Tampa Bay entered play on Sunday as the NFC’s No. 4 seed with two games to play. While the top seed was already mostly out of its reach, the team was still looking to improve its positioning in the playoff picture. Getting as high as No. 2 was still in play, which would certainly be beneficial. After all, the Bucs are 6-1 at Raymond James Stadium this year, so they’re looking to earn as many home games as possible throughout the month of January.
The Bucs had quite the week in terms of COVID-19 protocols, as they had Mike Evans, Sean-Murphy Bunting, Jamel Dean and Bradley Pinion, as well as head coach Bruce Arians and wide receivers coach Kevin Garver, land on the reserve/COVID-19 list. But by Saturday, all of them except for Pinion had cleared protocols. And, seemingly against the odds, Evans, Murphy-Bunting and Dean were all active for the game—though Murphy-Bunting and Dean had to fly up Sunday morning and take a police escort to the stadium, arriving less than 10 minutes before kickoff.
In addition to missing Chris Godwin (knee, out for season), Lavonte David (foot, out for regular season) and Leonard Fournette (hamstring, out for regular season), Tampa Bay was without Shaquil Barrett (knee), Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) and Richard Sherman (Achilles) on Sunday. Regardless, the defending Super Bowl champions went into their game at MetLife Stadium as 14.5-point favorites, with ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor giving them an 88.4% chance to earn their franchise-record-tying 12th win of the season.
The Bucs got all they could handle from the Jets, stumbling out of the gates and trailing by as many as 14 in the second half before Antonio Brown threw a fit, exited the game and perhaps sparked Tampa Bay’s comeback. The offense got within 24-20 and the defense nearly fell apart late, but New York’s decision to attempt a 4th & 2 at the 7 instead of kicking a field goal backfired. The Bucs made the stop and Tom Brady led them 93 yards in 1:57, hitting Cyril Grayson Jr. for a game-winning 33-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining. Tampa Bay finished off the final seconds and hung on for a 28-24 win, getting to 12-4 on the season.
The Jets won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, perhaps looking to take advantage of Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting arriving late to the stadium. After a kickoff return to the 28-yard line, Ndamukong Suh jumped offsides to bring up a 1st & 5 before Anthony Nelson knocked down Zach Wilson’s first pass of the day. Rookie Michael Carter then broke free and took off down the sideline for a gain of 55 yards to the Tampa Bay 12-yard line, and just two plays later, New York was down to the Buccaneer 1 with a 1st & Goal. From the 1, it took two plays for the home team to find the end zone, with Braxton Berrios taking a reverse around the right side for a touchdown. Eddie Pineiro’s PAT gave the Jets an early 7-0 lead, less than three full minutes into the game.
After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, the Bucs started their first offensive series at the 25-yard line. Ronald Jones II took his first carry of the day for six hard-fought yards, then got two yards on a screen to bring up a 3rd & 2. Tampa Bay converted with a three-yard pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans, with a defensive pass interference penalty declined. Brady missed Rob Gronkowski deep on the next play, but he came right back to find Tyler Johnson for a nine-yard gain. On another third down—this time a 3rd & 1—Jones got three yards to keep the drive alive. He got another four yards on the ensuing first down to get the ball across midfield, but an incomplete pass intended for Antonio Brown meant another third down for the offense. This time, the Bucs converted with a 15-yard completion across the middle to Le’Veon Bell.
After Bell’s first catch as a Buc, the visitors had a 1st & 10 at the New York 33. Brady and Gronkowski connected for a six-yard gain, then Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for six yards and got dragged down by his facemask, giving the Bucs more free yardage, giving them a first down at the Jets’ 10. Vaughn got six more yards on the next play before Brady found Evans for a four-yard touchdown to cap a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:21 off the clock and tied the game at 7-7.
After Berrios returned the ensuing kickoff to the 26, the Jets offense got back to work. Anthony Nelson started off the drive by dropping Carter for a loss of one yard, then Wilson hit Carter for a nine-yard gain over the middle to bring up 3rd & 2. Wilson stayed in the pocket on third down and found Jeff Smith for a 13-yard gain and a fresh set of downs at the 47. Austin Walter then found his way out of a couple of tackles for a 14-yard run to the Tampa Bay 39. A New York false start backed things up to a 1st & 15 at the 44, but Walter got two yards and Wilson completed a pass to Daniel Brown for five yards to bring up 3rd & 7. Wilson continued to pick apart the Buccaneer secondary and kept the drive alive, though, finding Berrios for a nine-yard gain to the Bucs’ 27.
Devin White forced Wilson into an incompletion on the next play before a dropped pass by Smith forced the Jets into a 3rd & 10. The Tampa Bay defense once again failed to get off the field on third down, allowing Wilson to find Kenny Yeboah for a 12-yard gain to the 15, bringing us to the end of the first quarter tied at 7-7, though the Jets were threatening to take the lead.
After a one-yard run by Walter and a five-yard catch by Ty Johnson, the Jets converted another third down—their fourth of the drive—and found the end zone on a nine-yard pass from Wilson to Berrios. With Pineiro’s PAT, the Jets once again had a seven-point lead.
Starting drive No. 2 from the 25, the Buccaneer offense didn’t take long to get going again. On 2nd & 10, Evans beat the defense for a 31-yard gain to the Jets 44 before Antonio Brown caught a 21-yard pass to the 23. After Tampa Bay called its first timeout of the half, it went back to Brown, who got three yards on a short pass to the right side. Jones lost a yard on the next play, though, pushing the offense up against a 3rd & 8 at the 21. A third-down pass intended for Vaughn then fell incomplete, leading to a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Succop that cut the Jets’ lead to 14-10 with 10:50 left in the second quarter.
A short return by Keelan Cole set the New York offense up inside its own 20, but that didn’t matter as Wilson connected with Daniel Brown for a 24-yard gain to the 41 to open the drive. An 11-yard pass to Berrios then got the ball across midfield, but three straight incompletions—all forced by pressure from the likes of Nelson, William Gholston and Ndamukong Suh—led to Tampa Bay’s first defensive stop of the day.
After New York’s first punt of the afternoon, the Buccaneer offense went back to work from its own 10-yard line. Jones opened the drive with a seven-yard run, then Brady held onto the ball too long and got sacked. Luckily, though, offsetting penalties gave the Bucs another shot at 2nd & 3 from the 17. Going back to the ground, Jones got five yards and a first down at the 22. Four more yards from Jones and two on a pass to Brown brought up a 3rd & 4, which Brady converted with a pass to Gronkowski, who fought forward for 21 yards.
But just when the offense had made some progress, it hit a wall. After a delay of game penalty and a loss of five by Jones, the Bucs faced a 2nd & 20 from their own 39. Brady got 14 yards back on a completion to Gronkowski, but a sack ended the drive and brought Sterling Hofrichter out for the Bucs’ first punt of the day. He pinned the Jets at their 17, where they would start their next drive with a four-point lead and 2:24 to work with before halftime.
Walter got four yards to start New York’s next offensive series, bringing us to the two-minute warning with the Jets leading 14-10.
After the timeout, Johnson ran for 12 yards and Wilson hit Yeboah for 24 yards to the Buccaneer 43. Johnson was stopped for a gain of one on the next play, but Murphy-Bunting had to be helped off the field by the training staff, which cost Tampa Bay its second timeout. An incomplete pass then brought up 3rd & 9 for the Jets and they couldn’t convert, with Cam Gill and Devin White forcing Wilson to roll out and throw the ball away. Braden Mann pinned the Bucs at their 10, so Brady and the offense would go from there with 54 seconds and one timeout to work with.
Looking to give themselves a chance to double up with scores to end the first half and open the second, the Bucs had to move quickly. A six-yard pass to Vaughn got them going, and it helped that the second-year running back got out of bounds after burning just four seconds. Brady then linked up with Gronkowski for 24 yards over the middle, getting to the 40 before Tampa Bay called its final timeout of the half. The longtime teammates connected again on the next play, with Gronkowski getting 14 yards to the New York 46. After a spike by Brady, the Bucs had a 2nd & 10 with 28 seconds left in the half. On the next play, Brady looked for Evans deep and was instead intercepted by Brandin Echols. He ran the ball back near midfield, giving the Jets a chance to score with 16 seconds left.
Ty Johnson picked up 19 yards on a short pass to start the next New York possession, then an incomplete pass set Eddie Pineiro up for a 51-yard field goal attempt. He drilled it, helping the Jets capitalize off of Brady’s interception and take a 17-10 lead into the locker room.
EDDY!!! From 51 to close the first half! pic.twitter.com/0fkLz8xQ0v— New York Jets (@nyjets) January 2, 2022
The Bucs opened the second half from their own 25, with Jones getting five yards on first down before he got dropped for a loss of two on second down to bring up 3rd & 7. Before the conversion attempt, Tampa Bay was forced to call a very early timeout, showing a continued sense of disarray on the offensive side of the ball.
Cyril Grayson Jr. helped the Bucs convert the 3rd & 7 with a nine-yard catch, helping to keep the drive alive. It was short-lived, however, with Vaughn getting five yards before an incompletion and an unnecessary roughness call on Ryan Jensen set Tampa Bay back to 3rd & 20. Brady looked for Evans deep on the third-and-long play, but the pass fell incomplete. Hofrichter had to come out for another punt, sending it just 39 yards to the Jets 34, which is where Wilson and his offense would go to work to start their second half.
Walter got nine yards on first down and nothing on second, so the Buccaneer defense had a chance to get off the field on 3rd & 1. But Berrios moved the chains on a jet sweep, continuing to put the pressure on Tampa Bay, which was quickly unraveling. Carlton Davis and Kevin Minter teamed up to drop Walter for a loss of one on the next play, but New York caught fire after that. Wilson found Johnson for a gain of 23 on a screen one play later before hitting Berrios for 11 yards to the 22. And just one play later—a 21-yard pass from Wilson to Cole—the Jets were at the goal line. It took two plays from there for Johnson to find the end zone. With the PAT, the 4-11 Jets had a 24-10 lead over the 11-4 Bucs.
Brady and Vaughn linked up for an eight-yard gain to start the next drive, but the running back got blown up on the next play for a loss. Not only that, but Ali Marpet was called for unnecessary roughness, setting the Bucs back to 3rd & 20. But it was then that the offense got a huge conversion, with Brady finding Grayson for 20 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Brady and Gronkowski linked up for 14 yards to midfield. Le’Veon Bell, rotating with Vaughn in the backfield now with Jones on the sideline with an ankle injury, got two yards on the next play before Cameron Brate caught a one-yard pass to bring up another third down.
Just around the same time as Mike Evans was converting another third down, Antonio Brown was seen running off the field without his shoulder pads and jersey. After replay showed him appearing to have a tantrum on the sideline before departing, it sure seems as if this should be the last we’ll see of him with the Bucs.
Antonio Brown just took off his jersey and ran off the field…— PFF (@PFF) January 2, 2022
With Brown gone, Breshad Perriman stepped right in and caught a 32-yard pass to the 7. The Bucs eventually faced a 4th & Goal and had to go for it, and they kept their hopes alive as Brady found Brate for a four-yard touchdown. With the PAT, the Bucs were within 24-17.
Devin White stopped Walter for no gain on the first play of the next drive, sending us to the fourth quarter with New York leading 24-17.
Tampa Bay finally got some legitimate pressure on Wilson to open the fourth quarter, with Gholston forcing a second-down incompletion before Nelson got to him for a third-down sack. After the punt, the Bucs took over at their own 37 with a chance to go down the field and tie the game.
Brady hit Perriman for nine yards to open the Bucs’ next possession, then Vaughn picked up 11 yards to the Jets’ 43 one play later. But after a four-yard gain by Vaughn and two incompletions, the Bucs had another fourth-down decision to make. They elected to punt, with Hofrichter sending one to the New York 9.
The Jets couldn’t move the ball against the Buccaneer defense on their next drive either, with Tampa Bay forcing another three-and-out. After a short punt, Brady and the offense had a short field to work with. However, a 21-yard pass to Gronkowski and later a third-down conversion by Bell ended up in only a 27-yard field goal by Succop. Nonetheless, the Bucs had cut the deficit to 24-20 with just over seven and a half minutes to go.
The kick is good pic.twitter.com/Gz7cZRxbwh— xz - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 2, 2022
The Jets did a good job of killing some clock to start the next drive, with Wilson and Cole connecting for 14 yards and a first down before Berrios later ran for a first down. Facing a 3rd & 1 at the Bucs’ 41 with under five minutes to go, Walter got three yards and kept the drive alive. Johnson then broke free for a 22-yard gain to the 15, putting the Bucs in quite the spot with just over three minutes to go. Steve McLendon got to Johnson for a one-yard loss on the next play, then Tampa Bay called its second timeout in hopes of holding New York to a field goal and giving itself a chance to go down and tie the game late.
Out of the timeout, Walter got five more yards to force timeout No. 3 and bring up 3rd & 6 at the 11. Wilson hit Berrios for four yards out of that timeout, bringing up fourth down. The Jets let time tick down and looked to be going for it, but not before a timeout. After the timeout, New York indeed went for it and ran a sneak with Wilson, who went absolutely nowhere. That gave the ball over to the Bucs at their own 7 with 2:12 and the two-minute to work with.
Brady hit Johnson for eight yards to the 15 to bring us to the two-minute warning with the Jets leading 24-20, though the Tampa Bay offense would get one more shot.
After the two-minute warning, Brady and Grayson linked up for a three-yard gain and a first down, though that cost the offense some time. After a drop, Grayson caught a six-yard pass—again in the middle of the field—to bring up a 3rd & 4 with 1:23 left. Brady then hit Johnson for a six-yard gain and a first down on the next play to take the clock to 1:05 before an incomplete pass intended for Johnson.
With less than a minute left, Brady kicked it into a higher gear. He found Johnson for a gain of 27 and Grayson for another 10 yards to the Jets’ 33. Then, with the clock under 40 seconds, Brady hit Grayson deep for a 33-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Bucs had gone 93 yards in less than two minutes with no timeouts. Le’Veon Bell punched in the two-point conversion, extending the Tampa Bay lead to 28-24 with 15 seconds to go.
The Jets’ last-ditch effort at a miracle fell short, with Anthony Nelson fittingly recovering a fumble on the last play of the game to seal the Bucs’ 28-24 comeback win.
Quick Notes & Stats
- Rob Gronkowski was the Bucs’ leading receiver in the first half, catching five of his six targets for 80 yards. He finished the afternoon with a team-high seven catches for 115 yards.
- Tampa Bay didn’t register a sack or a quarterback hit in the first half. The defense played better in the second half, getting one sack and four hits on Zach Wilson. It came down to a key 4th & 2 stop late, with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Antoine Winfield Jr. coming up to stuff Wilson for no gain.
- That fourth-down stop set up the Bucs’ game-winning drive, which went 93 yards on nine plays in 1:57.
- Anthony Nelson stepped up in the absence of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, picking up a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass defended and a fumble recovery.
- Both offenses were outstanding on third down in this game, with the Bucs going 9-of-15 and the Jets going 6-of-11.
- Tampa Bay ended up outgaining New York 467-374.
- The game-winning drive took Tom Brady over 400 yards on the day. He finished with 410 yards and three touchdowns (to one interception) on 34-of-50 passing.
- Before his tantrum, Antonio Brown caught three of his five targets for 26 yards.
- Cyril Grayson Jr. ended up the game’s hero, catching six of his eight targets for 81 yards and the game-winning 33-yard touchdown.
- In his return to the field, Mike Evans caught four of his seven targets for 47 yards and a touchdown. He is now 54 yards away from breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth consecutive season.
- With their 12th win of the season, the Bucs have matched a single-season franchise record.
The Buccaneers (12-4) will wrap up the regular season next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, hosting the Carolina Panthers (5-10). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.