The Buccaneers took another step toward their first playoff berth in 13 years Sunday afternoon with a 26-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bucs, erratic at times on both sides of the ball, did enough to get the win and made big plays when they needed to put the Vikings away.
Once again, an opponent jumped out to a lead as the Vikings jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. The Vikings were threatening to add to that lead when Dan Bailey, Viking’s placekicker, missed the first of three field goals on the afternoon.
That’s when the Bucs went to work, scoring 23 unanswered points to go up 23-6 before the Vikings would score and convert a two-point conversion to make it 23-14.
The Bucs defense rose to the occasion when it mattered most as they sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins six times on the afternoon.
Shaq Barrett had two sacks, Jason Pierre-Paul, Antoine Winfield Jr., Patrick O’Conner, and N’Damukong Suh all contributed with one sack.
Winfield Jr., the rookie from Minnesota, was excited to play against the team he grew up rooting for as a kid, as he led the Bucs with 12 tackles.
The offensive line played an excellent game as they kept Brady upright and did not allow a sack on the afternoon.
Ronald Jones was solid in the running game with 80 yards rushing and also scored a touchdown.
Wide receiver Scotty Miller made an appearance, and the Vikings defense felt his impact immediately. Brady and Miller connected on a 48-yard touchdown pass to put the Buccaneers up 13-6.
There was also a LeSean McCoy sighting at Raymond James Stadium yesterday. McCoy carried four times for 32 yards and caught a pass in the win, the first action for McCoy since week six, and the Bucs 38-10 win over the Packers.
The Bucs were fortunate that Minnesota kicker Dan Bailey missed an extra point and three field goals, or this would have gone down to the wire.
Once again, the Bucs started slow, and the offensive was out of synch in the first quarter.
The defense struggled in the first quarter to stop Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota offense. The Vikings rushed for 162 yards. This was the most yards on the ground that the Bucs have given up this season. Cook finished with 102 yards and a touchdown. Seventy-eight of those yards coming in the first half.
Bruce Arians appeared pleased with the effort and happy to get the win. “It’s huge. We had to do this. It was a big game for us. Guys did their job. They rested, we came back clean and healthy, and it showed up today. We were a very fresh team, I thought, in the fourth quarter.”
The Bucs still have some issues to correct. The slow starts continued to plague the offense, and the defense gave up 162 yards on the ground, 88 yards above their average of 74.
As Tom Brady said in his press conference, “Winning in the NFL is tough. I’ve been doing this for a long time. There are no easy games. Every game is a battle, and this is a team that won five of six. They’ve been in a lot of games and very competitive. It was good to get a win. It feels good.”
With the win, the Bucs maintain their hold on the number six seed in the NFC, one game ahead of Arizona. The Vikings are out of the playoffs as of right now.
The Bucs have three games left on the season, two against the Falcons and a road contest against the Detroit Lions.