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Mike Evans surpassed Mike Alstott’s franchise record for career touchdowns with his 72nd, and the Bucs eased past the Giants 30-10 in front of a national television audience Monday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Tom Brady passed for two touchdowns, including the 5-yarder to Evans and a 13-yarder to Chris Godwin. Ronald Jones scored on a 6-yard run, and Ryan Succop kicked field goals of 25, 40 and 30 yards.
With the win, the Bucs (7-3) snapped a season-high two-game losing streak and extended their lead to two games over the Saints (5-5) in the NFC South.
The margin of victory could have been even bigger, but a 34-yard Godwin catch-and-run to the Giants 1 late in the first half was nullified due to a holding call. New York’s sole touchdown was set up when a Brady pass deep in Tampa Bay territory went off Evans’ hands to Adoree’ Jackson, who returned it to the 5.
Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 307 yards, exceeding 3,000 for the season. He was replaced by Blaine Gabbert with Tampa Bay leading by 20 and 6:42 remaining.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught six passes for 71 yards after returning from back and rib injuries. Evans and Godwin also had six catches apiece, for 73 and 65 yards, respectively.
Bucs safety Mike Edwards and defensive lineman Steve McLendon intercepted passes, and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
Inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White recorded eight tackles apiece, and Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill had late-game sacks on consecutive plays.
Here’s how it happened:
Down 14 points midway through the third quarter, the Giants dug themselves a deeper hole when Daniel Jones was intercepted three plays after Mike Evans’ touchdown reception.
With inside linebacker Devin White applying pressure, Jones threw the ball right to defensive lineman Steve McLendon in an apparent attempt to get rid of the ball and avoid an intentional grounding penalty.
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Tampa Bay gained possession at the New York 37-yard line.
Six plays later, the Bucs turned the turnover into three points on a 40-yard Ryan Succop field goal, extending their lead to 27-10 with 3:53 to play in the quarter.
So, where were we?
Tom Brady started the second half the way he ended the first, directing an up-tempo offense that moved the ball quickly down the field against the Giants’ zone coverage and kept New York’s defense on its heels.
His 5-yard pass to Mike Evans capped a 74-yard touchdown drive that extended the Bucs’ lead to 24-10 with 7:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Brady was 6 of 8 for 72 yards on the drive. He had completions of 17 yards to Evans, 14 to Breshad Perriman, 14 to Rob Gronkowski and 18 to Chris Godwin.
With the reception, Evans passed Mike Alstott’s franchise record for most career touchdowns with his 72nd.
The Giants drove into scoring position on their opening drive of the second half, but the Bucs defense forced a turnover on downs.
Facing fourth and 1 from the Tampa Bay 25, Daniel Jones bounced a throw into the ground intended for receiver Collin Johnson. Jordan Whitehead had the flat route covered, and Devin White applied pressure, forcing Jones into the errant throw.
Earlier in the drive, a pass interference penalty against Jamel Dean gave the Giants a first down at their 38. One play later, Jones lofted a pass deep down the left sideline to Kyle Rudolph for a 28-yard gain to the Bucs 34, the Giants’ biggest play of the game.
What could have been
Nobody runs the two-minute offense better than Tom Brady.
The Bucs quarterback was at it again near the end of the first half, taking advantage of the room the Giants were giving him underneath, and he sliced and diced his way into New York territory.
Sixteen yards to Mike Evans. Thirteen to Chris Godwin. Nine to Rob Gronkowski.
Brady took one deep shot downfield and nearly came away with a touchdown, the ball going just off the hands of receiver Breshad Perriman.
One play later, he connected with Godwin on a 34-yard catch and run to the 1. Only, the play was nullified by a holding penalty against tackle Tristan Wirfs.
Instead of first and goal, the Bucs were forced into third and 20 from the Giants 45, and Brady threw incomplete for Tyler Johnson. Instead of an almost certain touchdown, Tampa Bay was forced to punt.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Ronald Jones haven’t been a very big part of the Bucs’ offense in recent weeks, Gronkowski due to injuries and Jones to lack of involvement.
But both were instrumental in a second-quarter touchdown drive that put the Bucs back ahead 17-10.
Gronkowski caught two passes for 39 yards, including a 35-yard reception that gave Tampa Bay a first down at the New York 29.
Jones ran three times for 13 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run around left end.
Jones rushed for 20 yards on a team-high five carries over the first four drives. Gronkowski’s 45 receiving yards on three carries also led the Bucs.
Bucs guard Ali Marpet was ruled out with an oblique injury midway through the second quarter.
He was replaced by Aaron Stinnie.
A seemingly innocuous pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans in the flat turned into a momentum-changer for the Giants when the ball bounced off Evans’ hands to cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who returned it to the Tampa Bay 5.
After a 3-yard run by Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, New York tied the game at 10 on Jones’ 2-yard pass to Andrew Thomas on a tackle-eligible play with 9:14 to play in the half.
Death by a thousand cuts
The Bucs dinked and dunked their way down the field on their second offensive possession.
Tom Brady got the ball out of his hands quickly — dumping it off to receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Rob Gronkowski, and handing it off to Fournette and Ronald Jones — and let his playmakers do the rest.
No play went for more than 10 yards, but the Bucs continued to move the ball down the field.
On third and four from the Giants 33, Brady took matters into his own hands, er legs, scrambling 10 yards up the middle for a first down at the 23.
The drive ended with Ryan Succop’s 25-yard field goal, putting Tampa Bay ahead 10-3 with 11:16 remaining in the half.
Penalties continued to be a problem for the Bucs, as two infractions against the defense allowed the Giants to keep their opening drive alive, resulting in a field goal.
The Bucs appeared to have the Giants stopped when Daniel Jones threw incomplete on third and 6 from the Tampa Bay 20. But a pass interference call against cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting gave New York a first down at the 15.
Earlier in the drive, an offsides penalty against Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul gave the Giants a first down at the Tampa Bay 39.
The Giants returned the favor, as a false start against guard Will Hernandez turned third and 9 from the 14 into third and 14. Jones again threw incomplete, and this time the play stood.
The Giants were forced to settle for Graham Gano’s 37-yard field goal and a 7-3 deficit.
Stretching the field
The Bucs effectively used the perimeter of the field and got the ball into the hands of their backs and receivers in creative ways while driving for a touchdown on their opening drive.
Receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans picked up first downs on reverses on consecutive plays, and running back Leonard Fournette carried the ball on a stretch play and caught a pass from Tom Brady as the Bucs drove 73 yards on eight plays.
Godwin turned a quick throw out into the flat on a play-action pass into a 13-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
Brady went 5-for-5 for 49 yards on the drive while connecting with four different receivers. Three different players carried the ball for 24 yards.
The Bucs did not face a third down on the drive.
Bucs struggling, but so is the competition
The Bucs didn’t lose more than two games in a row at any point during their Super Bowl 55 championship season. Quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t been part of a team that dropped three straight games in more than two decades.
So, they find find themselves in unfamiliar territory entering tonight’s nationally televised game against the Giants.
Is a season that started with a franchise-best six wins in the first seven games suddenly in danger of skidding off the tracks?
Well, no. Not yet, anyway.
Even with their back-to-back losses, the Bucs (6-3) lead the Saints (5-5) by 1-1/2 games and the Panthers (5-6) by two in the NFC South. And as we saw last season, when it won its last eight games after a 7-5 start, Tampa Bay has the capability of pulling away from the competition at any time.
Speaking of the competition in the NFC, the Saints have lost three in a row since beating the Bucs on Oct. 31. The Rams (7-3), who also beat the Bucs earlier this season, have dropped their past two. The Packers (8-3) and Cowboys (7-3) have lost two of their past three games, while the front-running Cardinals (9-2) are winless in two of their last four.
So, the midseason malaise the Bucs seem to be suffering from appears to be catching.
That said, opponents aren’t going to roll over for them, so the Bucs do need to start playing better. Injuries, penalties and turnovers have been particularly problematic during the two-game slide.
Tampa Bay can’t do much about the injuries — though tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting are expected to return this week — but it does need to play with more discipline. And a defense that couldn’t get off the field when the Bucs most needed it to last week against Washington, has to play with more passion, coach Bruce Arians said earlier this week, and impose its will on opponents.
It will have to start tonight against the Giants, a team that has given the Bucs more trouble in recent years than their record would indicate. In fact, the previous four games between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer.
Will this be the week the Bucs recalibrate themselves and begin to play to the high standards they set last for themselves during last season’s title run?
Follow our live updates, starting at 8:15 p.m.
Sean Murphy-Bunting set to return tonight
As expected, the Bucs have activated opening-night starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting off injured reserve in time for tonight’s home game against the Giants.
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