TAMPA, Fla. – You can resume breathing, Bucs fans. Your team certainly has.
Forgotten on Sunday were those three losses in the previous four games. Forgotten were those piles of yards racked up by the Saints, Rams, and Chiefs in beating Tampa Bay.
Armed with a suddenly ordinary 7-5 record and facing a charging Vikings team (five wins in six games), Bruce Arians’ team charged back from its bye with a 26-14 win that put the wild card, and the franchise’s first playoff season in 23 years, firmly back within its reach.
Quieted, for now, is the talk that the offense is out of sync, along with 143-year-old Tom Brady. Quieted every bit as much is the notion that this defense had forgotten how to get to a quarterback.
The Bucs are back at 8-5, after Brady threw two touchdown passes and the defense sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins six times, and at all the right times. Fresh from a two-game losing streak, the Bucs got back on track.
“It was huge,” said Arians, a genius again. “We had to do this. It was a big game for us. Guys rested, they took care of the virus, came back clean and healthy, and it showed up today. We were a very fresh team in the fourth quarter.”
True, the Bucs got a helping hand from the right foot of the late Minnesota kicker Dan Bailey, who missed three field-goal tries an extra-point attempt to open the door. The Bucs still had to walk the walk.
And most of them did just that after the Vikings owned the ball and most of the first quarter, grinding to a 6-0 lead behind Dalvin Cook’s run attack.
It went beyond Brady, who overcame early wildness. There was receiver Scotty Miller, injured and forgotten of late, going up to haul in a TD pass from Brady. There was Arians cashing in, with Brady’s Hail Mary to Rob Gronkowski just before halftime resulted in a Vikings end-zone penalty and a field goal for a 17-6 Buds lead.
There was LeSean McCoy, who was forgotten himself, helping the Bucs to a touchdown to start the third quarter, for a 23-6 lead, an air-raid siren for the defense.
“We most definitely were ready to feast and get after the quarterback,” said Bucs edge rusher Shaq Barrett.
The Bucs came from all directions Sunday, forcing the issue onto Bailey’s doomed toes.
There was rookie defensive back sensation Antoine Winfield, whose third-quarter strip-sack was among a team-high 12 tackles. There was veteran Jason Pierre-Paul with a sack and forced fumble. And there the first career sack for four-year journeyman defensive end Pat O’Connor.
Back to rookies: Right tackle Tristan Wirfs helped the Bucs offensive line pitch a shutout Sunday, no sacks of Brady. Think that doesn’t help in the late winter of the GOAT’s career?
Yes, after a rough start, the Bucs looked like a playoff team again. By the way, they ran the ball more than Brady threw it. And here we had been wondering about the Bucs’ offensive and overall identity all week.
“I think we just showed it,” Arians said. “We can do any damn thing we want to do.”
They picked a good time to show it.