Winning streak has Tampa Bay in rare playoff chase
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are firmly in the playoff picture.
It’s been a long time since that’s happened.
“I’ve been here for five years and this is the first time we’ve been playing meaningful football in December, so I can’t lie to you, it is a great feeling,” Keith Tandy said after his interception sealed the Bucs’ fourth straight victory, 28-21 against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
“But we also know we have a lot of work to do, so we’ll take 24 hours to enjoy it and get back to work.”
The Bucs (7-5) pulled into a tie with Atlanta atop the NFC South.
Jameis Winston threw a go-ahead, 12-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brate midway through the fourth quarter and Tandy intercepted Philip Rivers in the end zone with 2:56 left.
Tampa Bay hosts the Saints next Sunday. They finish with games at New Orleans, at Dallas and at home against Carolina.
As well as winning four straight, the Bucs have won four straight on the road.
Tandy was already past this one and ready for the next game.
“I’ve never played meaningful football in December, so I’m ready to get on and see how it feels,” he said.
Here are some takeaways from the Bucs’ win:
Since winning the Super Bowl here in January 2003 with a rout of the Oakland Raiders, the Bucs have been back to the playoffs only twice, losing in the wild-card round both times. They’ve missed the playoffs the last eight years.
“We’re having fun, and when you have fun good things happen,” rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. “Hopefully we can keep this streak going and see where it takes us.′
Rivers threw two second-half interceptions, including Lavonte David’s pick-6.
Hargreaves had a hand in both pickoffs.
He tipped the ball that David plucked out of the air and returned 15 yards for a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter.
After Winston’s go-ahead TD pass to Brate and a 2-point conversion pass to Mike Evans, Rivers had the Chargers on the move in the final minutes. Hargreaves hollered out what route to look for. Tandy got in front of a pass to Dontrelle Inman along the right sideline and picked it off.
Tandy’s momentum carried him into the end zone, giving the Bucs the ball on their 20. They were able to run out the clock.
Tandy said the defense made adjustments at halftime and came out fired up.
“We didn’t have the energy we had the last couple of weeks. So that’s all we kept talking about,” Tandy said. “You could hear guys going, ‘Let’s get the energy back. Let’s get the energy back and let’s keep punching.’ ”
The Chargers (5-7) were trying to get back to .500 for the first time since Week 2. They remain buried in the AFC West basement and have all but assured themselves of missing the playoffs for the third time in coach Mike McCoy’s four seasons and for the sixth time in seven seasons.
In his last home game, Rivers was intercepted four times in the fourth quarter of a 31-24 loss to Miami.
“We’ve had a handful like this, not necessarily exactly losing them this way, but we have had our chances to win and we haven’t gotten it done,” Rivers said.
“You can’t turn it over twice. Can’t turn it over, one for a touchdown and the other in that situation.”
Tampa Bay benefited from a short punt by Drew Kaser to start the winning drive on its 46. Winston found Brate for the TD on the fourth play of the drive, with 9:01 to play, and then hit Evans on a conversion pass for a 28-21 lead.
Winston was 20 of 30 for 280 yards, with one TD and one pickoff.
Winston was intercepted by Casey Hayward on Tampa Bay’s first possession, but Josh Lambo was wide left on a 53-yard field goal try. Winston then led the Bucs on a drive capped by Doug Martin’s 2-yard touchdown run on a great second effort.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Cecil Shorts III was taken off the field on a cart after sustaining a knee injury on a hard hit by San Diego’s Jahleel Addae following a catch on the Bucs’ first possession. Shorts was tended to for a few minutes and then put on the cart. The entire Buccaneers team came out near the cart, and several of the players slapped hands with the wide receiver. Shorts pumped a fist toward his teammates as he was driven off.
Tampa Bay also lost WR Adam Humphries with a concussion and tight end Luke Stocker with an ankle injury.