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The Bucs’ defense sacked Kirk Cousins six times, and Tampa Bay won the kicking game in a 26-14 victory over the Vikings Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
With the win, the Bucs (8-5) snapped a two-game losing streak and edged closer to their first playoff berth in 13 seasons.
The Vikings, losing for just the second time in seven games, slipped to 6-7.
Shaquil Barrett had two sacks to lead the Bucs’ defense. Jason Pierre-Paul had a strip sack, and Antoine Winfield Jr., Ndamukong Suh and Patrick O’Connor each added a sack apiece.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop converted field goals of 18 and 48 yards, while Vikings counterpart Dan Bailey missed all three of his field-goal attempts and one of two extra-point tries.
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady completed 15 of 23 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, including a 48-yard bomb to Scotty Miller. Brady connected with eight different receivers, including Rob Gronkowski on a 2-yard scoring pass.
Ronald Jones rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Seldom-used LeSean McCoy rushed four times for 32 yards and caught a 3-yard pass.
With 102 yards on 22 carries, former Florida State standout Dalvin Cook became the first individual to rush for 100 or more yards against the Bucs’ defense this season.
JPP slams the door on Vikings
After a Ryan Succop field goal extended the Bucs’ lead to 26-14 with just over five minutes remaining in the game, the Vikings had one last chance.
They converted two fourth downs — Kirk Cousins passes of 12 yards to Justin Jefferson and 9 to Adam Thielen — to drive into Bucs territory. But a Patrick O’Connor sack set up third-and-13 from the Bucs 48.
After a desperation pass feel incomplete, Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Cousins and stripped and recovered the football to give the Bucs possession with just over 2 minutes remaining.
Vikings can’t get out of their own way
Just when the Vikings appeared to be clawing their way back into the game, the same problems that plagued them in the first half cropped back up.
Trailing 23-14 early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota drove to the Tampa Bay 8-yard line on a 12-yard run by quarterback Kirk Cousins on third-and-2.
But back-to-back sacks by Antoine Winfield Jr. and Shaquil Barrett resulted in a loss of 20 yards, and Dan Bailey pushed a 46-yard field-goal attempt wide right, his fourth missed kick of the game.
Vikings trim deficit to 9
The Vikings aren’t going away just yet.
Kirk Cousins completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Irv Smith, and Minnesota converted a two-point try to trim the Bucs’ lead to 23-14 with 1:36 remaining in the third quarter.
Irv Smith sat down in zone coverage over the middle, caught a short pass from Cousins, then turned and bounced off Antoine Winfield Jr. on his way into the end zone.
Needing every point they could get and not trusting kicker Dan Bailey, who missed two field-goal attempts and an extra-point try in the first half, the Vikings went for two after the touchdown. Justin Jefferson took a short pass from Cousins, then powered through Sean Murphy-Bunting into the end zone.
The Vikings converted a fourth-and-6 from the Bucs 26 on the drive when Tyler Conklin made a 7-yard reception over the middle.
Bucs extend their advantage
The Bucs wasted no time adding to their advantage over the Vikings in the second half.
Tom Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski to put Tampa Bay ahead 23-6 less than five minutes into the third quarter.
Ryan Succop missed the extra-point try.
Gronkowski’s catch capped a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive on Tampa Bay’s first possession of the third quarter.
The big play was a 29-yard pass from Brady to Mike Evans to the Minnesota 6.
LeSean McCoy had runs of 14 and 10 yards on the drive.
Something out of nothing
While the Vikings squandered two — and arguably three — scoring chances in the first half, the Bucs seemed to fashion one out of nothing.
Taking possession at its 28 following a Minnesota punt with 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Bucs drove 25 yards on two plays — a 9-yard pass to tight end Cameron Brate and a 16-yard completion to receiver Antonio Brown — to the Vikings 47.
From there, Tom Brady spiked the ball with one second remaining.
Still well out of Ryan Succop’s field-goal range, the Bucs threw a desperation pass into the end zone as the clock expired. But when Vikings linebacker Todd Davis was penalized for interfering with tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs were given one last play from the 1-yard line.
They opted for a 19-yard Succop field goal and 17-6 halftime lead.
The Vikings drove into Bucs territory four times in the first half but came away with only 6 points thanks to two missed field-goal attempts and an errant PAT try by kicker Dan Bailey. Minnesota drove to the Tampa Bay 32 on another drive, but quarterback Kirk Cousins took a sack, pushing the Vikings out of field-goal position.
Of course, given Bailey’s first-half struggles, that might be assuming a lot.
Bucs go up 8 on Jones’ scoring leap
Ronald Jones’ 1-yard leap into the end zone gave the Bucs a 14-6 lead over the Vikings with 44 seconds remaining in the first half Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Taking over at their 44 after a Dan Bailey missed field-goal attempt, the Bucs drove 56 yards for their second touchdown of the game.
A 16-yard pass from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin moved the ball to the Vikings 37.
Jones kept the drive alive by rushing for 2 yards to the Vikings 26 on third-and-1.
Facing third-and-6 from the 21, Brady threw to LeSean McCoy out of the backfield. McCoy was stopped a couple of yards short of the first-down marker, but safety Harrison Smith was penalized for lowering his helmet to initiate contact, giving the Bucs a first down at the 9.
Tampa Bay picked up another first down at the 1 when cornerback Jeff Gladney was flagged for interfering with Mike Evans in the end zone. Jones leaped over the pile on the next play to give the Bucs an 8-point advantage.
Bailey’s struggles continue
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.
The Vikings’ Dan Bailey misses yet another kick — this one from 54 yards, his third of the half — and the Bucs continue to lead 7-6 with 4:37 remaining in the second quarter.
Bucs go ahead on Miller TD reception
The Bucs’ third offensive possession was almost as short as their first two.
But the result was remarkably different.
After managing just one first down their first two times with the ball, Tom Brady hit Scotty Miller with a season-long 48-yard touchdown pass as the Bucs drove 74 yards in 1:49 to take a 7-6, second-quarter lead.
Unlike Minnesota kicker Dan Bailey, who missed on an extra-point try and a 36-yard field-goal attempt, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Succop was true, giving the Bucs a one-point lead.
The Bucs avoided falling further behind when Vikings kicker Dan Bailey, who had already missed an extra-point try, pushed a 36-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
After the Bucs went three-and-out on their second possession, the Vikings’ offense was back on the move, driving 55 yards to the Tampa Bay 11. But Ndamukong Suh sacked Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins on third-and-7, forcing the field-goal try.
The Vikings moved to the 11 when Justin Jefferson caught a 5-yard pass from Cousins and Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis was penalized for a horse collar tackle.
Cook with 64 yards on 13 carries, had more rushing yards three minutes in the second quarter than any back had gained against the Bucs in a game this season.
Vikings go up early on Cook TD run
Former Florida State standout Dalvin Cook rushed 1 yard for a touchdown as the Vikings jumped out to a 6-0, second-quarter lead over the Bucs Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay defensive lineman Patrick O’Connor seemed to have Cook stopped in the backfield, but Cook slipped the tackle, then powered through a Kevin Minter tackle to score around left end.
Dan Bailey missed the extra-point attempt, his third missed PAT in the past two games.
Adam Thielen had two 15-yard receptions from Kirk Cousins during the drive.
A neutral-zone infraction against Bucs defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh turned a third-and-7 into a third-and-2. Cook rushed for the first down at the Tampa Bay 28.
Two plays later, Cook picked up 9 yards and another first down at the Bucs 15. A swing pass to Ameer Abdullah moved the ball to the 5. Cook then carried for 4 yards up the middle to set up his touchdown run.
Barrett sack stops Minnesota drive
The Bucs thwarted an early Vikings scoring attempt when linebacker Shaquil Barrett sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins on third-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 32.
Starting at its 35, Minnesota drove 33 yards on its opening drive to the Tampa Bay 32. But Barrett dropped Cousins for an 8-yard loss, forcing a Britton Colquitt punt.
Former Florida State standout Dalvin Cook rushed for 17 yards on three carries and caught one pass for 3 yards during the drive.
The Vikings picked up 18 yards when Cousins scrambled for 13 and five more were tacked on due to a defensive holding penalty against Carlton Davis.
The Bucs managed just one first down on their opening drive — a 9-yard completion from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin — before being forced to punt.
Bucs control their own playoff destiny
The Bucs know having the winningest quarterback in NFL history under center guarantees them nothing this season.
After going more than a decade without a playoff appearance, they aren’t taking anything for granted — despite being on the cusp of a postseason berth.
So, what exactly are they playing for today against the Minnesota Vikings (6-6)? Security, more than anything.
The Bucs (7-5) control their own playoff destiny with four games remaining in the regular season — but only to a point.
A 3-1 record in the final month likely would put Tampa Bay in the playoffs as no worse than the No. 6 seed in the NFC. For it to move up to the fifth seed and a possible matchup against the NFC East-leading New York Giants, it will need considerable help.
But first, the Bucs need to get to the postseason, and that starts today against the Vikings.
Momentum is working against them. While the Bucs have dropped back-to-back games to the Rams and Chiefs — their first losing streak of the season — the surging Vikings have won five of their past six.
Minnesota has the NFL’s second-leading rusher in Dalvin Cook (1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns), a playoff quarterback in Kirk Cousins and dangerous receivers in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
Furthermore, with a victory today, the Vikings would match the Bucs’ 7-6 record and give them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Of course, the Bucs will have something — a lot, actually — to say about that.
They’ll have to do so without the services of cornerback Jamel Dean, out with a sore groin. Running back Leonard Fournette joins him on the inactive list for today’s game.
Follow along, starting at 1 p.m., as Tampa Bay tries to move one step closer to its first playoff berth in 13 seasons.
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A little light reading
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game: