I don’t know how many points you have to be up on Eli Manning going into the fourth quarter to feel comfortable, but it sure as heck is more than 11, which was the margin for the Bucs, up 27-16 after three.
Watching the game, you always had the sense that Tampa’s defense was living on borrowed time. They had picked off Manning three times—including a pick-six by Eric Wright just before half on a fabulous return—but had done so without the aid of any pass rush whatsoever.
Moreover, when the Giants settled for field goals in four previous red-zone trips, and you had to think they’d solve that puzzle (or that the percentages would simply catch up for the Buccaneers defense) eventually.
Really, Manning simply discovered the solution to the red zone woes was to score from far out, which he did on an 80-yard bomb to Victor Cruz and a 33-yard go-ahead score to Martellus Bennett.
The Bucs allowed one touchdown from the red zone on purpose because they were trying to get the ball back instead of letting the Giants drain the clock and kick the game-winning chip shot at the gun.
In retrospect, Ahmad Bradshaw’s neck injury hurt Tampa Bay more than the Giants. It just put the ball in Manning’s hands and allowed him ample chances to target Cruz and Hakeem Nicks against Tampa Bay’s overmatched secondary. The wideouts became the first pair of teammates to each have at least 10 receptions and 175 yards in the same game in NFL history, and Manning threw to them on 32 of his 51 attempts.
Nicks finished with 10 grabs for 199 yards and a score, while Cruz had 11 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown. Manning had a career high 510 yards to go with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
The only Giant who should be smarting from the game is rookie David Wilson, a late first-round pick who didn’t get much playing time despite Bradshaw’s early exit. Andre Brown, who has passed up Wilson on the depth chart, averaged 5.5 yards on 13 carries and eventually scored the game-winning touchdown.
There isn’t much for coach Tom Coughlin to be upset with his team about, even if 34 points allowed sounds like a lot. His defense only allowed Josh Freeman to complete 15-of-28 passes (with two interceptions) and put heavy pressure on him throughout. New York also held the Bucs to just 3.6 yards per carry.
Tampa Bay’s offense had a lot short fields to work with in the first half due to Manning’s interceptions, and two of their touchdowns came on lobs to gigantic receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, over smaller Giants corners. New York’s secondary is so beat up that these things will happen.
In a way, Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano is fortunate that the media has the end of game kneel-down controversy to latch on to, because it will throw a lot of people off the scent of the real story, that his young team blew a two-score lead late in the game and the chance to be 2-0.
Schiano’s hard-hitting defense looked plenty capable against Carolina the week before, but remember that secondary gave up a long score in that game as well. By hook or by crook, the Bucs have to find a way to generate a pass rush, or they’ll just be headed for another 6-10 type of season, passed by—literally—all the high-powered passing teams in the NFC.