It wasn’t pretty, but it was already a given the NFC South would be won ugly.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied back from a 16-6 deficit and rough performance by Tom Brady to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 19-16, capping off the NFL’s Christmas Day slate with a win that puts them in prime position to take the league’s most moribund division.
The Buccaneers entered the game with a significant advantage considering the Cardinals were starting career back-up quarterback Trace McSorleybut that didn’t stop their own offense from struggling for most of the game. Brady finished 32-of-48 for 281 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while the running game averaged 3.8 yards per rush.
Some plays were especially rough.
But then Brady did what he has done so often since the turn of the century. Entering the fourth quarter down 10 points, Brady led the Bucs to their first touchdown drive, then took advantage of a fumble by McSorley to score the game-tying field goal.
Both teams had a chance to win the game in regulation, but their final drives each went nowhere. In overtime, the Tampa Bay defense held firm on Arizona’s initial possession, then Brady completed six straight passes to get his team in field goal range.
Ryan Succop drilled the 40-yard game-winner down the middle.
McSorley, playing for the injured Kyler Murraystruggled even more than Brady. He finished 24-of-45 for 217 yards and an interception, with nearly a quarter of his yards coming via great 47-yard catch by Marquise Brown.
The loss pushes the Cardinals down to 4-11, and at this point, the team is just counting out the weeks until the end of the season and possibly looking into an organizational overhaul.
Buccaneers can clinch NFC South next week
The NFC South is truly putrid this year, but the Buccaneers have been the least putrid.
At 7-8, Tampa Bay is one game ahead of the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints for the division lead. They hold the tiebreaker over the Saints thanks to their two wins earlier this season, so all they have to do to clinch the division next week is beat the Panthers at home.
Should the Buccaneers lose, however, the Bucs will need some help from the New Orleans Saints and to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Week 18.