While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored first and last Sunday in their wild card matchup with the New York Giants, in between it was all big blue, as New York moves on to Dallas with a solid 24-14 win at Raymond James Stadium. With a dominating performance from their defense, the Giants move to 8-1 away from the Meadowlands, and now will head to the only place they lost this season away from home – Dallas.
New York’s defense allowed a drive that resulted in an Earnest Graham score to make it 7-0 with 1:49 left in the first quarter. The drive covered 10 plays and 54 yards. After that they took over and never gave up, allowing the Bucs just 26 yards the rest of the first half, with two of the drives going for negative yards. The second half was not much better, as Tampa Bay mustered 174 yards, but 88 of them came on a time-consuming drive that ate up precious clock with the Giants already leading 24-7.
The Bucs had 271 yards of offense, just 69 rushing, and QB Jeff Garica took shot after shot, and was roughed up with a sack and two picks. Garcia on the day went 23-for-39 for 207 yards with the two interceptios and one touchdown. The Bucs playmaker – Joey Galloway, was a non-factor, as he had one catch for 9 yards, and one rush for -4 yards. Michael Pittman led the team with five catches for 62 yards.
New York got exactly what it needed over the last 45 minutes from their offense, led by quarterback Eli Manning. The former first round pick went 20-for-27 for 185 yards with two touchdowns. He suffered just one sack, and did not throw a pick. It was a day for Manning to grow up, and against the famed Tampa 2 defense led by guru Monte Kiffin, Manning seemed in control. New York had just 3 yards of offense on their first three drives combined, but then came out swinging in the second quarter.
Manning led a 8-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in a tying score when Manning found running back Brandon Jacobs down the middle from five yards out to make it 7-7 with 10:02 left in the half. Later in the quarter the Giants again struck, going 7 plays and 65 yards wth Jacobs going from eight yards out in for the score to make it 14-7. Manning to Steve Smith for 21 yards on 3rd-and-2 from the Bucs 38 was the big play on the drive.
While the Bucs offense was going nowhere, the Giants continued to put pressure on the Bucs defense, adding a field goal in the third quarter to make it 17-7, and then put the game away in the fourth. They had likely their best drive of the year, going 92 yards in 15 plays, with Manning going 4-for-5 and rookie back Ahmad Bradshaw rushing 7 times for 38 yards before Manning hit Amani Toomer from four yards out to make it 24-7. Game over.
The Bucs scored next on a Garcia to Alex Smith six-yard score to make it 24-14 with 3:25 left. They got the ball back with 2:10 left, but Garcia was picked off on a deep ball by R.C.McQuarters, ending the last Tampa threat and therefore ending the Bucs season as NFC South Champs but nothing more. With the playoff loss, the Bucs have not won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl a few years back over the Raiders.
Mannings poise on offense to be patient and make plays when he had to was the storyline of the contest. He was on most of the day, coming back after a slow first quarter to put pressure on the Bucs secondary all day. He will need the same type of effort next week against a Cowboys team that he scored 35 points on opening night in Dallas.
Tough way for the Bucs to go out, but they had a good season and came back after finishing last in the South last year to win it this year, saving Jon Gruden’s job. They need more playmakers on offense, and will look to continue to upgrade and improve on a defense that Gruden is trying to get younger without taking too many steps back.