It may not have been pretty, but a win is a win and Head Coach Bruce Arians said after the game, "Never apologize for winning."
And though it wasn't the Buccaneers' best performance of the season, there were some encouraging things to come out of how Tampa Bay played under the lights of Monday Night Football in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Most notably, it was a total team effort that wouldn't have happened without each phase of the ball stepping up when they needed to. Read below for more on that.
1. The team came together to get the win in all three phases.
The first half was filled with stutter-steps by both the offense and defense. The offense settled for a field goal on their first drive then fumbled in the red zone, leading to an early Giants lead. The defense gave up 63 yards on the ground, which was nearly their 66 yard per game average so far this season and allowed a 77-yard touchdown drive to give New York a 14-6 lead heading into halftime.
But that all changed in the second half.
The defense was up first and made the play it needed to in order to get the ball rolling. Cornerback Carlton Davis nabbed his fourth interception this season, a career high for him. It also ties for the most in the NFL. He's leading a unit that had two interceptions on the day, after cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting grabbed his first of the season later on in the game, adding to the Bucs' total of 11, which ties for the NFL lead.
Now what happened after that first interception by Davis was only a field goal, but the defense held up and forced a three-and-out, giving the Giants' defense little time to recover. Then came complementary football as quarterback Tom Brady took advantage of a tired defense and connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for the Bucs' first touchdown of the game and the pair's 93rd touchdown connection overall, including the postseason. They surpassed Steve Young and Jerry Rice (92) for the second-most touchdown passes by a quarterback-receiver duo in NFL history (including the postseason), and now trail only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114).
It was the third touchdown in as many games for Gronk, looking like he's started to find his groove in his new offense. He remains the league leader for touchdown receptions since entering the NFL in 2010 among any player.
The Bucs' next touchdown would come directly as a result of the Bucs' second interception of the game. After outside linebacker Shaq Barrett nearly brought quarterback Daniel Jones to the ground, Jones tried to make a play anyway and that's when Murphy-Bunting stepped up – literally – to nab the interception.
Brady connected with wide receiver Mike Evans on the ensuing fourth-quarter drive and it gave Evans his seventh touchdown of the season, which is tied for most in the league and he led the team with 55 receiving yards on five receptions.
The Bucs would tack on a field goal to increase their lead to eight points and when it came down to the Giants needing a two-point conversion to force overtime, the defense stepped back up as rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. got in front of the pass from Jones, resulting in an incomplete pass and preserving the Bucs' victory. It was a back and forth effort from both the defense and the offense that helped the Bucs squeak by with a win and improve to 6-2 for the first time since 2002.
Overall, the Bucs now have 65 points off turnovers this season which is the second most in the league. Their 247 points total are the most through eight games in team history and they maintain the second-best point differential in the league with a +82 differential.
Of course, adding to those points was the third phase of the ball: special teams. Kicker Ryan Succop went 4-for-4 on field goals with a long of 43 in a whipping New York wind. He accounted for 13 of the Bucs' 25 points in the game and now has 71 points on the season, which is the third-most in the NFL.
Not to be missed either was the the Bucs didn't beat themselves with penalties, either. If there's a fourth phase to football, it's penalties as they Bucs have found out the hard way. They committed just three penalties for a total of 20 penalty yards. The Giants, by contrast, had seven penalties for 73 yards.
2. The Bucs' pass rush deserves a lot of credit.
I mentioned it before when talking about SMB's interception and how it was Barrett who caused the errant throw in the first place. As Scott Smith pointed out in our Game Ball discussion, Barrett had just three tackles on the day and two passes defensed. No sacks. But he still got pressure that had real consequences for the Giants. That's apparently something Barrett did last time against the Giants, too. In the Bucs' 2019 home matchup, Barrett caused two turnovers due to pressure. Now, the official NextGenStats haven't been released for this game but judging from the tape… Barrett forced two more turnovers this time around with pressure.
He's not the only Bucs outside linebacker that's getting pressure, either. It was no secret that Jason Pierre-Paul was pumped up to play his former team. He wanted to get after the quarterback and made no secret of that either. Come Monday night, he did. He registered one sack on Jones and two tackles for loss on Giants' running backs. Pierre-Paul has now racked up 6.5 sacks which are tied for the fourth-most in the NFL this season. His 27.5 sacks since he joined Tampa Bay in 2018 are tied for the ninth-most in that span. Since he entered the league, he's had 86.0 sacks, good for another top 10 ranking since 2010.
Now, you might say that in a 3-4 defense, pressure is supposed to come from those outside linebackers spots. And you'd be right. But this pass rush doesn't just fall on their shoulders. No. The Bucs are getting pressure and sacks from all levels of the defense. Take inside linebacker Devin White, for example. He had the first sack of the night in the first quarter and his fifth in the last three games. That was his goal for the year heading into 2020. Time to aim higher, 45. It also came as the Giants were driving after starting at their own four-yard line. They had made it into field goal range before White came flying up the middle and sacked Jones for a loss of 11. That knocked New York out of field goal range and forced them to punt instead. It was a much-needed stop that kept the Giants' from inflating their four-point lead at the time.
The Bucs' third and final sack came from interior lineman Ndamukong Suh on the Giants' last drive of the game, bringing up a third-and-16 situation. They wouldn't convert the third down. We don't have to talk about what happened on fourth down. Suh now has 4.0 sacks on the season and the Bucs overall have 28/0 sacks in 2020, which is the second-most in the league.
3. There are still some issues to clean up on both sides of the ball.
It was their second-straight road game in an empty stadium and if the 2020 season has taught us all anything: the game needs its fans. Not that we didn't know it before, but we've now heard multiple players talking about how they miss the energy fans bring to the stadiums each game – home or away. It's something these guys can feed off of and playing in front of supporters is something players take great pride in. Inside linebacker Lavonte David even said that the defense needs to work on starting faster and that not having the roar of the crowd makes a difference. And for the record, the defense did force a punt on the Giants' first drive of the game. It was a fumble that put them in scoring position right off the bat on the next series that helped New York to an early touchdown. The Bucs still gave up two fourth-down conversions late in the game, something that's uncharacteristic of a team that ranks in the top 10 in third-down defense. They held the Giants to just four of 11 third-down conversions Monday night. They also let up 101 yards on the ground, breaking their streak of holding 13 consecutive opponents to under 100 rushing yards. But keep in mind, letting up 101 yards per game would still rank them as the eighth-best rushing defense in the league. So no, it wasn't the 66 yards per game the Bucs had been averaging leading up to the game, but it still wasn't a bad performance. It just came at an inopportune time.
Complementary football works both ways, you see. While the Bucs won the game because of complementary football, they struggled because of it, too. While Tampa Bay let up its most rushing yards all season, the Bucs' ground game on offense struggled, too. They gained just 81 yards on the ground on what actually is the eighth-ranked rushing defense. The offense also struggled on third down – an area where they've said they need to improve all year. They converted only four of their 12 attempts. But, they were 1-for-1 on fourth-down attempts, going for it on fourth-and-two in the third quarter. Brady hit wide receiver Jaydon Mickens for eight yards to keep that drive alive. It ended in a field goal, though. The Bucs had to settle for four field goals on the night, including on the first drive of the game. That's not the kind of game they're used to playing and won't fly against a team like the Saints this coming Sunday. The good news is that a lot of these uncharacteristic mistakes were just that: uncharacteristic mistakes. And if the Bucs can find a way to win by being less than perfect, their ceiling might just be unstoppable.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 8 matchup against New York on Monday Night Football.