EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In the first 44 years of their existence, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with only 13 winning records and participated in the NFL playoffs 10 times. They lost 16 of 23 games to the Giants, including one that began the latter's epic 2007 postseason run.
But the Bucs team the Giants will host Monday night in MetLife Stadium bears little resemblance to their forerunners – or even to the squad the Giants defeated each of the last two seasons.
Tampa Bay leads the NFC South with a 5-2 record. The Bucs have won five of their last six games, including 38-10 and 45-20 defeats the previous two weeks of Green Bay and Las Vegas, the first time in their history they won back-to-back games by 25 points or more. Since the start of the 2019 season, New England and Baltimore last year are the only other teams to accomplish that feat. Tampa Bay leads the NFL with a plus-80 point differential.
"This is an explosive team really in all three phases of the ball that you have to account for," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "I think coach (Bruce) Arians has done a phenomenal job of bringing in a staff with a lot of continuity, guys that have played for him, guys that have worked for him in the past. It was easy for him to get a quick jump in this program. He's added a lot of dynamic players since he's been there, and he's really gotten these guys rolling this year."
The Bucs are winning with dominant play on both sides of the ball. Their defense is ranked third in yards allowed per game (291.3) and first per play (4.8). Tampa Bay has allowed an NFL-low 66.0 rushing yards a game and 3.0 yards a carry and held the Packers' Aaron Jones to 15 yards on 10 carries and the Raiders' Josh Jacobs to 17 yards on 10 attempts.
The defense is strong from front to back, even with the loss of run-stuffing tackle Vita Vea to a season-ending ankle injury. The Bucs still have Ndamukong Suh and traded with the Jets for veteran Steve McClendon. David Bush and Lavonte David are superb inside linebackers who have combined for 116 tackles. Jason Pierre-Paul leads the team with 5.5 sacks, Bush has 4.0 (3.0 last week) and Shaquil Barrett has 3.0, or one less than he had vs. the Giants last season. Carlton Davis is among the NFL's top cornerbacks and Jordan Whitehead and rookie Antoine Winfield are a terrific safety tandem.
"This defense is really, really good," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "They're stout - great against the run, great affecting the quarterback, great taking the ball away. The way they play leaps off the tape. (Coordinator) Todd Bowles does a heck of a job putting these guys in position to have success. It starts up front. They have really good down guys. Fast, aggressive, playmaking linebackers. They're good in the backend. It all works together. They pressure you a lot of different ways. They win one on one matchups, really across their defense. As rushers, defeating blocks in the run game, making plays in the pass game. There really are not many holes in this defense."
"They have a lot of good players across the board," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "Their scheme and what they're doing from a strategy perspective or a scheme perspective is good, too. But we'll be prepared for it."
The defense must be good if we've gone this far without mentioning that the Buccaneers employ Tom Brady, a six-time Super Bowl winner and arguably the greatest quarterback in history. Brady is playing superbly at age 43. In his first two games with the Bucs, he had three touchdowns and three interceptions. In the five games since, Brady has 15 touchdowns and one interception. Brady has done that over a five-game stretch in just two other seasons in his career, in 2007 and 2010, both years in which he was named NFL MVP.
The difference in the histories of Brady and the Buccaneers is perhaps best exemplified by this: last week, Brady was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. It was an NFL-record11th time he has won such an award. But it was the first time a Buccaneers was named an Offensive Player of the Month in the franchise's 45-year history.
Last week against the Raiders, Brady matched his season high with 369 yards, threw for four touchdowns and had no interceptions – his sixth career game (and first since 2014) with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and no sacks. It's just the second time ever a Bucs quarterback has thrown for 350-plus yards and at least four touchdowns without any interceptions (joining Ryan Fitzpatrick in the 2018 opener vs. New Orleans). Brady has done it 11 times in his career, matching Drew Brees for the most ever.
"Tom is getting rid of the ball pretty quickly, making the right decisions," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said.
He has a talented and deep supporting cast. The line has kept him safe and clean; last week, Brady took just one official hit and the sack-less game kept his season total at eight.
When running back Leonard Fournette missed most of a three-game stretch, third-year pro Ronald Jones stepped in and rushed for more than 100 yards in each of them. The Bucs boast marquee receivers like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (who won't play tomorrow after undergoing finger surgery), but Scotty Miller - a sixth-round draft choice last year from Bowling Green - leads the team with 365 receiving yards. Tight end O.J. Howard suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, but the Bucs have plenty of depth at the position with Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski. Brady and Gronk last week hooked up for their 92nd touchdown pass (including playoffs). That tied them with the Pro Football Hall of Fame combination from San Francisco of Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the second-most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver pairing in NFL history. Only Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, another Hall of Famer, have more (114).
"These guys are very, very talented, but they're very explosive, and I think that's a thing you have to remember," Judge said. "At all of their positions, whether it's the receiver, the tight end or running back, they're all dangerous receivers. The way they're running the ball right now downhill at teams, they're making a lot of plays. It's really setting up their play action game, which really leads to a lot of their shots. They really complement themselves on offense nicely based on how they set up the play actions with the run game. Then how they're able to just sit back and execute on third down situations and the red area, with Tom hitting his back foot, stepping up and making the throw on time, and those receivers are really playing well for them."
The Giants' last three games against NFC East rivals Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia were decided by a total of five points. Now they face one of the league's elite teams in a prime time. Judge is confident his team will respond favorably to the challenge.
"I've seen a lot of progress with our team all throughout the season," Judge said. "I've said many times, we just need to keep harping on the fundamentals and eliminate the mistakes that kind of hold us back. But I've seen our guys play through a lot of adversity. We've played in different situations on the road, on short weeks, coming off west coast trips. I've seen them respond to a lot of adversity going through, and I haven't seen them blink. That's really a positive sign with what we're building moving forward."
*The Giants and Buccaneers will meet for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in six seasons. The last three games between the teams were decided by a total of six points. On Sept. 22, 2019, the Giants edged the Bucs in Raymond James Stadium, 32-31. In his first career start, Daniel Jones threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores, including the seven-yard game-winner with 1:16 remaining in the game. The previous Nov. 18 in MetLife Stadium, the Giants held a 17-point third-quarter lead before holding on for a 38-35 victory. And on Oct. 1, 2017, in Tampa, Nick Folk kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bucs a 25-23 victory. The Giants lead the regular-season series, 15-7, and won the teams' only postseason game.
*The Giants are 25-42-1 on Monday nights, including 9-12 at home. They lost their season opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers in MetLife, 26-16. This is the first time the Giants are hosting two Monday night games in the same season in the 51-year history of Monday Night Football.
*The Bucs are 11-11 on Monday night.
*One more Brady note. He will make his 25th career appearance on Monday Night Football. He has thrown 49 touchdown passes on Monday nights and can join Hall of Famers Dan Marino (74), and Brett Favre (69), as well as New Orleans' Drew Brees (58), as the only players with 50 touchdown passes on Monday Night Football.
*On Sunday, the Giants added CB Ryan Lewis to the injury report. Lewis is listed as doubtful to play tomorrow night because of a hamstring injury.
*The "Bud Light Giants Gameday" radio pregame show will begin at 6:45 p.m. on WFAN 660 AM/101.9 FM and will stream live on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and "Giants TV" streaming app.
"Giants Postgame Live" presented by Mercedes-Benz can be heard immediately after the game - also on WFAN 660 AM/101.9 FM and streaming on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and "Giants TV" streaming app.