The Bucs 2020 season, like any other, was a roller coaster of highs and lows. Hot and cold streaks. Sometimes we get so focused on the results that we lose sight of the key plays that helped shape the season.
That’s what this series will focus on: The plays that helped shape the Bucs’ 2020 championship run.
The third key play in this series happened on Monday Night Football against the Giants.
The Bucs quickly returned to their winning form after their disappointing loss to the Bears. After spotting the Packers 10 first quarter points, Tampa Bay responded by scoring 38 straight in an all-out throttling in the Fox afternoon national game. The following week, Tom Brady torched the Raiders’ defense for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 45-20 romp.
Heading into a Monday Night Football tilt with the struggling New York Giants, it seemed the Bucs were poised to keep the good times rolling.
The game had not gone to plan early, to put it mildly. With under 2 minutes to play in the first half, Wayne Gallman, Jr. plowed his way into the end zone to extend the Giants’ lead to
14-3 with under 2 minutes to play in the first half. Brady would engineer a field goal drive, and the Bucs trailed the 1-6 Giants 14-6 at the break.
Fortunately, the Bucs’ defense woke up at the half, generating two key second half interceptions by Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Touchdown strikes to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans finally pushed the Bucs in front at 22-17 in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately the Buccaneers’ offense couldn’t convert a third and 1 with under 4 minutes left in the game deep in Giants territory, so a Ryan Succop field goal pushed the margin to a seemingly-safe 25-17 total.
They would ultimately need every one of those 25 points.
Danny Jones converted two fourth downs on the ensuing drive, including a 4th and 16. Jones capped off the drive with a nifty pass to a toe-tapping Golden Tate in the back of the end zone. At 25-23 with 0:28 left in the game, it all came down to one play to keep the game going.
The Giants lined up in the shotgun, and Dion Lewis slipped out of the backfield in motion. The ball was snapped and Lewis cut over into the flat, momentarily wide open. Antoine Winfield Jr. was responsible for Lewis and scrambled to get across the field and around players to get to the open Lewis.
Fortunately, Jones delayed making the throw, and by the time he released the ball, Winfield Jr. had caught up and collided with Lewis and the ball simultaneously in the end zone. A flag flew from the back of the end zone, and the officials huddled up to discuss it. The replay showed the ball hitting Winfield Jr.’s arm just as his chest made contact with Lewis. The referee announced they were waiving off the flag, and the joyous Bucs defenders exulted and ran off the field.
It was an EXTREMELY close play, where it looked like the officials could have gone either way with the call and not have been egregiously wrong. Fortunately, Winfield, Jr. got the benefit of the doubt.
Had the penalty stood and the Giants converted from the 1-yard line, it would have been a deflating result for a team that all but had the game wrapped up. Who knows what would’ve happened in the final half minute and/or overtime, but it would have been a true test for the Bucs to respond after such a letdown.
Again, fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Tampa Bay recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Bucs needed this game badly. They would go on to drop 3 of their next 4 contests, so a loss here could have dropped them to an even tougher spot.
Winfield Jr. and a fortunate break ensured they didn’t.
If you missed the first key turning points, can check then out here: No. 1 vs. Chargers; No. 2 vs. Bears; No. 3 vs. Packers