One week after the agony of a last-second loss, the Vikings experienced the ecstasy of a win snatched on the final play of the game.
A fumble recovery that was returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Vikings rookie linebacker Anthony Barr gave Minnesota a dramatic 19-13 victory — the Vikings first ever at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium — and helped the Vikings recover from a one-point loss at Buffalo the prior week.
"It was a great finish today," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "Sometimes, when your team plays as good as we did last week and didn't come away with it, it's important for us to be able to finish."
Barr tugged at the ball after Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a short pass from Mike Glennon on the first play of overtime. Harrison Smith added a hit from the other side of Seferian-Jenkins to finish the dislodgement. Barr scooped it up and showed his wheels on a race to the end zone.
"I was basically (man-to-man coverage) on the tight end," Barr said. "He broke out and I was a little late to get there, but I was able to get my hand on the ball and strip it and fortunate enough to pick it up and score. It was just out. I saw the ball out so it was an opportunity and I had to seize it. Fortunately it worked out."
Barr said he was thinking, "Win, score, let's get out of here" during his return.
Zimmer told players after the game that he set aside game balls to be sent to 8-year-old Alex Loehlein and his grandfather. Alex is courageously battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that is currently incurable, and attended a recent Vikings practice. He sent Zimmer a note of thanks and encouragement that Zimmer read to media to open his media session Friday.
In the note, Alex wrote: "Dear, Mr. Zimmer, thanks for letting me watch your practice last Saturday, it was fun. The players were nice and signed my Viking helmet. My grandpa said to expect good luck for you because you have used up all of your bad luck already."
Zimmer said, "I appreciate Alex," Friday and then said the Vikings need to make their own luck.
His team did so Sunday after the Buccaneers seized a 13-10 lead with 2:02 left in the game.
Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater orchestrated a drive that moved the ball 61 yards to allow Blair Walsh to kick a 38-yard field goal that tied the game as regulation expired. Bridgewater was 5-of-8 passing on the drive for 54 yards, showing poise in a pressure-packed situation.
"Today it was important that when they did score that touchdown, offensively, Teddy took them down and Blair hit the field goal," Zimmer said. "I told the offense, this is kind of what defines you, where when we get in situations like this, what are you going to do with it?"
Bridgewater said: "It was one of those deals where we had to go down and get some points some way somehow, and the guys in the huddle believe in each other. The coaches have reminded us it's going to take four quarters. Even though it went to overtime today, the guys continued to focus in and play for one another. On that last drive, guys just made big plays for this team."
Minnesota (3-5) called tails for the coin toss to open overtime, but it landed on heads, and Tampa Bay (1-6) opted to receive. Glennon found Seferian-Jenkins, who had put the Bucs ahead for the first time in the fourth quarter with a 7-yard TD catch, but Barr closed in on the fellow rookie to record his third fumble recovery in the past two weeks.
TEDDY "TWO MINUTE": Bridgewater finished the game 24-of-42 passing for 241 yards with a well-thrown 17-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. Bridgewater took what Tampa Bay's defense allowed, and more important, didn't let the Bucs take the ball away.
"It was just a great job of Greg winning a one-on-one matchup," Bridgewater said of his second TD pass in the NFL. "Coach Norv Turner just tells me to give our guys a chance. We have these guys to make plays for us. The offensive line did a great job of allowing me time to make that throw, and Greg did a great job of coming down with the catch."
Bridgewater did some of his best work during the "two minute" drills of each half. In addition to the game-tying drive, he also led the Vikings on a five-play, 38-yard drive in 59 seconds to set up a 46-yard field goal by Walsh on the final play of the first half. Bridgewater connected with tight end Chase Ford for gains of 19 and 11 and then Cordarrelle Patterson for a gain of 8 on consecutive plays, allowing enough time to spike the ball to stop the clock for Walsh. Patterson led the Vikings with 86 yards on six catches, and Ford added career highs of six catches for 61 yards.
It was the second come-from-behind victory led by Bridgewater, who improved to 2-2 as a starter with a performance that Zimmer classified as "up and down."
"He took good care of the ball, which we're asking him to do," Zimmer said. "He was only sacked one time. Those things are important too. We're definitely having a hard time scoring points. We've got to do a better job there. I think his composure was very good today. He took some shots down the field, which we have to be able to take some, and we missed them, but we keep telling him we'll hit some.
"The (touchdown) throw to Jennings was a great catch and an unbelievable throw," Zimmer added. "He had a guy in his face, and those are the kinds of throws he can make. We've just got to keep the pocket clean and he just has to keep making those throws."
DOWN TO DEFENSES: The late scoring efforts aside, both teams turned in solid defensive performances. Neither team had a play in the red zone until the TD pass to Jennings in the third quarter. Tampa Bay didn't move the ball inside the Minnesota 20 until the fourth quarter, and only had five offensive plays in Vikings territory in the first half.
The Vikings forced five straight three-and-outs during a stretch of seven straight forced punts from the first quarter into the third quarter. Minnesota limited Tampa Bay to 75 net yards through three quarters.
The Buccaneers defense, however, forced eight punts by Jeff Locke, whose day included a 59-yarder and three that were downed inside the Tampa Bay 20.
The Vikings allowed just 225 net yards, 15 first downs, and limited the Buccaneers to 1-for-12 on third downs, including 0-for-5 in the second half.
SACK DADDY: Everson Griffen was able to do his "Sack Daddy" dance after recording one of Minnesota's five sacks on the day. Griffen has recorded at least one sack in four straight games, and his eighth of this year matches a previous career high for a season.
Barr, Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison and Tom Johnson, who notched his fifth sack of the season, also dropped Glennon behind the line of scrimmage.
CAPTAIN INT: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn recorded his first interception as a Viking to end the Buccaneers first possession. Munnerlyn won a battle for the ball against Mike Evans on a deep heave by Glennon toward the Minnesota 15-yard line. It was the eighth career interception for Munnerlyn and second ever against the Bucs.
OFFENSIVE LINE LINEUP: John Sullivan returned to center a week after suffering a concussion. Joe Berger, who replaced Sullivan at Buffalo, became the third player to start at right guard for the Vikings this season because of injuries. Brandon Fusco is out for the season, and Vladimir Ducasse was dealing with a knee injury he suffered against the Bills.
Sullivan and Berger joined LT Matt Kalil, LG Charlie Johnson and RT Phil Loadholt in limiting Tampa Bay to one sack of Bridgewater.
"I thought we protected much better today," Zimmer said. "They've got a good defensive front."