Heading into Monday night’s game against the New York Giants, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a 12.5-point favorite -- the second-largest line in team history. Yet the Bucs spent much of the game trailing a one-win Giants team on the road and looked destined to be 0-2 in prime-time games this season, unable to handle the growing hype.
Even in the final moments, when the Bucs allowed Daniel Jones to connect with Golden Tate working against Sean Murphy-Bunting in the end zone with 33 seconds to go, they needed rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. to come up with a big play. Winfield broke up a 2-point conversion attempt to Dion Lewis that would have tied the game.
They made just enough plays -- but barely -- to win 25-23 and improve to 6-2. A rematch against the New Orleans Saints that could decide the NFC South is up next, but they have to play better collectively if they want to even come close to winning a title.
“We didn’t find energy fast enough, we got hit in the mouth," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "And credit [Giants coach] Joe Judge -- he had his team ready and they played their tails off -- but we made enough plays to win the game and never apologize for winning. I thought we were very slow to start offensively. Defensively, I don’t like to see people run the ball on us. But we made the plays that counted.
“The last time we had a close call, we lost. So this one we won. So we’ve grown some as a team. And while it wasn’t our best effort but it was enough to win.”
QB breakdown: Tom Brady completed 28 of 40 passes for 279 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But after two straight games with zero sacks, Brady was taken to the ground twice as his receivers were covered downfield.
The offense did turn the ball over in the first half on a wobbly pass to Ronald Jones II that was tipped by Dalvin Tomlinson, resulting in a fumble that was recovered at the Tampa Bay 12 by Darnay Holmes. It set up a 7-yard touchdown to Lewis that was aided by a neutral zone infraction by Shaq Barrett.
Reason for concern: The Giants’ offensive line overpowered the Bucs’ defensive front in a way we haven’t seen since Vita Vea was lost for the season. They pounded the Bucs’ interior with their power running game, while Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett exploited the defense’s aggressiveness in getting them out of position.
Offensively, the Bucs struggled to get into any kind of rhythm in the first half despite boasting one of the league’s top-scoring offenses heading into Week 8. Their two-minute drill at the half stalled at the Giants’ 22-yard line, failing to score a touchdown in the first half for the first time after 30 games.
Pivotal play: With 12:12 to go in the fourth quarter, as Jones was being taken to the ground by Barrett, he attempted to hit Tate on an out-route but was instead picked off by Murphy-Bunting at the Tampa Bay 34. It set up Evans' touchdown in the corner of the end zone, giving the Bucs a 21-17 lead in the fourth quarter that they would not relinquish.
“We needed a turnover. We needed something good to happen to get the snowball rolling," Arians said. "Carlton provided it and Sean provided it, and we capitalized on those turnovers."
Eye-popping Next Gen Stat: Brady is not only 7-for-7 this season targeting Evans in the red zone, but every one of those plays has been on a fade route. No other receiver has more than three of those this year.
"I'm a big receiver. I love fades," Evans said. "I love getting the ball in the goal-line area. And Tom's ball placement is one of the best all-time, so that's a good combination."