It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay ventured to New York to take on the hapless Giants, who had just one win coming into Monday night, but wound up with a fight on its hands. The Bucs trailed at halftime 14-6, but prevailed thanks to two Tom Brady touchdown passes in the second half and a pass break up by rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. on Giants’ two-point conversion attempt. The Bucs escape from New York with a 6-2 record thanks to a 25-23 victory.
Table of Contents
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1. 6-2 Bucs Show Growth In Ugly Win
Last week I said these Brady-led Bucs looked super following a 45-20 blowout win over the Raiders in Las Vegas. This week Tampa Bay played down to the level of its opponent, the one-win Giants, and escaped New York with a dramatic, 25-23 victory to improve to 6-2 on the year. This was an ugly win, but it was a win nonetheless and kept Tampa Bay ahead of New Orleans – its next foe on Sunday Night Football – in the NFC South.
The Bucs didn’t play up to their potential, but found a way to come back and win in the second half after trailing 14-6 at halftime. After taking a 25-17 lead late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Daniel Jones led the Giants on a potential game-tying touchdown drive with 15 seconds left, converting two fourth downs in the process. But rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. broke up a two-point conversion pass to Dion Lewis to preserve the win.
An official threw a flag on Winfield for pass interference, but after huddling together with other refs the flag was picked up and there was no foul on the play.
“The ball hit Antoine in the back,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “To me, it was no pass interference. I thought it was a good call. I don’t know why it took so long. He had his hands out, there was no contact and the ball hit him in the back.”
After Tampa Bay recovered an onside kick attempt, the Bucs boarded their plane with a big sigh of relief.
“The last time we had a close call, we lost,” Arians said, referencing his team’s 20-19 loss at Chicago on Thursday Night Football a few weeks ago. “This one we won, so we draw on something as a team. It wasn’t our best effort, but it was enough to win.”
After being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Tom Brady had a lousy start to the month of November. Brady was off at the beginning of the game, overthrowing several receivers and targeting reserve receiver Jaydon Mickens five times and hitting him just twice for 11 yards. Meanwhile, Mike Evans was targeted just three times and had one catch for 14 yards at halftime.
Brady was a pedestrian 10-of-17 for 79 yards before the final drive at the end of the second quarter. He was just 16-of-24 for 132 yards in the first half, but was better in the third quarter, completing 7-of-10 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski that gave Tampa Bay a 15-14 lead after a missed two-point conversion pass.
That touchdown was the 93rd such scoring connection between Brady and Gronkowski, moving them ahead of Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice (92), and trailing only Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114). And that touchdown tied Drew Brees for the all-time passing TD mark with 560. Brady, who finished 28-of-40 for 279 yards, would surpass Brees with number 561 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Evans in the fourth quarter to give the Bucs a 25-17 lead. Evans, who has had his battles with cornerback James Bradberry dating back to his days in Carolina, finished the game with five catches for 55 yards and drew a critical pass interference penalty on Bradberry in the fourth quarter.
The difference in this game was that Brady protected the ball and didn’t have a turnover, while Jones threw two second half interceptions to cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Davis recorded his team-leading fourth pick of the year, while Murphy-Bunting notched his first INT of the season. Pressure from outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett played a role in Jones’ two costly interceptions.
“He caused both of them,” Arians said of Pierre-Paul. “His numbers aren’t the same [as 2019], but he’s getting a lot of push. He had the quarterback in the grass both times. The young quarterback (Jones) – he’s still trying to do too much. When you’re in the grass with those guys, it cost them basically the ballgame throwing those two picks. God bless him – he is hard to handle and he’s a kid that thinks he can make a play.”
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop was the unsung hero of the night, connecting on all four of his field goal attempts to improve to 88 percent on the season and making his lone extra point attempt, as Tampa Bay’s offense bogged down too often, especially in the first half.
“We just didn’t play anywhere near the way we’re capable of playing,” Brady said. “Execution – that’s all it comes down to. We need to execute a lot better. I had guys open that I missed and I’ve got to hit those guys that are open.”
Arians agrees with Brady that the team needs to execute better – especially on Sunday night when the Bucs battle the Saints in a highly anticipated rematch.
“Monday Night Football has always been so exciting. To lay around all day – I’ve never driven to the Meadowlands and the scene is empty. We did not find energy fast enough. We got kicked in the mouth and credit Joe Judge – he had his team ready. They played their tails off. But, we made enough plays to win the game and you never apologize for winning.”
STATEMENT 2. Bucs Defense Made The Plays When It Counted
It was not a sterling night for Todd Bowles’ unit, but the Bucs defense came up with some big plays when it mattered the most. Interceptions by Davis and Murphy-Bunting were clutch in the second half, and Winfield’s heroic pass break up sealed the Bucs’ win.
While Barrett didn’t record a sack, his two quarterback pressures were key in forcing Jones to throw those interceptions. Meanwhile Jason Pierre-Paul did get to Jones in his return to New York, notching his 6.5 sack of the season, which leads the Bucs. Pierre-Paul was tied for the team lead with seven tackles along with Winfield, cornerback Jamel Dean, who had an off night, safety Jordan Whitehead and linebacker Devin White.
Pierre-Paul also had a pressure that led to a sack by Ndamukong Suh, who now has four on the year, and White recorded the team’s first sack on Monday night and notched his fifth QB capture in three weeks.
Knowing that the Bucs aren’t that big in the front seven without Vita Vea and with the Giants struggling to pass protect, New York used two tight end sets often to help establish a surprisingly effective ground game and control the line of scrimmage. Tampa Bay had the No. 1 ranked run defense and entered the game allowing just 66 yards per game on the ground. The Bucs gave up 63 yards rushing in the first half alone, but played better against the run in the second half and finished by allowing 101 yards on the night.
“Defensively, I don’t like to see people run the ball on us, but we made the plays that counted,” Arians said.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Who Did The Bucs Miss More – Godwin Or Vea?
Tough call, but I’ll go with Chris Godwin. Yet, let’s talk about the Bucs missing Vita Vea first.
The Giants ran the ball surprisingly well on Monday night, especially up the middle where Tampa Bay truly Vea, the team’s big nose tackle, for the first time this season. Even with rookie Shane Lemieux starting at guard in place of Will Hernandez, the Giants were able to run the ball up the gut right at defensive tackles Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon, who are both undersized, especially compared to the 347-pound Vea. The Giants outgained the Bucs on the ground 101 yards to 81, with Wayne Gallman leading the way with 44 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (3.7 avg.).