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."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 8 matchup against New York on Monday Night Football.
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.
Additional game details (scoring plays in bold):
The Buccaneers got the ball to start the game and Brady led a methodical 11-play drive for the game's first points. WR Scotty Miller got the ball across midfield with a 19-yard catch on a play-action pass in which he threatened to go deep before cutting to the sideline. The Bucs faced a third-and-two at the Giants' 33 and TE Cam Brate ran a perfect pivot route to get open for 10 yards to the 23. The drive stalled there, however, and the Bucs settled for Ryan Succop's 36-yard field goal to open the scoring. Punter Bradley Pinion salvaged a low snap to make the kick possible.
The Giants' first drive didn't result in points but they were able to flip field position.. The Bucs got New York into a third-and-11 at its own 34 but the Giants converted with a trick play. Jones threw a lateral out to the right to WR Golden Tate, who then threw back across the field to RB Wayne Gallman, who ran for an 18-yard gain. However, a tackle in the backfield by S Jordan Whitehead put the Giants in another long third down and this time a downfield pass was incomplete and Riley Dixon punted the ball down to the Bucs' 10.
The Bucs' second drive ended disastrously, as a second-down pass to Jones resulted in the game's first turnover. The ball was tipped and Jones went to his knees to make the catch, and as he started to get up LB Blake Martinez arrived and poked the ball loose. CB Darnay Holmes recovered for the Giants at the Bucs' 12-yard line. New York converted that takeaway into seven points as Jones threw a perfect wheel route to RB Dion Lewis, who made the catch in the end zone despite strong coverage from ILB Devin White.
The Buccaneers got across midfield on a 13-yard Fournette run but the drive stalled when Brady missed an open Jaydon Mickens downfield. CB Ross Cockrell made a great play on the resulting punt to help pin the Giants at their own four-yard line for the next drive. However, the Giants got out of that bad field position with a swing pass to FB Eli Penny and an offsides penalty on Devin White. The Giants got all the way down to the Bucs' 30 but an 11-yard third-down sack by White pushed them out of field goal range. The result punt was downed at Tampa Bay's eight with a little under 13 minutes left in the first half.
Brady converted a third down at the start of the drive by finding Evans on the right side for 14 yards. The next third down needed only two yards and Mickens just got it on an underneath flip that acted like an end-around. Evans got open deep on the next snap but CB James Bradberry just caught up to knock it away. The drive stalled when DL Leonard Williams sacked Brady on third down, resulting a punt and the Giants getting the ball back at their own 23.
New York darted into Bucs territory in no time on two catches for 25 yards by Slayton sandwiched around a 17-yard Wayne Gallman run. An Evan Engram catch-and-run got the ball down to the two-yard line and Gallman ran it in on first and goal with 1:46 left in the half.
The Buccaneers were able to tack on three points before halftime on an eight-play, 53-yard field goal drive. WR Tyler Johnson's 15-yard catch got the ball over midfield and a 12-yard strike to Evans moved it to the 31. But on third-and-two from the Giants' 23 a pass over the middle to Evans only got one yard and the Bucs had to use their final timeout before Succop kicked a 40-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
The Giants kept the momentum on their side to start the second half as Lewis took the opening kickoff all the way out to their own 44. However, it didn't last long as Barrett hit Jones to cause an off-target throw that was intercepted by Davis at the Bucs' 39-yard line. Brady kept the ensuing drive alive with a scrambling eight-yard pass to Mickens on fourth-and-two, creating a first down at the Giants' 31. The drive once again stalled outside the red zone and Succop came on to make it a five-point game with his third field goal, this one from 43 yards.
New York's next drive ended in a three-and-out, though WR Sterling Shepard got open down the left sideline only to have the ball overthrown on third down. After the punt, Tampa Bay took over at its own 33. Two seven-yard Fournette runs and a play-action strike to TE Rob Gronkowski over the middle for 16 yards put the Bucs in New York territory and Evans' 20-yard catch over the middle got it into the red zone. Bradberry was then flagged for pass interference. Brady faked a handoff on first down and threw over the middle to Gronkowski, who hauled in a tipped ball for the go-ahead score. The Buccaneers went for two but failed, leaving the score at 15-14 with a little over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The Giants took the lead back on their next possession, a 10-play, 56-yard march that got its biggest chunk on a 30-yard catch by Engram. Ndamukong Suh hurried Jones into an incompletion on third down from the Bucs' 16 but Graham Gano gave the home team a lead again with a 34-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's next drive went three-and-out thanks to a last-second break-up of a deep pass to Miller by CB Isaac Yiadom. The Giants got the ball back at their own 43 with 14 minutes left in regulation. However, after getting one first down New York turned it over again as Barrett once again pressured Jones into a bad throw and it was intercepted by Murphy-Bunting at the Bucs' 34.
The Bucs backed themselves up with a holding call on the ensuing drive but Tyler Johnson held on to a 20-yard pass down the right seam despite taking a huge hit from CB Logan Ryan. Brady then hit TE Cam Brate on a crossing route for a gain of 25 and a personal foul call on Yiadom moved the ball down to the eight. The Bucs once again used play-action on first-and-goal and it worked again as Evans made a diving catch along the left sideline of the end zone for his seventh touchdown of the season.
The Buccaneers' defense came up big on the next drive, forcing a three-and-out that was keyed by Pierre-Paul's second-down sack. Tampa Bay got the ball back at their own 33 with seven minutes to play. Brady got the ball over midfield two plays later when he stepped up under a collapsing pocket and delivered an 18-yard strike to Gronkowski down the middle. Brady tried to hit Evans down the left sideline on third-and-seven and Bradberry was flagged for pass interference, making it first down at the Giants' 29. After a two-yard Fournette run, the Giants used their first timeout with four minutes to play. Fournette took a pitch on second down and got to within a yard of the sticks. After another New York timeout, Fournette was stopped short on third-and-one and the Bucs sent out Succop to hit a 38-yard field goal to make it an eight-point game.
The Giants got the ball back with just under four minutes to play and nearly sent the game into overtime. Jones converted a fourth-and-five in his own territory with a 12-yard strike to Slayton and then kept the drive alive at midfield with a scrambling 20-yard strike to WR Sterling Shepard on fourth-and-16. Three plays later he found Tate in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown, but Winfield broke up the two-point conversion to keep the game from going to an extra period.