Welcome to my weekly post-game column, where I’ll take a look at the moment(s) the game turned either in favor or against the Buccaneers. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all the reasons the Bucs won or lost, but instead the key moment or two where things went north or south for the team.
Up 14-6 with 44 seconds left in the first half, most Bucs fans were simply looking for the Tampa Bay defense to get a stop and head into halftime with an 8-point lead, especially with the offense getting the ball out of the break. But head coach Bruce Arians had other ideas, especially after the Vikings offense sputtered on the first two plays of the drive.
On first down, Cousins threw incomplete to Chad Beebe, which stopped the clock with 39 seconds left. The Vikings then simply attempted to drain the clock, running backup Ameer Abdullah up the middle for three yards. But Arians countered with a quick timeout with 35 seconds left, putting the Vikings in a suddenly important 3rd-and-7. When Cousins threw incomplete to Justin Jefferson, that left the door open for the Bucs to get a big play on special teams before the half.
But Kenjon Barner’s punt return went for only four yards, landing the Bucs offense at their own 28 with 21 seconds left. Still, Tampa Bay wisely stayed aggressive with a timeout in their pocket, as Tom Brady operated efficiently to find Cam Brate for nine yards and Antonio Brown for 16 to the Vikings 47. Brady spiked the ball with one second on the clock, setting the Bucs up for a final Hail Mary before halftime.
As Brady lofted the ball for Gronkowski in the back corner of the end zone, linebacker Todd Davis face-guarded the big tight end and the savvy veteran did the rest, drawing a critical defensive pass interference penalty to set the Bucs up with a first-and-goal at the one.
An argument can be made that Arians should have gone for a touchdown from the one, but I can certainly understand the allure of getting three points and an 11-point lead before halftime, especially knowing you’ll get the ball out of the break. The important thing was the Bucs staying aggressive, operating efficiently and finishing off a huge drive with points to take a double-digit lead into halftime. Arians could easily have settled and gone into halftime with a one-possession lead, but his aggressive mindset served the Bucs well with three key points. The Vikings never drew closer than two scores, and the Bucs emerged with a critical 26-14 victory.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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