Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25 – New York Giants 23
Tom Brady and the New York Giants have an interesting competitive relationship. The two have faced each other 5 times in the regular season, with Brady winning 4 of them. However, the Giants will always be a team that can go to sleep at night saying they had his number because of the 2 Super Bowl losses. While those losses seem like a lifetime ago, memories return when he jogs onto the field against Big Blue. This time he did so wearing a Bucs uniform, leading the red-hot Bucs coming off their 5th win in 6 weeks, not to mention their top-ranked NFL defense. The Giants last played 11 days prior, giving them extra rest and time to prepare. As bad as this season has gone when it comes to wins and losses, the continued failure of the NFC East still had not completely shut the Giants out of the possibility of postseason play. NYG just had to win.
The Giants, in their throwback all-white uniforms, started off on defense against Brady and a Bucs offense that scored 38+ points 3 of the past 4 games. Their initial drive did make its way into the red zone but NYG’s bend-don’t-break defense held them to a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. The Giants ensuing drive ended in a punt but they did show some life on a trick-play double screen that converted a 3rd-and-11. The Giants were showing some energy and attitude, especially up front. Punter Riley Dixon pinned TB at their own 10-yard line.
Running back Ronald Jones fumbled on the second play after a punch to the ball from Blake Martinez and it ended up in the hands of Darnay Holmes. NYG was starting with the ball on the TB 12. On 3rd and 5, Daniel Jones threw a perfect pass over the hands of TB linebacker Devin White and into the arms of Dion Lewis for a touchdown. NYG took the early 7-3 lead and then stopped TB on the next drive.
The Giants then got themselves into field goal range but a 11-yard, third down sack pushed them too far back and they had to punt. Dixon then again pinned TB inside their own 10-yard line and the Giants defense ended the drive with a sack of their own, this one by Leonard Williams. NYG began their drive with three straight 10+ yard gains. They made their way into the red zone with under 2 minutes left in the first half. Wayne Gallman scored on a 2-yard touchdown run behind the all-rookie left side of the line and all of the sudden NYG had a double-digit lead. TB put 3 more points up on the board via a 40-yard field goal by Succop as the half came to a close. Brady is an absolute magician when it comes to putting up those overlooked but important 3 points before halftime.
NYG began the second half with the ball but on just the second play, Jones forced a throw on 2nd-and-8 from near midfield that ended up in the hands of TB corner Carlton Davis. His turnover rate over 20 games is now approaching Ryan Leaf territory. TB turned that into 3 more points, making it 14-9. NYG still had their lead as the clock chewed into the 3rd quarter.
Jones and the offense went three and out on the ensuing drive after Jones missed an open Sterling Shepard down the field. The opportunities that this young TB secondary were offering Jones simply couldn’t be capitalized on and it was opening the door for arguably the top quarterback of all time to mount a comeback. The door just kept on opening inch by inch for him. Thanks to a few chunk plays and a pass interference penalty on James Bradberry, TB found themselves inside the NYG 5. Brady then found Rob Gronkowski for a 3-yard touchdown to give TB its first lead since their opening drive of the game. A failed 2-point conversion attempt kept the lead at just 1.
The Giants then pieced together a 10-play drive highlighted by a 30-yard pitch-and-catch from Jones to Evan Engram on a play eerily similar to the drop the put the nail in the coffin to the NYG loss in week 7 against the Eagles. NYG had to settle on a field goal, which Graham Gano nailed through the uprights, to grab the lead back by a score of 17-15. The 4th quarter then began with a TB 3-and-out capped by a Carter Coughlin sack, the first of his career.
NYG breached midfield and started to work its way into TB territory but Jones second interception of the night took the wind out of the sails. It was another forced throw on 2nd down after not seeing the open man and with a defender preventing him from throwing a quality ball. TB then took that turnover and created 7 points off of it via a touchdown from Brady to Mike Evans, who the Giants had kept quiet up until this point. NYG responded with a 3-and-out as the NYG offensive line, which had been putting forth an admirable effort, began to fall apart as the TB defensive coordinator started to blitz on seemingly every play.
TB then put another 3 points on the board via a 38-yard field goal to give the road team a 8-point lead with under 4 minutes left. NYG had enough time to put together a drive in an effort to tie the game up, but they had used all of their timeouts. They used 13 plays, the longest drive of the game, to put 6 more points on the board as the game was coming to a close. It was a drive that included two 4th-down conversions, both of which were very low probability plays. Jones was evading pressure on nearly every drop back and he made a downright perfect throw to Golden Tate, who made a high-level catch in the back of the end zone. NYG was within 2 points but a late throw to Dion Lewis on the two-point conversion attempt and a questionable non-pass interference call by the refs kept NYG just short. Their third loss in 4 games by a combined total of 6 points left NYG frustratingly walking off the field with yet another “almost” feeling.
NYG loses 25-23.
-Daniel Jones: 25-41 / 256 yards / 2 TD – 2 INT / 74.8 RAT
One look at the box score, and possibly a look at the highlight reel, and one may come to the conclusion once again that “Jones wasn’t that bad.” I am on the other side. Jones’ performance in this game was much worse than the stat line (which isn’t strong) and the loss needs to be put on his shoulders. The two interceptions, both 2nd down throws that should have never been attempted, were the catalyst for the loss. TB turned those second half turnovers into 10 points. Beyond that, Jones did not see what the TB defense was giving him. He had multiple downfield receivers wide open on drives that would have likely ended in points for the team. I’m not talking about small windows here; I really mean wide open. Even though we have seen worse-stat lines, I really do think this may have been one of the worst games we have seen out of him, all things considered. His deep ball success rate was incredibly low, his throw on the 2-point conversion was a second too late on a play that most QBs can make in their sleep, and he just isn’t grasping simple concepts.
–Wayne Gallman: 12 att / 44 yards and 1 rec / 18 yards.
Really impressive game by Gallman who was up against one of the top run defenses in football, while running behind the worst-graded offensive line in the NFL. Gallman ran hard and decisively up the middle and came up with multiple big gains. He also had 12-yarder nullified by a bogus holding penalty called on Kevin Zeitler. 62 yards and a touchdown on 13 touches. Considering the circumstances, it was a nice job by a back who doesn’t seem to have the staff’s full confidence just yet.
-Alfred Morris and Dion Lewis saw 21 plays each (28% of the snaps). Morris gained 28 yards on 8 carries and Lewis caught 2 passes, one of which was a touchdown. Lewis did allow a sack and a pressure, as he struggled to maintain contact after the initial pop as TB kept on blitzing over and over.
-Sterling Shepard led the team with 8 catches and 74 yards on 10 targets. Jones missed him downfield on a 3rd down where he got open via quality route running, as he normally does, but he just didn’t have the gear or ball skills to reach it. Shepard isn’t and won’t ever be a downfield threat for multiple reasons. He is a limited slot guy, which makes it hard to accept NYG signing him to that long-term extension last year.
-Darius Slayton caught 5 passes for 56 yards including a 4th down conversion where he made a huge play after the catch. Had the Giants won this game, Slayton would have been a focal point because of that very play. He was also missed on multiple occasions by Jones downfield. His deep route running, when he gets beyond the jam by the corner, is some of the best I see on a weekly basis in the NFL. If Jones got his act together, we may be talking about one of the best young pass catchers in the game and I mean that.
-Golden Tate was only targeted 3 times. He came up with 2 key catches, the second being a brilliant touchdown reception with :30 left in the game that got NYG within 2. After that catch he yelled out, “Throw me the ball” for what it’s worth.
-Evan Engram was also targeted 10 times to share the lead with Shepard. He caught 5 of them for 61 yards, including a 30-yarder. He also gained 9 yards on a reverse carry which now seems to be a weekly fix for the NYG offensive play-calling. Engram did have a drop late in the game that didn’t have a huge impact. As a blocker, he allowed 1 TFL but also made 2 key blocks on a long Gallman gain and a 1st-down Alfred Morris carry.
-Backups Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo have left a lot to be desired in the blocking game, respectively. Smith allowed a TFL and Toilolo allowed a pressure. They didn’t get enough push when NYG tried to run to the outside and the speedy TB linebackers undercut their angles a couple times. These guys are paid to block and neither are doing a good job.
-Overall, this unit put together their best performance of the year. The 4th quarter was a complete nightmare but that had a lot to do with Todd Bowles complex and overly-aggressive blitzing scheme.
-Andrew Thomas allowed 1 sack but I didn’t have him down for any pressures. On that sack, Jones ran right into the man because of pressure coming from the other side. He still didn’t look good on several of his pass protection sets with the over-reaching and lack of sustaining when defenders moved laterally, but it was a step in the right direction. On the other side, Cameron Fleming saw most of the time at right tackle and received the worst grade on the line. He allowed 3 pressures and a sack. One of his pressures led to a Jones interception and another pressure led to a sack on the other side. Matt Peart saw limited time as the coaching staff continues to sprinkle him in. I think he will be starting at RT after the bye week.
-Shane Lemieux got the start at left guard, as Will Hernandez missed the game after testing positive for Covid-19. It was a solid effort that gives NYG encouraging signs for the future. He stayed within his techniques for the most part, he got solid initial contact, and he wasn’t fooled by the blitzing packages outside of one miss. The one issue I saw over and over was a lack of anchor and sustainability. That usually stems from lack of power and strength and will likely improve over time. His second half was worse than the first and he allowed 3 total pressures and was flagged for a false start. It wasn’t a good game-grade but for a first timer who was drafted in the 5th round, there were enough positives.
-Nick Gates and Kevin Zeitler each did a nice job inside. They were both called for holding penalties that I thought were poor calls and they both allowed 1 pressure. For a defense that was sending the house as much as you will ever see in a game, I thought these two did a nice job of adjusting and handing off defenders. Not an easy thing to do. Gates continues to be the bright spot of the offensive line. I am leaning towards him being a credible long-term answer whether he stays at center or moves to guard.
-Kyler Fackrell and the newly-signed Jabaal Sheard were completely neutralized by the TB tackles. They combined for 1 tackle and neither recorded a pressure. Ouch. The lack of true, dependable edge talent is such a vital missing piece on this defense.
-Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin both only saw 4 snaps. Coughlin recorded a sack and Brown was right there as well on the same play. I understand these guys need to earn their playing time and they want to bring them along slowly, but I really need to see these guys get more snaps after the bye week. We don’t need to see Sheard playing half of the snaps.
-Really impressive performances by Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson. Williams had 4 tackles and a sack on a key 3rd down stop. He also added 2 more pressures and a QB hit. Tomlinson was such a weapon against the TB rushing attack that saw their running backs gain just over 3 yards per carry. He had 3 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 pressure, and a QB hit. His 3rd-and-1 stop in the fourth quarter was huge. Tomlinson also tipped the pass that caused Ronald Jones to somewhat mis-catch a ball that eventually led to an easy forced fumble by Blake Martinez. That was an overlooked portion of that key play.
-B.J. Hill and Dexter Lawrence did a lot of dirty work and also combined for 7 tackles. Neither made an impact against the pass.
-Really solid game by Mr. Automatic. He had 9 tackles, 1 pressure, 1 TFL, and a forced fumble. Rarely fooled, always near the action, and a solid finisher. Really solid player and one of the top free agent signings across the league.
-David Mayo has officially taken over the second ILB role. He played 50% of the snaps while Devante Downs played 20%. They combined for 4 tackles and neither were challenged much in the passing game.
-James Bradberry has been Mike Evans’ kryptonite. He has been facing him twice per year dating back to his days in Carolina, and this one wasn’t much different. Evans did end up with 5 catches and a touchdown though (first TD catch vs Bradberry since 2016) and Bradberry was flagged for 2 pass interference penalties.
-Isaac Yiadom got another shot at being the number 2 corner on this defense and he put in a solid performance. He had 8 tackles and a pass break up. He was called for a key personal foul which was also a poor call by the refs. He allowed two 3rd-down catches but this was the best we have seen out of him this year.
-Darnay Holmes had 4 tackles and a fumble recovery. I like the way he is moving right now as he just seems to understand the schemes on both sides of the ball. Brady was looking in his direction on the first sack and I think that was a key part of the Williams’ take down.
–Outstanding game by Jabrill Peppers. He was flying all over the place and making his presence known. He led the team with 10 tackles and he had 2 nice pass break ups, one of which was on 3rd down. They did take him off of the field on specific passing situations, which I am fine with. This defense does a nice job of rotating guys in and out and when you can hide Peppers’ issues, his standout plays simply mean more. Really good effort by him in this one.
-Logan Ryan saw almost all of his snaps at safety as Julian Love continues to see his playing time go up and down. Ryan had 3 tackles and 2 misses while Love added 2 tackles of his own. Both did well defending the deep routes.
-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 33)
-P Riley Dixon: 4 punts / 36.0 avg / 36.0 net
-Dion Lewis and Jabrill Peppers both had nice returns to improve NYG’s field position. Lewis had a 44 yarder on the opening kick of the second half.
-S Jabrill Peppers, RB Wayne Gallman, DT Dalvin Tomlinson
-QB Daniel Jones, OT Cameron Fleming, Kyler Fackrell
3 THOUGHTS ON TB
- Prior to the season, I picked TB to win the NFC and we are pretty much at the halfway point now. I still feel the same way, they have so much going for them. Their young talent from the previous few drafts is really developing, their high-priced veterans are healthy and delivering, and they have the QB. I think they are going to win this conference.
- How different is this Bucs team from a year ago? Not that much, to be honest. In 2019 they had the best run defense in the NFL but their pass defense was young and shaky. However they had a decent enough pass rush to somewhat make up for it. In 2020, they still have the number one run defense but their young secondary is improving. In 2019, the offense ranked 3rd in the NFL and in 2020 they actually rank 10th. The biggest difference? Their QB isn’t leading the league in turnovers. That can easily be worth 8-9 games in a season. Yes, that much.
- You are going to hear Byron Leftwich’s name in the coming years as a hot Head Coach candidate. I’m not going to act like I know whether or not he can be successful in that role but please do not use the 2020 Bucs offensive success as a reason. One, it is mostly Arians when it comes to the coaching. Two, Adam Gase was a hot head coaching name after he worked with Peyton Manning. This is all about the QB and maybe some Bruce Arians. Don’t make the mistake of putting this success on Leftwich’s trophy mantle.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- Last week I spoke about Evan Engram not being dependable week to week when it comes to catching the ball. He is uber-talented and he can be a huge difference maker in this league. However, I don’t want a key part of my receiving arsenal to have issues catching the ball. I feel the same way about a quarterback and turnovers. You can look great here and look great there. You can throw dimes weekly, you can make plays with your legs. However, if you turn the ball over a lot (AKA lead the league), I want nothing to do with you. There are 8 games left for Jones to prove himself, or at least I (not important I know) will go into the 2021 pre-Draft process looking for the next QB.
- The Giants pass rush has been improving steadily. The most impressive part? They don’t have a lot of quality pass rushers. Leonard Williams is good from the interior and Dalvin Tomlinson can beat one-on-one blocking. However, they haven’t had anyone on the outside worth a second look especially since Lorenzo Carter went down. That in mind, they rank top 10 in sack percentage and pressure percentage. How? Patrick Graham is scheming creative packages both with and without blitzing. This coaching staff has been impressive on multiple levels but I think this is the most notable improvement. If they get their hands on a pure edge guy or two, watch out.
- The Giants have the Redskins and Eagles coming up before their bye week. If you are a “there is still a chance”-type fan, these 2 games are vital. Not one of them, but both. The division looks like it belongs to the Eagles but I’ve seen all but one of their games this year and there is no doubt in my mind they could end up with 7 or less wins. They are broken on a couple levels but Carson Wentz looks like he is morphing into Sam Darnold right now. If he doesn’t get better, that team could lose over and over and over. NYG’s most recent three losses are by a combined 6 points. They are right there, they are competitive. If the QB picks it up, they can make things interesting still.