Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 4 matchup with the Giants.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed multiple opportunities to put the visiting New York Giants in a hole Sunday afternoon, then had to climb out of one themselves in the game's closing seconds.
But, all's well that ends well and the Buccaneers will spend a very short amount of time celebrating a thrilling 25-23 victory before turning their attention to their game against the New England Patriots in just four days. Kicker Nick Folk ensured the Bucs would go into that game with momentum by hitting a 34-yard field goal as time expired.
WATCH: BUCS VS. GIANTS HIGHLIGHTS
"We'd love to have finished off that drive at the half," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "We left plenty of points out there. The game didn't have to be that close, but it was that close. You've just got to stick with it, and we passed the test tonight."
As a result, Tampa Bay improved to 2-1 on the season while the Giants fell to 0-4. It's the Buccaneers' best start to a season since 2011. The Bucs have won six straight home games, their longest such streak since 2008.
The Giants nearly sent the Bucs to a disappointing 1-2 start, as Eli Manning's two-yard touchdown pass to TE Rhett Ellison gave the visiting team a 23-22 lead with just over three minutes to play. However, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston capped a superb outing by going five-for-five on the game's final drive, capped by a gutsy deep ball to TE Cameron Brate on third-and-one from the Giants' 39-yard line with 1:30 to play. Brate hauled in a juggling catch over his shoulder and held on as he was tackled at the 13; the Buccaneers called two kneel-downs and then gave Folk his shot to end it.
The Bucs could have tried to punch the ball into the end zone but played it for the field goal despite the fact that Folk had missed an extra point and a pair of field goals from 46 and 49 yards. Koetter never considered deviating from that strategy, showing confidence in the veteran kicker the Bucs brought in over the offseason.
"Nick's a pro kicker," said Koetter. "He's going to make that kick every time."
The Buccaneers took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter on Winston touchdown passes to Mike Evans and rookie tight end O.J. Howard but could have had a much larger advantage by halftime, at which point they had 250 yards of offense and an average of 8.3 yards per play. However, in addition to Folk's early misses, the Buccaneers also failed to convert a fourth-and-two in Giants territory in the fourth quarter and missed on a two-point conversion attempt in which DeSean Jackson was open but the ball was thrown behind him. The most frustrating series was a first-and-goal from the one late in the first half that only resulted in a field goal. Evans had gotten the ball to that spot with a leaping catch but the initial ruling of a touchdown was overturned on review.
Still, the Buccaneers fought to the end and got the victory they desperately needed.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter as long as we win," said Winston. "We believed in each other and we went down there and we trusted our kicker. He came through."
Winston provided the winning edge, completing 22 of 38 passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 113.0 passer rating. He also ran for a key first down on the game's final drive, and his final pass to Brate allowed a bold strategy to pay off.
"Jameis did a great job," said Koetter. "When Jameis plays like that we'll be hard to beat."
Brate and Howard combined to give the Buccaneers incredible production out of the tight end position, catching six passes between them for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Howard got his first touchdown in the first quarter on a 58-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Brate scored on a 14-yard pass in the fourth quarter to give the Bucs a short-lived lead, but his catch at the end was the play of the game.
"When Jameis called that play, I was like, 'Wait, he's talking to me?'" said Brate. "That's not a route we practice that often out there, but luckily I was able to get a good release off the line and Jameis put it out there and I was able to hold on and make the catch for us."
The Buccaneers' defense was on the field for 77 plays, including 45 in the first half, and the Giants rang up 379 total yards. However, the New York offense was held to 3.3 yards per carry and Manning, while very effective (288 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) hit relatively few plays downfield. WR Odell Beckham led New York with seven catches for 90 yards, including a 42-yarder to set up the Giants' last touchdown, but several other deep shots in his direction were turned away by cornerback Brent Grimes.
"I just played my game," said Grimes. "We made some plays. I want to take my hat off to [Defensive Coordinator] Mike Smith. He called a great game for us, he put us in great position to make plays and we executed a plan that we practiced all week. When you do that, you have some good results."
The Buccaneers played the game without the heart of their defense, as linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David were both unavailable with leg injuries. Rookie LB Kendell Beckwith had another outstanding game in an expanded role, tying for the team lead with nine tackles and calling the plays for the defense. The Buccaneers did not sack Manning but DT Gerald McCoy was a frequent backfield presence with three tackles for loss and a pass defensed.
The Buccaneers' first defensive series was nearly perfect. The Giants tried to run on first and second down but Perkins was stopped for a loss both times, first by Baker and then by McCoy. A screen pass to Perkins was easily bottled up to force the game's first punt. The Buccaneers' offense also went three-and-out, however, with Rodgers failing to get around left end on a third-and-three pitch. However, a perfect punt by Bryan Anger and Ryan Smith's leap over the goal line to pitch the ball back resulted in Josh Robinson downing it at the three-yard line.
The Buccaneers' defense got the ball back quickly, with Grimes making a leaping pass break-up in front of Beckham on second down and Adarius Glanton batting away a pass intended for Engram on third down. Bernard Reedy caught the resulting punt at the Bucs' 44 but was tackled immediately.
The Bucs turned that fine field position into the game's first score, driving 56 yards on four plays for a touchdown. Rodgers got the Bucs in position to score with a 36-yard run, and Winston's two passes both went to Evans, the second-one a simple six-yard touchdown fade to the right edge of the end zone.
The Giants took their next drive over midfield, thanks to a 14-yard run by Perkins and a third-down catch by Engram. New York got another first down on a pass-interference flag on Beckwith, but consistent push up the middle by McCoy put the Giants into a fourth-and-four at the Bucs' 30. The Giants chose to go for it and McCoy once again got instant penetration, helping to force an errant throw and an incompletion.
The Buccaneers scored again just two plays later. After a 12-yard Rodgers run, Winston faked a handoff and rolled out to the right. Howard slipped out on the back side of the play and found himself wide open down the left sideline. Winston hit him with a high lob and Howard rumbled all the way to the end zone for a 58-yard score. Folk missed the extra point to keep the score at 13-0.
A third-down PBU by rookie S Justin Evans killed New York's next drive and the ensuing punt just rolled into the end zone for a touchback. The Giants' next drive started at their own 11 thanks to a booming 62-yard punt by Anger and a third-and-10 deep shot to Beckham missed.
After a fine punt return by Bernard Reedy, Winston found TE Cameron Brate wide open and hit him for a 35-yard gain on crossing route to the Giants' 28. The drive got no farther, however, and Folk pushed a 46-yard field goal wide to the right.
That gave the Giants good starting position at their own 36, and a two-yard run by Perkins on third-and-one gave them a first down at the Bucs' 21. Two great run stops by DE Robert Ayers, the second on third-and-one from the 12, forced New York to settle for a 30-yard field goal with seven minutes left in the half.
Beckham spun out of a series of sideline tackles to get 15 yards and get across midfield on the ensuing possession. Sterling Shepard picked up 19 yards on a crossing route to convert a third down and get the ball to the edge of the red zone, and two plays later Manning scrambled around the right side and ran 14 yards for the Giants' first touchdown.
Winston scrambled forward and hit Adam Humphries on a 10-yard gain to convert a third-down on the ensuing drive and get the ball close to midfield as the two-minute warning arrived. The Bucs appeared to score on a scrambling, improvised throw from Winston to Evans, but a review of the play showed that Evans knee was down before the ball crossed the goal line. The Giants' defense then held, forcing the Bucs to settle for Folk's 20-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay got the ball first to start the second half and methodically drove into scoring territory. Rodgers ran five times for 29 yards on the drive and Jackson had a dancing catch on the sideline to get the ball into Giants territory. After gaining a first down at the Giants' 36, the Bucs saw their drive stall when a bad third-down snap forced Winston to throw the ball away. Folk's 49-yard field goal try then slipped just outside the right upright.
The Giants turned that missed opportunity into a lead-changing score, driving 61 yards for a touchdown. A diving 10-yard catch by Brandon Marshall converted a third-and-five at the Bucs' four-yard line, and Manning hit RB Wayne Gallman on a touchdown pass on the next play.
The Giants missed a field goal on their next possession, and a well-executed screen pass to Rodgers picked up 13 yards to the Bucs' 47. Adam Humphries bounced off a tackle on a short pass on third-and-10 to get eight yards but a fourth-down pass attempt to Brate was incomplete. However, thanks to a key pass-breakup on a third-down deep shot to Beckham and a shanked 15-yard punt, the Bucs offense got the ball back at its own 43 with 9:25 to play.
Two plays into the drive, Winston diagnosed a blitz and hit his hot receiver, Humphries cutting down over the middle. Humphries bounced off one tackler and raced all the way to the 14 for a 38-yard gain. After a shot to Evans in the end zone resulted in offsetting pass-interference penalties, Winston went to his other favorite red zone target, Cam Brate, for a 14-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Bucs with a 22-17 with 7:44 to play.
Manning and Beckham finally connected deep on the next drive, getting 42 yards on a pass down the middle to the Bucs' 33. Engram's diving grab on third-and-five preserved the drive and made it first down at the 18. Manning completed the drive with a play-action two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rhett Ellison on third-and-goal. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
Winston scrambled for a first down to get the Bucs' ensuing drive started, then found a sliding Evans over the middle at the Giants' 48. That brought on the two-minute warning. The Bucs faced a third-and-one at the 39 and made a gutsy call, sending Brate on a fly down the sideline and Winston dropped it in for a 26-yard gain to the 13. The Buccaneers used their second timeout with 41 seconds left in regulation. Winston kneeled twice, positioning the ball for Folk's kick and killing the rest of the clock.