after a sack by Chandler Jones caused a fumble in Arizona territory.
Arizona cut the lead to one point on the next possession with an 11-play, 39-yard field goal drive ending in Gonzalez's boot from 54 yards out. The drive got as far as the Bucs' 31 but two consecutive stops of Johnson by Devin White and a pair of false start penalties eventually backed it up to the 36 before the field goal unit game on.
The Bucs got those three points back on the next drive, though an intentional grounding call on what appeared to be miscommunication on a screen pass messed up a first-and-10 opportunity at the 13. Matt Gay came on to hit a 30-yard field goal to make it 10-6 with nine minutes left in the half. Jones had another big play in the passing game, taking a screen pass 14 yards, and Barber got the ball into scoring range with a tackle-breaking run for 17 yards.
Shaq Barrett's third-down sack of Murray killed Arizona's next drive but the Bucs punted it back with six minutes left in the half. After another exchange of punts left the Cardinals at their own four-yard line, Murray got them out of trouble with a 32-yard run around left end. A sack by Ndamukong Suh forced the Cardinals into a fourth-and-five try just after the two-minute warning and Larry Fitzgerald bailed them out with an incredible one-handed sideline catch at the Bucs' 33. Two plays later, Kirk got open deep down the right side and Murray hit him stride for a 33-yard touchdown with a minute left in the half.
Winston trumped his rookie counterpart, needing only 51 yards to move the Bucs' offense 75 yards for the go-ahead score just before halftime. Winston threw three passes to Howard on the drive, the first one moving the sticks and stopping the clock as O.J. Howard hustled out of bounds and the second getting 26 yards down to the 10 when the big tight end made an outstanding leaping catch in traffic. Howard's third grab came on the next play when he leaked out to the right side and got wide open for a 10-yard touchdown with eight seconds left before halftime.
A 55-yard catch-and-run by Andy Isabella got the Cardinals into scoring range seconds into the third quarter but the Cardinals soon faced a fourth-and-one at Tampa Bay's 23-yard line. They elected to go for it and drew up a perfect play that got TE Maxx Williams wide open running to the end zone, but Williams dropped the pass to turn the ball over on downs. The Bucs' offense took it 49 yards from there to tack on a 45-yard field goal by Gay. Much of the offense came on a 27-yard scrambling throw to Evans, who ran around three defenders to get to the Cardinals' 29. However, a second sack by Jones and a near-miss to Scotty Miller in the end zone kept the Bucs from getting into the red zone and it remained a one-score game midway through the third period.
Arizona got that one score 27 seconds later when Kirk got past the defense down the right sideline and Murray delivered the ball to him in stride for a 69-yard game-tying touchdown pass.
The next two drives ended in punts but Arizona got the next scoring opportunity when a third-and-11 pass attempt by Winston to Godwin down the middle was tipped in the air by Baker and intercepted by Hicks at the Bucs' 20-yard line. Two plays later, David got the ball right back for the Bucs by stripping the ball from David Johnson and recovering it at the Tampa Bay 11.
Winston got the Bucs out of that backed-up position and a third-and-12 jam by scrambling for 26 yards to the 35. A seam-pass laser to Miller got 28 to put the ball into Cardinals territory, with Miller making a nice spinning catch. However, an eight-yard sack split by Gunter and Terrell Suggs stopped the drive shy of the red zone again and the Bucs settled for Gay's go-ahead 41-yard field goal. Gay actually hooked his original 46-yard try wide to the left but was given a second chance by an offsides penalty against the Cardinals.
Tampa Bay's defense appeared to get a quick stop on the next drive but the Cardinals ran a fake punt that involved two pitches and a 26-yard completion by P Andy Lee to WR Pharoh Cooper to the Bucs' 38-yard line. On the very next play, Stewart drew a downfield pass-interference flag and when Arians' challenge of the play failed it was first down for Arizona at the 13. Murray finished the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kirk, who hauled it in despite it being tipped by White.
The Bucs' ensuing drive got across midfield when another screen to Jones worked to perfection, but Jones lost the football at the end of a 20-yard gain and it was recovered by Arizona at its 44. A 24-yard catch by Fitzgerald down the middle got the Cardinals into the red zone but Dean got the turnover the Bucs' desperately needed with an interception at the eight-yard line with 3:40 left.
On the very next play, Godwin caught a pass and bounced off Hicks to break free for a 59-yard gain. Two pass-interference calls on throws to Evans helped the drive immensely, particularly the one on Jalen Thompson that made it first-and-goal at the one after a replay review overturned the initial no-call. The Bucs' first two attempts at the end zone failed but on third down Barber jumped over one tackler and got around the left end for the go-ahead score with 1:43 left in regulation.
Tampa Bay's defense appeared to get the game-clinching stop on fourth down to begin the drive but Vernon Hargreaves was flagged for pass interference. A holding penalty with 18 seconds left pushed the Cardinals back to their own 38 and Pierre-Paul hit Murray's arm for an incompletion on the next play. With 10 seconds left, Murray was chased towards the left sideline and hit by Ndamukong Suh as he barely got off his last desperation attempt, which Dean batted away.