Dan Bailey, if you are reading this, first, find a better sports writer to read, because I only just graduated from college Saturday, and second, I’m really sorry for this.
Dan Bailey, the Vikings’ kicker (until he inevitably gets cut today), single-handedly gave the Bucs Sunday’s game when Tampa Bay defeated the Vikings 26-14. He missed three field goals, and an extra point (10 points left on the board, for those counting at home). But it wasn’t just the points.
The Vikings started this game absolutely on fire, with their offense scoring a touchdown and their defense coming up with some big stops. Minnesota was up 6-0 (should have been seven, but Bailey missed the extra point), and were set up for an easy field goal attempt. Then Dan Bailey trotted out there and missed a 36-yarder. From then on, the Vikings got outscored 26-7, including the Vikings giving up 10 points in the last two minutes of the first half on a brutal sequence that included a defensive pass interference call on a Hail Mary with one second left on the clock that led to a Ryan Succop field goal. The missed field goals were just deflating for a Vikings team that was without its starting middle linebacker, Eric Hendricks, and its starting tight end, Kyle Rudolph.
Sure, the Bucs defense played well at times, with some solid stops that led to those Dan Bailey misses, but they also gave up 162 yards rushing. The Tampa Bay defense also allowed fourth-down conversions and a two-point conversion. So, the unit was good, but not great. The Vikings had more first downs, way more possession, and more total yards. Despite beating the Bucs in almost every major statistical category, the Vikings failed to convert those advantages into points.
Offensively, it was more of the same. TB12 looked good at some points, but overthrew a lot of open receivers (he still managed to throw for 196 yards and a pair of TDs, and he didn’t throw any picks, so there’s that). The Bucs also didn’t commit any turnovers at all, again showing how they didn’t necessarily win this game, but just managed not to lose it, if that makes sense. Despite Brady’s solid numbers on paper, the Bucs still looked stagnant offensively, and that needs to change, quickly. It’s way too late in the season to be claiming they’re still “getting used to each other.” At least they’re getting Ronald Jones more touches, as the former USC running back ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Last year, Jameis would have thrown a couple interceptions and the Bucs would have lost this game, so perhaps I’m being a bit demanding, but is Brady playing well enough to justify his $25 million a year salary? Absolutely not. If the Bucs had signed Philip Rivers, they would probably have the same exact record. Brady is not showing the electrifying play-making ability that you expect from a guy who has been one of the most productive QBs of all time. And if he doesn’t turn things around in the playoffs (which is another thing he’s done his whole career), the Bucs will likely take a first-round exit. Unless, of course, they get that coveted top wild card spot, and they coast to a win against the Giants or Washington to open the playoffs.
The important thing is, for now, the Bucs won. They needed this game badly, and they got it. Now they get to face the Falcons and the Lions to finish out the year, and if they win all three games (I think it happens), they can have some momentum going into the playoffs and try to secure a better seed in the playoffs. Plus, the Saints fell to the Jalen Hurts-led Eagles in Sunday’s nailbiter (New Orleans still has to play the Chiefs, Vikings and Panthers). The Saints could easily lose at least two of those games, as they have been known to choke in important matchups against Minnesota (see: Minneapolis Miracle and Kirk Cousins’ first playoff win) and the Chiefs are… well, the Chiefs. Even so, just those two losses would still give the Saints the division, as they own the tiebreaker, but hey, maybe they lose to Carolina in the last game of the season. Crazier things have happened. They did just lose to the Eagles.
Whatever happens this year, it has certainly been a much more fun team to watch. There’s still a feeling of hope surrounding the Bucs, too, because they have Tom Brady. Even though this year hasn’t gone perfectly, they are still set up to make the playoffs, and Brady in the playoffs is a dangerous thing.
For once, I’m cautiously optimistic. Let’s go Bucs.
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