GLENDALE, Arizona — Tom Brady and the Bucs were trailing by 10 points to Arizona in the fourth quarter of a game they needed to win to keep control of the NFC South.
In other words, they had the Cardinals right where they wanted them.
Brady is the king of comebacks and he proved it again Christmas night, going 6-for-6 passing for 69 yards in overtime to set up Ryan Succop’s game-winning 40-yard field goal to win 19-16.
“I think we’re all comfortable in those situations,” said Brady, who posted his 45th career comeback victory in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Bucs, who could have faced an elimination game next Sunday against Carolina.
Instead, the task is simple: Win and they’re in.
A victory over the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium will give the Bucs the division title.
“It always means something when you’re playing for something at the end of the year,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “You always want to be playing good December football. You want to play meaningful games. Next week they need it and we need it, so it’s going to be a good battle.”
The Bucs, who trailed 16-6 in the fourth quarter Sunday, got a huge game from running back Leonard Fournette, who got things going late with a 44-yard catch and run on a screen pass from Brady. The Bucs quarterback, who finished with 281 yards, went 6 of 7 passing for 67 yards on that drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to rookie Rachaad White.
The Cardinals then lost a fumble on an option pitch when Bucs defensive lineman William Gholston pounced on the loose football. That set up the third of Succop’s four field goals Sunday to tie the score at 16 with 2:27 remaining.
Brady went just 12 for 20 for 87 yards in the first half with many of those completions check-downs to Fournette. The Bucs running back finished with 72 yards rushing and had nine receptions for 90 yards.
But as he has done several times this season and most recently against the Saints, Brady led the Bucs to another comeback win.
“That’s just who he is,” Fournette said. ”He’s been doing it for years. Guys like myself, Julio (Jones), Rachaad (White) everybody, man, we’re just playing a part in his greatness and just giving him what he wants. If he wants a certain route run a certain way, the depth, blocking-wise, we’re just here to make his job easy.”
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The Bucs offense struggled in the first half, with the first of Brady’s interceptions winding up in the hands of Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson, but it didn’t cost the Bucs. Wilson’s second pick with 3:14 to play in the third quarter, however, did.
Trace McSorley, who was making his first NFL start with Kyler Murray out for the season with a torn ACL and backup Colt McCoy out with a concussion, launched a 47-yard pass to Marquise Brown on the Cardinals’ next drive. That set up the third field goal by Matt Prater, who made it 9-6 in favor of Arizona.
“Tougher than it should’ve been and tougher than we wanted,” Brady said.
A 28-yard punt return by Pharoh Cooper set the Cardinals up at the Bucs’ 33-yard line. A few plays later, James Connor broke free around left tackle for a 22-yard touchdown run. That gave the Cardinals a 16-6 lead.
The Cardinals won the coin toss in overtime but could muster only one first down with their first possession behind McSorely.
“I think it was a total effort in the second half, especially the fourth quarter,” Bowles said. “The defense getting stops and the offense cashing in with timely plays. It seems like we play better in the fourth quarter. If we could transfer that to the other three, we could be pretty consistent. But it was a hard-fought win and we needed it. We got it.”
Brady spread the credit like he distributed the football, singling out Fournette.
“Awesome job. Awesome job,” Brady said. “(Fournette) ran really hard. He was on a mission. He ran through tackles, caught the ball well. Pass protected well. This team has a lot of resilience. We fight hard. 7-8, that’s not where we want to be. But we’ve got a chance to win a championship game next week.”
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