The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled off another improbable comeback victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night in the desert. Down 10 points with 10:47 left to play, the Bucs scored the last 13 points in regulation, and overtime, to win 19-16 on a memorable Christmas evening. Ryan Succop connected on a 40-yard field goal with 3:41 left in overtime to cap off a nerve-wracking night in Arizona.
The Buccaneers seem to enjoy being left for dead, only to crawl out of their shallow grave, just in time, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This game, like the majority of games this season, looked to be another disappointing effort by an uber talented team, that simply cannot get out of its own way. Penalties to take away a touchdown, missed throws resulting in multiple turnovers, and injuries to further pile on the misery, were all present on Sunday evening. But, just in the nick of time, the Bucs rose like a phoenix from the ashes to once again salvage their season and live to fight another day.
Tom Brady was playing as poor as he as ever played in any of his 23 NFL seasons for the first three quarters of Sunday night's game (the last five quarters if you count the second half against the Bengals.) He had no rhythm in the pocket, was rushing throws when he didn’t have to, and was late on throws that he normally makes in his sleep. It finally looked like “father time” had caught up with him. And then the Bucs decided to run the hurry-up offense, and Brady once again played like the best quarterback that has ever played this game.
Brady went 6 for 7, for 67 yards, and hit Rachaad White for a three-yard touchdown, on the drive that pulled the Bucs within three points. After defensive lineman William Gholston recovered an Arizona fumble, Brady threw for 26 more yards to set up Ryan Succop’s game tying 42-yard field goal with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter. In overtime, Brady went 6 for 6, for 69 yards, to set up Succop’s game-winning field goal. For the evening, Brady went 32 for 48, for 281 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
Besides the usual Brady heroics, running back Leonard Fournette was the key catalyst in the comeback victory. His 44-yard reception on the first play of the Buccaneers touchdown scoring drive, gave the Bucs the jolt of energy they were missing for the first 50 minutes of this game. After that play, Tampa Bay completely dominated the rest of the evening. Fournette had 72 yards rushing and caught nine balls for 90 yards, for a season-high total of 162 yards from scrimmage.
Chris Godwin continued his solid season, as he caught eight balls for 63 yards. Russell Gage played very well on Sunday, accounting for five clutch receptions for 65 yards. Rachaad White had 53 yards from scrimmage, and the Bucs only touchdown. And Mike Evans chipped in with three receptions for 29 yards, with a big 16-yard reception coming in overtime.
The Buccaneer defense, as it has the majority of this year, kept the team in the game by limiting Arizona to just 16 points, and forcing three turnovers. Playing against the Cardinals third-string quarterback Trace McSorley, the Bucs applied consistent pressure, forced two fumbles, and intercepted his Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation. The defense gave up two big plays on the night, a 47-yard reception by receiver Marquise Brown, and a 22-yard touchdown run by James Conner. For the game, Tampa Bay allowed only 325 yards of total offense, and limited Arizona to 5 of 19 (26.3%) on third down attempts.
The biggest names on defense showed up, and played very well, at the most opportune time. Lavonte David led the Bucs with 10 total tackles, and his running mate, Devon White had nine total tackles, three quarterback hits, and recovered a fumble. Safeties Logan Ryan (8 total tackles), Mike Edwards (7 total tackles), and Antoine Winfield Jr. (7 total tackles) played courageously through numerous injuries and were on the field for almost every defensive snap.
Outside linebacker Anthony Nelson stepped up, and had a great game, with 4 total tackles, and forced the first turnover of the game on a strip sack on Arizona’s opening drive. Nelson, and fellow linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (three quarterback hits) played 100% of the defensive snaps for the second consecutive week and deserve kudos for their efforts. Defensive tackle William Gholston also elevated his play, and contributed with three total tackles, and recovered a fumble that set up the Buccaneers game tying field goal.
All in all, this was a solid performance by the defense, in a game that the team needed to win. I don’t think the Bucs would have any chance to beat the Panthers next week, if they went into that game with three straight losses. Coach Bowles deserves credit for coming up with unique pressure packages that confused the Cardinals all night. Hopefully, the defense will continue to trend in the right direction as the season reaches its most critical juncture.
Tampa Bay’s special teams did their part, and a little more, on Sunday night. Kicker Ryan Succop continued his exceptional season, as he converted on all four field goal attempts, and his one extra point conversion. Succop’s game winning 40-yarder improved his season total to 27 for 28 on kicks from 40 yards or less. The kick coverage until deserves praise for tackling well on both punts, and kickoffs. In order to win the division, and possibly win in the playoffs, the specialists will be heavily relied upon to make big plays, and not give up any big plays.
The battle for the NFC South championship will be played next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, as the Carolina Panthers come to town for a 1 PM ET kickoff. The game will be broadcast on FOX.