TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t end the NFL’s second-longest playoff drought, they can only blame themselves.
The Bucs (8-5) bolstered their chances of their first postseason berth in 13 years with Sunday’s 26-14 victory over Minnesota. The Vikings (6-7) remain in contention, too, despite another poor performance by kicker Dan Bailey.
“We control our destiny. … That’s all we’ve wanted, to be able to set ourselves up to be playing football in January,” Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett said, “and we’re in that position right now.”
Tampa Bay hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and doesn’t have a postseason win since their Super Bowl run 18 years ago. It entered Sunday coming off a bye and holding the sixth playoff spot in the NFC, with the Vikings nipping at their heels after winning five of six following a 1-5 start.
“It was huge. We had to do this,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It was a big game for us.”
Tom Brady threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns, rebounding from losing three home games against division title contenders in a four-week span.
“It was a good win. We’re obviously going to need to just keep making progress,” said Brady, who was 15 of 23 with no turnovers before a socially distanced crowd of 16,031 that included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who wore a mask while taking in portions of the game from the stands and a suite at Raymond James Stadium.
Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook rushed for 102 yards against the league’s No. 1-ranked rushing defense, and the Vikings had the ball nearly twice as long. The Bucs, however, made the most of their opportunities with a balanced attack.
“I was asked early this week about our identity … I think we just showed it,” Arians said. “We can do any damn thing we want to do.”
Brady improved to 15-4 in 19 regular-season starts following a bye, tossing TD passes of 48 yards to Scotty Miller and 2 yards to Rob Gronkowski. Ronald Jones had a 1-yard touchdown run and Ryan Succop kicked field goals of 18 and 46 yards.
The defense sacked Kirk Cousins six times, the last producing a fumble that ended any chance of a rally. Cousins finished 24 of 37 for 225 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Minnesota’s chances were undermined by Bailey who missed an extra point and field goals of 36, 54 and 46 yards.
Bailey nearly cost the Vikings the previous week, too, missing two extra points and a potential winning kick before nailing a field goal in overtime to beat Jacksonville.
“I don’t know what the struggles were. He missed one to the left and pushed three to the right,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, adding he’s yet to make a decision on any changes.
“I am really disappointed. I have a lot of faith and confidence in him, but the last two weeks haven’t been good,” Zimmer added. “I love the kid…but I don’t know.”
Cousins said the loss wasn’t on Bailey.
“We win as a team, we lose as a team. This league will test you no matter what position you play,” the Vikings quarterback said. “It was one day. Not one season or a career. You don’t ever want to make a bigger deal out of one day than it needs to be.”
Slow starts hindered the Bucs in those losses to the Rams and Chiefs in consecutive home games leading into a bye. This time, Brady shrugged off a scoreless opening quarter with help from Bailey and a trio of costly of penalties on the Vikings’ defense. Minnesota was flagged for pass interference in the end zone twice to set up Jones’ touchdown run and Succop’s 18-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Brady launched two of Tampa Bay’s three first-half scoring drives after missed field goal attempts. The third featured a desperation throw intended for Gronkowski on what would have been the last play of the half. A pass interference call on linebacker Todd Davis gave Tampa a chance to tack on the field goal that made it 17-6 at the break.
Gronkowski’s TD increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 23-6. Cousins trimmed Minnesota’s deficit to nine by hitting Irv Smith Jr., and a 2-point conversion throw to Justin Jefferson.
Cousins was one of the league’s hottest quarterbacks, having thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in three consecutive games. The streak ended in Tampa.
Vikings: Tight end Kyle Rudolph was inactive with a foot injury, ending a streak of appearing in 93 consecutive regular-season games that began in 2014. … Linebacker Eric Kendricks (calf) missed his second straight game, replaced by Todd Davis. … Tackle Brian O’Neill (eye) left in the third quarter. … Cornerback Kris Boyd (shoulder) left in the second half and didn’t return.
Buccaneers: CB Jamel Dean (groin) was inactive. The Buccaneers didn’t announce any injuries during the game.
Vikings: return home to host Chicago next Sunday.
Buccaneers: travel to Atlanta for the first of two meetings with the NFC South-rival Falcons over final three weeks of the season.
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