The Vikings defense spent just 21 minutes on the field Sunday.
But allowing big plays from midfield, getting flagged for costly penalties – some of them controversial – and not getting enough pressure on Tom Brady outweighed fresh legs and a handful of big plays.
Tampa Bay took advantage of Minnesota's mistakes and multiple missed kicks, prevailing 26-14.
The Vikings were stout against the run through the first two quarters, allowing just 33 yards on the ground. They also forced Tampa Bay to punt on its first two possessions.
On the Bucs third drive of the day, though, Minnesota gave up a 20-yard completion to Mike Evans right off the bat; three plays later, Brady connected with Scotty Miller for a 48-yard touchdown.
"We made some mistakes today that didn't allow us to win the football game," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "Our guys played hard, they fought back, [but we] put ourselves in a couple positions right before halftime that kind of changed the complexion of the game – the 50-yard pass for the first touchdown."
Zimmer later said that the score occurred because "a couple guys weren't in the right place."
Minnesota's defense accounted for three of the team's five penalties, and all three of those occurred inside the final minute-and-a-half of the second quarter.
The first was called on a third-and-6 play on which Bucs running back LeSean McCoy was stopped short of the chains. The official flagged Vikings safety Harrison Smith for lowering the head to initiate contact.
"I just heard he hit him with his shoulder. What I saw was, [McCoy] caught the ball, everybody's trying to get to the first-down marker," Zimmer said. "[McCoy] is stumbling and falling to the ground, and we're trying to stop him before he gets there. So that's what I saw."
The penalty set Tampa Bay up with first-and-goal. On second-and-goal from the 7, Vikings rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney intercepted Brady, and it appeared for a split second that Minnesota had regained momentum.
A flash of yellow un-did the takeaway, though, as the refs called Gladney for defensive pass interference. The Bucs scored on the next play with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones II.
"I saw a clean play, pick, going to the house with it," Gladney said. "My first one. Was ready for it. Needed it."
Minnesota punted on its next possession, and Tampa Bay tried to make something happen with 21 seconds to go. From the Vikings 47-yard line with just 0:01 on the clock, Brady threw up a Hail Mary.
In the mass of bodies expected on such a play, Vikings linebacker Todd Davis was flagged for pass interference against tight end Rob Gronkowski. Being that time cannot run out on a penalty, the Bucs were given an additional play from the 1 and kicked an 18-yard field goal to go up 17-6.
"I think those two calls were big factors in changing the [course of the game]," Zimmer said.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Added Gladney: "They were big plays in the game and changed things. [But] things like that are going to happen in a game. We control what we can control. Just have to play through it."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins took some responsibility for the offense's shortest drive of the day that ate up just 23 seconds and put the ball back in Brady's hands.
"That's another one of those possessions that you feel had a big impact on the outcome of the game. You see yourself with an opportunity there to at least get into field goal range and maybe go down and score a touchdown," Cousins said. "Not only did we not get points, we didn't run the clock. That's where taking a sack there might actually be helpful because it forces them to take a time out or we run clock. We throw an incompletion and it stops the clock for them.
"All those situational pieces ended up having a big impact on the game," he added.
Minnesota knew heading into Sunday's game that it would be tough to take down Brady who, at 43 years old, gets the ball out quickly.
The defensive line has been playing well as a unit as of late but didn't get good pressure on Brady, who stayed upright in the pocket all day. Out of just three quarterback hits credited to Minnesota, only one was by a lineman (Armon Watts). Gladney and linebacker Eric Wilson accounted for the other two instances of contact.
The Bucs, meanwhile, sacked Cousins six times and racked up 12 QB hits.
Brady finished the day 15-of-23 passing for 196 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 120.9. In addition to the 48-yard score and 20-yard completion early in the game, he also found Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for 16-yard plays from midfield in the second quarter. Brady connected with Evans for a 29-yard gain to set up a third-quarter touchdown.
Although the run game didn't see much success in the first half, Tampa Bay stuck with it and saw it pay off. The Bucs recorded 74 rushing yards in the second half, including a pair of 14-yard runs by Jones, who led the team with 80 yards on 18 carries. McCoy, who entered the game with six carries for a net loss of a yard, added four rushes for 32 yards.
The Vikings loss, coupled with a Cardinals win over the Giants, pushed Minnesota out of the No. 7 seed of the NFC playoffs and turned up the heat for the final three games of the regular season.
"There was still a lot of good from the game. We can play with anybody," Gladney said. "[But] it comes down to four or five plays a game that, if we make, we can change the game. We just have to keep attacking."
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