TAMPA- After losing three of their last four games, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Heading into Sunday afternoon’s tilt against the surging Minnesota Vikings, the Buccaneers sorely needed a win to help bolster their playoff hopes.
The Buccaneers got the much-needed victory but in a variety of ways, one of them unexpected. Aided by a pass rush that sacked Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins six times and four missed field goals by the usually reliable Dan Bailey, Tampa Bay edged out Minnesota 26-14 at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers now improve to 8-5 on the season and face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
What seemed unlikely was the numerous missed kicks by Bailey, who prior to the game was the NFL’s sixth most efficient kicker in league history at about 87 percent. He was anything but perfect on Sunday afternoon, as Bailey missed three field goals and a point-after attempt, stymieing the Vikings’ chances of winning. Minnesota (6-7) started the game off hot offensively behind the strong running of Dalvin Cook.
Cook, who entered the game as the NFL’s No. 2 rusher behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, the former Florida State standout had himself a day against the Buccaneers’ front seven. The tailback rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown. It was the first time in nearly 20 games that a running back broke the century mark versus Tampa Bay’s defense.
The front seven made up for its mishaps in stopping the run by getting pressure on Cousins, who finished 24-of-37 for 225 yards and a touchdown. Two fumbles by Cousins proved crucial as one backed up a potential scoring drive in the fourth quarter and the other essentially ended Minnesota’s comeback attempt altogether. On the other side at quarterback, Tom Brady had himself an efficient day under center with no turnovers, 15-of-23 passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians made a switch at running back for third-down situations, as he went with LeSean McCoy and made Leonard Fournette a healthy scratch. The move paid off for Arians, as McCoy rushed for 32 yards behind Ronald Jones. The long ball made its return in this game as well, with Brady connecting with speedster Scotty Miller on a 48-yard touchdown throw in the second quarter.
Now the Buccaneers will turn their attention to the Falcons, a team they split the season series with last year. The Falcons have since rid of head coach Dan Quinn and have a familiar face for Tampa Bay fans as their interim lead man: Raheem Morris. The Falcons (4-9) lost in a heartbreaker 20-17 to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.