Through one half of Sunday's game between the Vikings and Buccaneers, the Vikings defense did an excellent job of stopping Tampa Bay inside the red zone and getting off the field – heading into halftime with a 13-6 lead. But their inability to do that in the second half created the turning point of the game.
Tampa Bay took the opening kick of the second half and started from its own 20-yard line. Quarterback Jeff Garcia quickly got the Bucs into Vikings territory – opening the drive with a 23-yard pass to Antonio Bryant, which was followed up with a 9-yard reverse to Bryant and completions of 6 and 9 yards to Michael Clayton. Faced with a third-and-1 from the Vikings 24, Minnesota had a chance to make a stop and force another Buccaneers field goal, but running back Clifton Smith was able to convert the first down, setting up one of the stranger sequences of plays of the 2008 season.
With a first down on the Vikings 17-yard line, following an incompletion, running back Warrick Dunn took a handoff for 9 yards to the Vikings 8-yard line. But, a holding call on tight end Jerramy Stevens pushed the ball back to the 27-yard line to set up a second-and-20. On the next play, Garcia found Bryant streaking across the middle for a 27-yard touchdown, but that too was called back by a holding penalty – this time on offensive lineman Davin Joseph, giving the Bucs a second-and-30 from the 37. At that point, not only did a touchdown seem improbable, but Tampa Bay was going to need more yardage simply to come away with a field goal.
Following a hands-to-the-face penalty on Cedric Griffin that set up a second-and-25 from the 32-yard line, Garcia lofted a deep pass over the middle to Stevens, who made an over-the-shoulder catch beyond Ben Leber and in front of Darren Sharper for a first down on the 1-yard line. From there, fullback B.J. Askew scored on a 1-yard plunge to end what was officially an 11-play drive that ate up the first 5:35 of the second half to tie the game at 13-13.
With the game still tied at 13-13 heading into the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers again took over on their own 20-yard line with 14:28 to play. It looked as though the drive could end quickly, as the Bucs faced third-and-2 from the 28-yard line and Garcia's anticipated pass target (Stevens) was covered. He bought himself time in the pocket and scrambled for 6 yards and first down to keep the drive alive. Garcia would move the chains again with an 8-yard scramble and, after an 11-yard run by Dunn, Tampa Bay was on the Vikings 37-yard line looking for more.
Garcia was able to avoid another sack one play later, getting out of trouble and completing a 14-yard pass to Stevens. Although the Vikings would eventually make a third-down stop on Dunn to end the drive, the damage had been done. The Bucs completed a 13-play drive that took almost nine minutes off the clock and, when Matt Bryant hit a 29-yard field goal, a drive that began with 14:28 to play in the game ended with 5:36 to play and the Bucs holding a 16-13 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Maurice Hicks fumbled and the Bucs converted yet another field goal, but the majority of the damage had been handed out already. Two drives – one of 11 plays and another of 13 plays – had taken any halftime momentum the Vikings had built to that point and turned a 13-6 halftime deficit for Tampa Bay into a 16-13 lead and, in the process, created a prolonged, dragged-out turning point of the game.
Turning point: Prolonged drives
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