Kicking Loomed Large For The Buccaneers On Sunday
“Practice is hard. This is the easy stuff. Go ahead and do it.”
Chris Baker was caught on camera during the HBO series Hard Knocks giving Buccaneers kicker Nick Folk a hard time when Folk was trying to win the Bucs’ kicking job. With the game on the line, and Folk’s day unraveling to that point, Baker offered encouragement. It was not in short supply in the buildup to the field goal that gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a 25-23 win over the New York Giants.
With Jameis Winston 5/5 on the Buccaneers’ final drive, and Folk having missed two field goals and an extra point earlier in the game, a lot of people who do not call football plays for a living wanted Tampa Bay to take a shot or two at the end zone. I know this because I was one of those people. Instead, Winston took a knee between the hashmarks and ran the clock down to five seconds, putting the game on Nick Folk’s foot.
“Rough day at the office for me, but just gotta bounce back and make the next kick.” Folk said in his postgame comments that “nothing” went through his mind before the final kick, which came with four seconds remaining.
“Fun in the end. Rough middle part, but fun in the end.” Not only was the kicker talking about his own performance, the same could be said for the game itself. The finish was fantastic. The Buccaneers went up 22-17 on a touchdown pass to Cameron Brate. They failed to make the two point conversion. The Giants took the lead back on a Manning pass to Rhett Ellison, then they failed to convert. Finally, the Buccaneers executed a picture perfect end-of-game drive to set up Folk’s game-winner. In 7:44, the lead changed three times.
Really, it was a bizarre football game. The two teams combined for three missed field goals under fifty yards as well as a missed extra point. Both teams ran so far out of faith for their kickers that they went for a fourth down in field goal range for seemingly no reason other than distrust for the kicker. Of course, whether you know the outcome of the game already or not, you know how it had to end: With a last second field goal.
The clear first half highlight was a textbook play action. New York must have expected O.J. Howard to be a blocker on the play, as once Winston faked the handoff Howard was left all alone on the west sideline at Raymond James Stadium. He was able to waltz in with a 58 yard touchdown pass, the Buccaneers’ second of the game. Nick Folk missed the extra point, but the score gave Tampa Bay a 13-o lead and showed how dangerous their offense can be.
The second quarter was a big turnaround for the Giants. New York moved the ball nearly without effort, with Eli Manning finding his stride as the Giants narrowed the lead. Manning threw for 118 second quarter yards with a rushing touchdown on top—yes, a rushing touchdown—and the Giants were able to grab ten points in the second to make the halftime score 16-10 Buccaneers.
From there, the Buccaneers’ defense was reeling. The Giants made halftime adjustments that gave them a big edge in the third quarter, as the Buccaneers could not produce any pressure on Eli Manning. With Brent Grimes still recovering from an injury and T.J. Ward out, this allowed the Giants’ vaunted receivers to start pushing Tampa Bay’s defense around. New York took a 17-16 lead on a long touchdown drive capped with Manning’s first passing touchdown of the day.
The difference in the second and third quarters that allowed Tampa Bay to fall behind was the line battle. On offense, they struggled to prevent the Giants’ aggressive blitz packages, putting Winston in a tough position. Defensively, they stayed back in coverage, perhaps not wanting to put too much on reserve linebackers with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David both out.
On December 5, 1982, John McKay’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints, whose offense was led at the time by Archie Manning. It marked the Buccaneers’ third straight victory over Manning’s Saints, the first of course the franchise’s very first victory against any opponent.
After ’82, Archie beat them twice. Peyton was 3-0 against the Buccaneers in his career, including a Monday Night game in 2003 that wound up seeming like the end of the championship run. Eli came into Sunday’s game 4-0, and that’s not counting his 2007 playoff victory in Raymond James Stadium.
It took just under 35 years for the Bucs to beat another member of the Manning family in a regular season or playoff game. With their 25-23 victory over New York, they have ended a long losing streak against the most notable family of quarterbacks. It took all sixty minutes, every last second of the game clock, for the Buccaneers to get their first win over the Giants since 2003.
When taking a look at the Giants’ record, consider how cruel the NFL can be to a team’s season. New York held the Dallas Cowboys under 20 points and lost in week one, ran into what might be a seriously good Lions team the next week, then lost to the Eagles on a last second field goal from around midfield.
Sunday, the Giants showed some flashes of the team some were picking to make a playoff run coming into the season. Tight end Evan Engram made an impact, and Brandon Marshall was causing trouble for the Buccaneers throughout the second half. That allowed Manning to not focus as much on Odell Beckham Junior, who narrowly avoided a leg injury and dislocated a finger on the day. Rookie running back Wayne Gallman ran 11 times for 42 yards and caught a touchdown pass.
Now the Giants head back to north New Jersey at 0-4 with a grumbling New York media ready to ask some angry, pointed questions. Meanwhile, the Jets are 2-2 and tied in the AFC East standings with the New England Patriots. I guess what I’m saying is, Big Blue takes on a whole new meaning today.
Credit to the officiating crew: They made a call I did not know was actually possible in football. Judging by the rest of the press box’s reaction, most people did not know any better than I did. Evidently, you can call pass interference on both a defensive back and the receiver being covered on the same play. This happened to the Buccaneers during a second half scoring drive. Jameis Winston targeted Mike Evans, who was attempting to get around the defense and toward the deep corner of the end zone. Evans and Janoris Jenkins battled for the ball. Both were called for interference against each other. The Buccaneers got a touchdown on the next play.
Reason for optimism: Jameis Winston did not throw an interception, and only really had one pass that was an obvious candidate for one. He fumbled a snap at one point, and rather than trying to heave the ball downfield he simply chucked it out of bounds to fight another down. Winston also tucked the ball and ran a couple of times when a less mature quarterback with his skill set might have tried to force the ball into a not-exactly-open receiver. The more he makes decisions like that, the better off the Bucs will be.
Cause for concern: Eli Manning had all the time in the world to complete passes on Sunday. He was not sacked once, and only hurried a couple of times throughout the game. Tampa Bay, playing without both Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, seemed reluctant to ask too much of their linebackers and rarely rushed more than the front four at the passer.
Manning felt so little pressure from the Buccaneers’ defense that he had the greatest rushing game of his career, highlighted by a touchdown made with his feet. In all, he ran three times for 22 yards.
That brings us to the outlook for next week, because with the New England Patriots coming to town, pressure on the quarterback is more important than ever. Get in the Pats’ backfield, and the dynastic team can be defeated. Give Brady time and he will pick a team apart in every way he can.
Expect a high scoring game on Thursday night if both teams play the way they’ve played so far. It’s unlikely that the Buccaneers’ defense will get much healthier on a short week, so the Patriots’ potent offense will likely be able to put up numbers. At the same time, New England’s defense has struggled to this point in the season, and with Doug Martin returning the Buccaneers’ offense will have all of its notable players ready. Stops are going to be hard to come by.