Tom Brady, Bucs come back in Arizona to keep lead in playoff race

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Playing in his first Christmas Day game, quarterback Tom Brady was able to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a comeback win on the road against the Arizona Cardinals when kicker Ryan Succop hit a 40-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Bucs to a 19-16 win.

The 45-year-old Brady was able to overcome a 16-6 deficit in the fourth quarter after taking advantage of a fumble by quarterback Trace McSorley (making his first career start) on third-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 42.

With 4:53 to go, Bucs defensive lineman William Gholston was able to pounce on the fumble with the Bucs trailing by three before Succop kicked a 42-yard tying field goal with 2:22 remaining.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After trailing the Cardinals by 10 in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (7-8) gritted out the come-from-behind overtime win to keep their playoff hopes alive in Week 16.

They now have a one-game lead over the Carolina Panthers (6-9), whom they face in Week 17, and the New Orleans Saints (6-9). A victory over Carolina would clinch the NFC South division and hand the Bucs a home game in the first round of the playoffs. Sunday’s win was Brady’s 13th overtime victory in 23 seasons and ties him with Drew Brees for most.

The defense held its own as well. Linebackers Devin White and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka each put three hits on McSorley, with Lavonte David finishing with 10 combined tackles and a pass breakup.

Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, putting together one of his best games, had two pass breakups working against DeAndre Hopkins, while cornerback Carlton Davis allowed just two catches on six targets for 16 receiving yards against Hopkins.

Hopkins, who had one catch on 10 targets, became just the third player over the past five seasons to have double-digit targets in a game and record one or fewer catches. Davis spent most of his night on Marquise Brown, who had three catches on six targets for 57 yards.

QB breakdown: Once again, the deep ball was missing on offense nearly the whole game — a problem compounded by the presence of JJ Watt and backup left tackle Josh Wells leaving the game because of a knee injury, meaning third-string tackle Brandon Walton was once again charged the task of protecting Brady’s blind side. Brady struggled all night. He was off-target nine times, and he threw two interceptions, marking the third straight game that he has done so. That streak is tied for the longest streak (Weeks 4-6 in 2002) in his career. There was also a missed throw to Julio Jones in the end zone that was completely out of reach on the opening drive, forcing the Bucs to settle for a 38-yard field goal.

Brady atoned for his mistakes on the winning drive — including a play on which he pump faked to manipulate the defense before heaving a 23-yard pass on a back-breaking catch by Russell Gage and connecting with Mike Evans for a 16-yard pass on the right sideline. In the first three quarters, Brady completed 15 of 25 passes for 112 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Brady went 17-of-23 for 169 yards and a touchdown.

Short-yardage and playcalling struggles continue: On the Bucs’ second possession, after a 14-yard gain by running back Leonard Fournette on first-and-15, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich called four straight run plays — twice up the middle for no gain before a loss of 1 off the right tackle on fourth-and-1. Why they went for the same play was baffling. So was the Bucs’ decision not to turn to no huddle anymore. Running back Rachaad White’s touchdown with 8:03 left was just the third drive the Bucs had attempted a no-huddle offense at that point.

Turning point: With the Bucs down 10 in the fourth quarter, Fournette caught a screen pass and ran it 44 yards to set up Brady’s pass to White in the flat for a 3-yard touchdown. It was the longest play the Bucs had all game and ignited both sides of the ball.

Eye-popping NFL Next Gen Stat: Brady now has seven interceptions when targeting Evans, the most by any quarterback-receiver duo this year, after being intercepted twice on such plays Sunday. Five of Brady’s interceptions targeting Evans have come over the past three games.

Not as explosive: The Bucs have only 78 explosive plays — run plays of 12 or more yards and pass plays of 16-plus yards — this season, which ranks last in the league. They were fourth last season with 136 and had 119 through Week 16. Brady has hit only 62 pass plays of 16 or more yards. This time last year, he was 92.

Under-the-radar stat that matters: Tom Brady did not complete a pass thrown more than 5 yards downfield in the first half for the first time since Week 17 of 2016 against Miami. — Jenna Laine

Next game: vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Arizona Cardinals

There would be no Christmas miracle for the Cardinals (4-11), but it wasn’t because they didn’t put up a fight.

Arizona turned in one of its more impressive defensive performances against the Bucs, but the offense couldn’t muster enough points.

The Cardinals received the opening kick of overtime and ate up 7:10 off the clock but couldn’t get past their own 36-yard line. After punting to the Bucs, Brady led Tampa Bay 66 yards to the Cardinals’ 22 before Succop hit the game winner.

Neither team could take advantage of late-game possessions to take the lead for good in regulation.

Arizona had the ball twice in the final three minutes, while the Bucs had it once. The results? Two punts and an interception on a Hail Mary on the last play of regulation.

There were plenty of times when McSorley looked like he was starting his first game despite being in the NFL for four seasons.

He had overthrows and wide throws, making it difficult for the offense to make plays. However, late in the third quarter, McSorley threw a beautiful 47-yard bomb to Marquise Brown that marked his best pass of the day.

McSorley finished with 217 yards and an interception on 24 of 45 passing. His favorite receiver was Greg Dortch, who had 10 catches on 11 targets for 98 yards.

Both teams combined for five field goals before running back James Conner — who had 79 yards on 15 carries — broke free for a 22-yard touchdown run with 10:53 left in the game.

Describe the game in two words: Offensive lull. Neither offense could muster much that could get them in the end zone until the fourth quarter, leading to both teams combining for five field goals before James Conner’s 22-yard touchdown run.

Buy on a breakout performance: Cornerback Marco Wilson had two interceptions in a game for the first time in his career. He also became the second player to pick off Tom Brady in a game since Brady joined the Buccaneers in 2020, joining safety Jordan Fuller, who did it in 2020.

Promising trends: Defensive end JJ Watt’s continued success has been impressive this late in a forgettable season. He has had his two best games tackle wise the past two weeks and has had 12 quarterback hits in his past six games.

Under the radar stat that matters: DeAndre Hopkins was able to extend the longest active streak in the NFL of recording at least one catch in a game with a 4-yard catch (his only of the night) midway through the fourth quarter. The streak of 145 is the fourth longest to start a career. — Josh Weinfuss

Next game: at Atlanta Falcons (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET)

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