The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the win column and ready for a rousing NFC stretch run after a 30-10 victory over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 11.
Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and the Buccaneers' defense held the Giants to 215 total yards as Tampa Bay snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 5-0 at home. The Buccaneers are also 4-0 in prime time this season after beating New York on Monday Night Football for the second year in a row. The victory pushed the Buccaneers' record to 7-3, giving them a two-game cushion in the NFC South over the 5-5 New Orleans Saints and vaulting them into the third seed in the overall NFC standings.
"As Dorothy would say, there's no place like home," said Head Coach Bruce Arians after the win. "It's totally different, obviously, our crowd and everything, and it's been a long time, playing like that. The total team effort, I think, was outstanding."
The Buccaneers barely escaped from the Meadowlands last season with a 25-23 victory but were in total control for most of the night on Monday at Raymond James Stadium. New York's only touchdown came on a two-play drive after a fluky interception and the Buccaneers held the Giants to 215 total yards and 4.0 yards per play, the latter their lowest mark against any opponent this season.
Brady picked apart a Giants defense guarding against the big play, completing 30 of 46 passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions. Evans, Godwin, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Leonard Fournette all caught six passes as Brady worked underneath zones and led the Bucs to scores on six of their first eight possessions. The return of Gronkowski proved significant; his 35-yard catch in the second quarter set up a six-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones that gave the Buccaneers a 17-10 lead they would not relinquish.
"Big play and we needed it," said Brady of Gronkowski's long gain. "Gronk always comes up with a big play."
Tampa Bay's defense proved stifling against third-year quarterback Daniel Jones, who was held to 167 yards on 32 of 38 passing. The mobile Giants quarterback also only gained 10 yards on three carries and he was picked off twice, once by defensive lineman Steve McLendon and once by safety Mike Edwards. Inside linebacker Devin White was instrumental in both takeaways, pressuring Jones into an errant throw on the first pick and tipping the ball that Edwards dived for in the third quarter. The Bucs only allowed the Giants to convert one of nine third-down opportunities.
"Good pass rush, really good coverage," said Arians. "I thought front and back end played well together. And they feed off the crowd, and they should make it hard on teams to come in here and execute."
McLendon played a much larger role on Monday night with starting nose tackle Vita Vea out with a knee injury. His interception was the first of his career and it set up a field goal, but the defense's more important accomplishment was getting off the field on third down after a tough outing in that regard at Washington in Week 10.
"The older guys on the team, we came together and [said], 'Man, enough is enough. Let's just play team football. Let's play the way we know how to play and let's go out and get a win.' And most important thing for us was we want to get back to Bucs football."
The Buccaneers were buoyed by the returns of both Gronkowski and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting from lengthy absences due to injury. Gronkowski gained 71 yards on his six catches and Murphy-Bunting had seven tackles and a forced fumble in his first outing since the season opener. The Giants also got running back Saquon Barkley back from an ankle injury but the Bucs' defense held him to 25 yards on six carries and 31 yards on six receptions.
"That's a big target to have running across the field," said Arians of Gronkowski. "He's easy to see. It's great to have him back, really great, run and pass."
The Buccaneers were clinging to a 17-10 lead in the third quarter until Brady found Evans on a quick touchdown pass on third-and-goal from the five, finishing a 10-play, 74-yard drive. It was a momentous occasion for the franchise, as Evans broke Mike Alstott's career record with his 72nd touchdown as a Buccaneer. It also began final downfall for the Giants, as McLendon's interception followed two plays later, setting up the second of Ryan Succop's three field goals.
"He's amazing in every way, as a player, teammate, friend, leader," said Brady of Evans and his big moment. "I love being out there with him, I love playing with him. He really sets the tone for that group. He had a great night."
The Buccaneers got the ball first and made the most of it, driving 73 yards in eight plays for a game-opening touchdown. All eight plays were successful, with seven of them gaining at least seven yards and the eight gaining three on a second-and-three. Cam Brate's 15-yard catch in traffic got the ball down to the Giants' 23 and Godwin's second quick screen of the drive ended up as a 13-yard touchdown. The drive also included a complete rarity: a 10-yard end-around to Evans that was the first official rushing play of the receiver's career.
The Giants also scored on their opening possession but had to settle for a field goal after the Bucs' defense got a stop in the red zone. TE Evan Engram caught a nine-yard pass on third-and-four to get the ball down to the Bucs' 24 and a third-down pass-interference flag on Sean Murphy-Bunting kept the drive. However, Jones was flushed from the pocket and forced into a throwaway on third-and-14 from the 19 and the Giants settled for Graham Gano's 37-yard field goal.
The Bucs responded with their own lengthy field goal drive, chewing up eight minutes but stalling inside the 10. Brady led the Bucs into Giants territory on a no-huddle march, with no play gaining more than 10 yards, then kept the drive alive himself with a 10-yard scramble up the middle on third-and-four. Brady converted another third-and-four with a seven-yard out to Evans but had to throw it away on third-and-goal, leading to Ryan Succop's 25-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's defense followed with the first three-and-out of the game, with Ndamukong Suh pressuring Jones into a third-down incompletion. The Bucs got the ball back at their own 15, but the Giants quickly got it back when a first-down pass to Evans bounced off the receiver and was intercepted by cornerback Adoree' Jackson and returned to the five-yard line. Two plays later, the Giants ran a trick play and offensive tackle Anthony Thomas caught a game-tying two-yard touchdown pass.
The Bucs responded to that bit of adversity with a beautiful 71-yard touchdown drive, the first big chunk coming on a long-developing 35-yard pass to Gronkowski on third-and-three. A 12-yard strike to Brate got the ball down to the six and on the next play Jones took a handoff around left end and found the corner for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Giants started the ensuing drive with a 16-yard end-around by John Ross but failed on an attempted trick play with WR Kadarius Toney taking the snap and throwing deep to Darius Slayton. A flag for pass interference was initially thrown on the play but then picked up. Two plays later, S Antoine Winfield broke up a sideline pass to Toney, leading to a punt that Jaelon Darden fair-caught at the Bucs' 15.
A tackle-breaking 16-yard catch by Evans got the next drive started and the Bucs got into Giants territory with 1:30 remaining. However, a holding call on Tristan Wirfs erased a catch-and-run to Godwin that got down to the goal line and the Bucs ended up punting down to the New York nine with 43 seconds remaining.
The Giants tried to make something happen with that remaining time but Murphy-Bunting forced a fumble after a 21-yard catch by Slayton, with Winfield recovering. Time in the half ran out on Winfield's return.
New York got the ball to star the second half and got into scoring range thanks to a pass-interference call on Jamel Dean and a 28-yard catch by Kyle Rudolph down the left sideline. Lavonte David stopped Toney a yard short of the sticks on third-and-nine and the Giants went for it on fourth-and-one from the Bucs' 25. The Buccaneer defense sniffed out a play-action pass and Jones was pressured into a desperate incompletion.
The Bucs' offense followed that stop with a 74-yard touchdown drive that included several big moments for Evans, the franchise's new touchdown king. On a third-and-10 at the beginning of the possession, Brady stepped up into the pocket and delivered a 17-yard strike to Evans near the left sideline. Completions to Gronkowski for 14 yards and Godwin for 18 yards got the ball into scoring range and a defensive holding call on Julian Love made it first-and-goal at the eight. Three plays later, Brady zipped a hard pass into the stomach of Evans just across the goal line to make it a 14-point game midway through the third quarter.
Things got even better moments later when the Bucs' defense came up with a big takeaway. A blitzing Devin White forced Jones into an errant throw that found McLendon on the turf at the Giants' 37. The Bucs' offense got one first down but then bogged down, leading to Succop's 40-yard boot and a 27-10 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Giants successfully converted a fourth-and-two from their own 45 on the next drive but then committed two 10-yard penalties and couldn't climb out of a third-and-26 hole, leading to a punt. The Bucs followed with a three-and-out but a booming 55-yard punt by Bradley Pinion pushed New York back to its 10 with 12:31 remaining.
New York's next drive didn't last long. After two first downs, Jones tried to go down the right numbers to Slayton but White leaped to tip it and Edwards intercepted the pass at the Giants' 39. On the first play of the ensuing possession, Brady hit Evans for a 21-yard catch-and-run, though Evans appeared to pull up with an injury at the end of the play. The Bucs didn't get another first down after that but Succop added three points with a 30-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's defense got the Giants off the field quickly on the next possession and the Bucs got the ball back at their 19 with just under seven minutes remaining. Gabbert came on to replace Brady and the Bucs ran twice and sustained a sack before punting it back from their nine. Sacks by Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill quickly snuffed out the Giants' next drive and the Bucs were able to kneel it out from there.