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Minnesota Vikings v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Buccaneers vs. Vikings recap: Big plays, fortune key in 26-14 victory

Tampa Bay had its issues with Minnesota, but it came out on top in a game with massive playoff implications.

The Buccaneers headed into their Week 13 bye having suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season, and coming out of their bye, they were faced with a huge home game against the Vikings.

Heading into Sunday—the start of regular season’s final quarter—with a 7-5 record and the NFC’s No. 6 seed, Tampa Bay was looking to gain some separation from a Minnesota team that came into the week with a 6-6 record and the NFC’s No. 7 seed.

There’s no doubt that Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich, Todd Bowles and the rest of the Buccaneer coaching staff had some work to do during the week off. The team had lost three of its last five games and wasn’t in great form prior to the bye, with the offense lacking consistency and the defense having struggles of its own. But opening their December slate with a pivotal matchup against the Vikings gave the Bucs a huge opportunity to set the tone for a strong push toward the playoffs.

Minnesota, for its part, has done well to get into the playoff picture at all. After starting 1-5, the Vikings have won five of their last six. Kirk Cousins has played well, throwing for 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions in those six games, while rookie receiver Justin Jefferson has broken out in a huge way. The defense has played pretty well to complement Cousins and the offense, though they walked into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday without All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Despite the two teams being just one game apart record-wise, expectations were high for the Bucs heading into this one. They were seven-point home favorites, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 77% chance to win.

It was all Vikings early in the game, as they built a 6-0 lead and had a chance to add to it before missed kicks by Dan Bailey got the Bucs back in the game. Despite a scoreless first quarter, the home team ended up leading 17-6 by halftime. Minnesota continued to fight back in the second half, even after Tampa Bay went up 23-6, but another Bailey miss and some key defensive plays from the Buccaneer front seven helped the team hold on for a 26-14 win. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak and got Tampa Bay’s record to 8-5 on the year.

Game Recap

The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to defer, sending their defense onto the field to get things started. Unsurprisingly, Minnesota started its offensive day with a handoff to Dalvin Cook, who gained five yards on first down. On the next play, Kirk Cousins got near midfield with a 13-yard run, plus a Carlton Davis holding penalty added five yards to the end of the play. Cook got another seven on the next play, keeping the Buccaneer defense on its heels. After another first down, though, Tampa Bay buckled down. On an eventual 3rd & 4, Shaquil Barrett broke free to sack Cousins and push the Vikings out of field goal range. Britton Colquitt booted a 28-yard punt to the Bucs’ 12, so Tom Brady and the offense came out to start their first drive from there.

Tampa Bay started its first drive with a five-yard run by Ronald Jones II, then Brady completed a nine-yard pass to Chris Godwin for a quick first down. Two more runs by Jones set up a 3rd & 3, but despite the manageable situation, Brady couldn’t convert it. He overthrew Rob Gronkowski deep, leading to a beautiful 61-yard punt by Bradley Pinion. A 10-yard return set the Vikings up at their own 16-yard line with 7:25 to go in the first quarter.

Minnesota quickly got the ball moving again on its second drive, with Cousins first finding Adam Thielen for a 15-yard gain before an eight-yard pickup by Cook. After a couple of short runs, Cousins found Thielen again for another 15 yards to Tampa Bay’s 39-yard line. After the Bucs forced an incompletion on an eventual 3rd & 7, Ndamukong Suh was called for a neutral-zone infraction. Five free yards, another shot at third down and a three-yard pickup by Cook kept the Vikings’ drive alive as the end of the first quarter neared. The visitors continued to run the ball directly at the Tampa Bay defense successfully, getting inside the 10-yard line as the opening quarter came to a close. The game was scoreless, but it was clear that Minnesota dominated to begin the game. The Vikings outgained the Bucs 104-21 and held the ball for 12:30 in the first 15 minutes.

On the second play of the second quarter, Cook found the end zone from one yard out. Dan Bailey missed the PAT, keeping it at just a 6-0 lead for the Vikings after what was a 14-play, 84-yard drive that lasted 8:15.

The second drive for the Buccaneer offense went even worse than the first one did, as the unit went three-and-out within 42 seconds. Brady missed a wide open Godwin on third down, his second bad throw in as many drives. A 43-yard punt by Pinion and a five-yard return gave the ball back to the Vikings at their 34-yard line, with the Bucs’ already-tired defense having to go right back onto the field without much of a breather.

The Vikings finally got rookie Justin Jefferson involved on the first play of their next drive, with Cousins finding him for a gain of 17. Cook broke free for a 12-yard run on the next play, putting even more pressure on the Tampa Bay defense. Then, after another Jefferson catch, Davis was penalized for a horse-collar tackle to push the ball to the 14. But from there, the defense responded. An incompletion and a short run set up a third down, and this time it was Suh getting to Cousins for a sack. That brought Bailey out for a 36-yard field goal attempt, which he missed wide right to keep the game at 6-0.

Despite being outgained 144-24, holding the ball for 3:23 to Minnesota’s 17:07 and having managed just one first down, the Tampa Bay offense took over at its own 26-yard line down by just six with 9:30 left in the first half. Brady found Mike Evans for a 20-yard gain on the opening play of the drive, then two runs by Jones brought up a 3rd & 4 at the Minnesota 48. And on third down, Brady found Scotty Miller deep for a 48-yard touchdown. With Ryan Succop’s PAT, the Bucs—somehow—had a 7-6 lead with 7:41 left in the second quarter.

Minnesota continued to move with ease on Tampa Bay’s defense on the next possession, with Cousins and Conklin connecting for 15 yards before a 14-yard run by Cook. Irv Smith Jr. then got into the action with a 15-yard gain of his own to get the ball inside the Bucs’ 35. But Suh stopped Cook for no gain on the next play, then Cousins couldn’t find Jefferson deep on second down. After a timeout with 4:48 left in the second quarter, a false start pushed the Vikings back to 3rd & 15. Cousins’ third-down throw was nearly hauled in by Jefferson, but Davis came flying in to knock the ball loose to force a fourth down. And, perhaps unwisely, Mike Zimmer sent Bailey out to try a 54-yard field goal. He missed badly yet again, keeping the game at 7-6 in favor of the Bucs.

After the missed kick, Tampa Bay started the next drive at its own 44-yard line. With over four minutes to work with and the chance to receive the second-half kick as well, the offense had a big opportunity to double up and take advantage of Minnesota’s kicking issues. A short run by Jones preceded a 16-yard pass from Brady to Godwin, then another run by Jones set up Antonio Brown’s first catch of the day. He came up short of the first down, bringing up 3rd & 1 at the Vikings’ 28. Jones moved the chains on the next play, bringing up the two-minute warning with Tampa Bay threatening to build on its lead.

The Bucs caught a break after the two-minute warning after a third-down pass to LeSean McCoy came up short of the first-down marker. Harrison Smith was called for lowering his head to initiate contact on McCoy, giving the offense a first down. Two plays later, Evans drew a pass interference call in the end zone to give Tampa Bay a first down at the 1. On the next play, Jones jumped over the trenches for a touchdown. Succop’s PAT extended the home team’s lead to 14-6 with 44 seconds left in the first half.

The Buccaneer defense came up with an impressively quick stop, with the Vikings burning just 13 seconds before having to punt the ball away. Tampa Bay got the ball back at its 28 with 21 seconds to go and one timeout to work with. After Brady connected with Cameron Brate for nine yards on first down, the Bucs spent that last timeout. A 16-yard pass from Brady to Brown got the ball across midfield before the offense hurried to the line to clock the ball with one second left. Then, on Brady’s Hail Mary attempt, Gronkowski was interfered with in the end zone, which put the ball at the 1 with one play left in the half. The Bucs elected to kick, with a 19-yarder from Succop making it 17-6 at the break.

Tampa Bay opened the second half with the ball at its own 25. An early third down was converted thanks to a 10-yard run by McCoy, who got a couple more carries after that to set up 3rd & 1 near midfield. He got the ball again on third down and picked up 14 more yards to Minnesota’s 35. Then, on the next play, Brady and Evans linked up for a 29-yard gain to the 6. Two plays later, it was Brady finding Gronkowski for a touchdown off of play-action to give the Bucs a three-score lead. Succop hooked his PAT, put it was still a 23-6 advantage for Tampa Bay with 10:07 left in the third.

Minnesota started moving the ball on its next drive, with Conklin and C.J. Ham coming through as unlikely contributors to get the ball inside of the Bucs’ 35. Tampa Bay eventually forced a 4th & 1 at the 31, but Cook pushed his way through for a first down. A couple of plays later, the Vikings were called for a false start to force a 3rd & 11. A five-yard pass to Cook brought up another fourth down, which led to a timeout by Zimmer, the team’s first of the half. Cousins found Conklin for a first down after the timeout, moving the ball inside the red zone. A neutral-zone infraction on Jason Pierre-Paul then gave Minnesota another five yards before an injury timeout.

After the injury break, Cousins found Smith for a 14-yard touchdown. And on the two-point conversion attempt, Cousins connected with Jefferson to shrink the Vikings’ deficit to 23-14 with 1:36 to go before the end of the third quarter.

The Bucs started behind the 8-ball on the next drive, with an Ali Marpet false start pushing them back to 1st & 15. Two incompletions with an 11-yard catch by Brown mixed in led to a punt by Pinion after just 51 seconds were taken off the clock. The 47-yarder went out of bounds at Minnesota’s 22, setting Cousins and his offense up from there with 45 seconds left in the third.

The Vikings’ offense stayed hot to start the next drive, with Cousins finding Smith for a 25-yard gain to the 47. That brought the third quarter to a close, with Tampa Bay leading by nine.

Minnesota continued to drive with ease as the fourth quarter began, with gains of four, 10 and nine by Cook, Cousins and Smith, respectively. After the Bucs got the Vikings to third down at the 20, a 12-yard run by Cousins on a draw play got another first down. After Anthony Nelson forced an incompletion on first down, Antoine Winfield Jr. sacked Cousins on a blitz and forced a fumble, but the veteran quarterback recovered. Then, on 3rd & Goal from the 20, Barrett picked up his second sack of the game. That forced a field goal try from Bailey and, well, that went about as well as the first three kick attempts did. He missed from 46, preserving a nine-point lead for the Bucs with nine minutes to play.

Tampa Bay nearly went three-and-out quickly on its next offensive drive, but Brady and Brown linked up for a first down as the clock ticked under eight minutes. Jones followed with his best run of the afternoon, picking up 16 to Minnesota’s 36-yard line. A three-yard gain by Jones and a three-yard loss by Ke’Shawn Vaughn brought up another third down for Brady and the offense—a 3rd & 10. A six-yard screen to Brown brought up a fourth down with just under six minutes left, and that brought Succop onto the field for a 48-yard field goal attempt. He nailed it, pushing the Bucs’ lead to 26-14 with 5:16 left in the ball game.

After a Pinion touchback, the visitors started their next drive at the 25-yard line, down just 12 with 5:16 left. Cousins missed Cook on a screen to start the possession, then heavy pressure led to a near-pick on second down. A four-yard pass to Ameer Abdullah on third down brought up a 4th & 6, which the Vikings had to convert to keep their hopes alive. They did, with Cousins hitting Jefferson for a 12-yard pickup to the 41-yard line. Another five-yard pass to Jefferson kept the ball moving, but then a drop brought up a third down with the clock all the way down to 3:40. Solid coverage by Lavonte David brought up 4th & 5 near midfield, and Minnesota called its second timeout before the play.

After the timeout, Cousins converted yet another fourth down. He withstood heavy pressure to find Thielen, getting the ball into Tampa Bay territory. After a six-yard run by Cook, Pat O’Connor spun off of a block to drop Cousins for another sack, pushing the Vikings to a 3rd & 13. Cousins threw incomplete deep on the next play, bringing up ANOTHER fourth down with 2:14 left and the ball at the Bucs’ 48. The defense finally came up with a stop this time around, as Pierre-Paul got to Cousins for a sack-fumble, recovering the loose ball himself to seal the ball game for the Bucs.

Jones gained seven on the first play of the Bucs’ next drive, bringing the game to the two-minute warning. After the break, Tampa Bay ran out the clock to hold on for a 26-14 victory that got its record to 8-5 on the year.

Quick Notes & Stats

  • The Bucs had just one offensive possession in the first quarter.
  • On the stat sheet, the Vikings won the first half by a pretty considerable margin. They had the advantage in first downs (16-10), total plays (38-25), total yards (191-164), rushing yards (108-33) and time of possession (20:34-9:26). But it was the Bucs leading 17-6 on the scoreboard heading into the locker room.
  • Those advantages on the stat sheet still belonged to Minnesota at the end of the game. The visitors led in first downs (27-17), total plays (76-49), total yards (335-303), rushing yards (162-107) and time of possession (39:03-20:57).
  • After some early misses, Tom Brady settled in and played well enough to earn the win. He finished 15-of-23 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with eight different receivers in the game.
  • Ronald Jones II picked up some hard-earned yards in this one, rushing 18 times for 80 yards and a touchdown.
  • With his lone first-half catch—a 48-yard touchdown grab—Scotty Miller headed went to the locker room as Tampa Bay’s leading receiver. Mike Evans finished the afternoon as the team’s leader, catching three passes for 56 yards.
  • Antonio Brown had a team-high five catches, totaling 49 yards. He had some key third-down conversions in the second half to help the team hold on for the win.
  • Defensively, the Bucs were uneven. The Vikings drove all over them and ran the ball well, with Dalvin Cook being the first player to put up a 100-yard rushing game against Tampa Bay since Chris Carson did it in November of 2019.
  • Despite the struggles, Todd Bowles’ group came up with the big plays it needed. The team put up six sacks, with Shaquil Barrett getting two and Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Pat O’Connor and Antoine Winfield Jr. all picking up one. Not to mention, the Bucs had 12 quarterback hits in total.
  • Winfield was the team’s leading tackler, totaling 12 (10 solo) and the sack.
  • Suh was a force all game long, with the sack, two quarterback hits and a number of pressures.
  • Barrett had a huge day as well, as he had the two sacks and three quarterback hits in total. He was a constant presence in the Minnesota backfield throughout the game.
  • Penalties were key in this one, as the Vikings were flagged five times for 71 yards while the Bucs were penalized five times for 34 yards.
  • Ryan Succop missed an extra point in the game, but he was still 2-of-2 on his field goal attempts while making his other two extra points. That proved to be a major difference, as Minnesota’s Dan Bailey was 0-for-3 on field goals and 0-for-1 on extra points.

The Buccaneers (8-5) return to the field next Sunday, heading to Atlanta for a 1:00 p.m. matchup with the Falcons.

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