Trace McSorley had a chance to play both hero and spoiler in his first career NFL start, helping the Cardinals take the NFC South-leading Buccaneers to overtime in the final game of the league’s Christmas Day tripleheader. In the end, however, the quarterback’s elder counterpart, Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, got the best of the matchup. Sunday night’s showdown was far from Brady’s prettiest game; in fact, for a while, it might’ve been his most uninspiring of the year. Afforded a late opportunity to come back from a 10-point deficit, TB12 delivered in crunch time, setting up a walk-off field goal from Ryan Succop for a 19-16 win.
Here are some takeaways from Sunday night’s Buccaneers win:
Why the Buccaneers won
It’s not because they figured it all out, that’s for sure. For much of Sunday night, Tom Brady looked as listless as he’s been all season, Leonard Fournette struggled to find open lanes on the ground and only Ryan Succop appeared capable of executing consistently. But then Arizona had to putz around down the stretch, and Brady seized the chance to dial it up in the waning minutes, leaning on Fournette, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage to score 13 unanswered. If one thing worked throughout the night, it was Todd Bowles’ defense, which hit Trace McSorley seven times and logged five tackles for loss, especially stepping up if/when the Cardinals advanced the ball into enemy territory.
Why the Cardinals lost
With or without Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy, they cannot consistently move the ball. Arizona’s defense actually played quite well, with J.J. Watt offering persistent pressure in Tom Brady’s face and Marco Wilson nabbing not one but two deep-ball picks of TB12. But for all of McSorley’s gunslinging efforts — and the veteran backup did have a couple of pretty downfield shots, including one to Marquise Brown — Arizona just never sustained rhythm through the air. James Conner and Greg Dortch made the most of every touch, but others, like DeAndre Hopkins, were basically invisible. The “D,” meanwhile, appeared to be playing catch-up in the final minutes of action, perhaps finally worn down by Tampa Bay winning the time-of-possession battle.
Third-and-9 for the Cardinals at their own 36-yard line on the first possession of OT. McSorley had already connected with Marquise Brown for a precise third-down strike earlier in the drive. Here, however, he couldn’t connect with DeAndre Hopkins on a tight-window throw to the left sideline, and officials didn’t buy Hopkins’ plea for pass interference. At that moment, with the ball going back to Brady and the next score guaranteed to win the game, it was clear Tampa Bay was poised for yet another ugly but victorious comeback.
Play of the game
It wasn’t a “good” play, necessarily, but it was huge for the Bucs: McSorley’s quick pitch to Keontay Ingram resulted in a fumble that ended up giving Tampa Bay a bonus possession and allowing the visiting team to knot things up at 16-16 late. It also just epitomizes the ugly nature of the entire back-and-forth, which included 11 penalties and five turnovers.
The Buccaneers (7-8) will return home for a Week 17 New Year’s Day rematch with the rival Panthers (6-9), who upset the Lions on Saturday. The Cardinals (4-11), meanwhile, will hit the road to take on the Falcons (5-10), who fell to the Ravens this weekend and are now eliminated from playoff contention.