(TSX / STATS) — TAMPA, Fla. — After one of the roughest days of his 11-year NFL career, Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Nick Folk got one final opportunity.
He made it.
“In the end, that’s all that matters,” Folk said. “But I’ve probably never felt worse (overall) after a game-winning kick.”
Folk, who had missed two field goals and an extra-point attempt, connected on the winning 34-yard field goal as time expired Sunday, lifting the Bucs past the winless New York Giants 25-23 at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs (2-1), who blew a 13-point first-quarter lead, set up Folk with a nine-play, 59-yard drive, highlighted by Jameis Winston’s 26-yard pass to tight end Cameron Brate, which positioned Tampa Bay at the New York 13-yard line.
In the final minute, Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter opted to center the ball in the middle of the field for Folk’s attempt instead of going for the touchdown.
“We left plenty of points out there and the game didn’t have to be that close,” Koetter said. “They (kickers) have to make it. That’s what they get paid to do.
“You play the percentages, getting them to use their timeouts, center the ball, then make the kick.”
Koetter said he had little time for celebration. The Bucs now prepare to host the New England Patriots on Thursday night.
“I’m leaving here and going right to the office (for preparation),” Koetter said.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, whose team fell to 0-4, lost for the second straight week on a walk-off field goal. Last week, the Giants were beaten on a 61-yard field goal by Philadelphia rookie Jake Elliott.
“A tough one there that came down to the end again,” McAdoo said. “We’ve got a lot of fight in us, but so do a lot of teams in this league.
“I’m not concerned at all. We have talented men of integrity in the locker room. We’re going to stay together. (But) we need to win a damn game.”
Winston was 22 of 38 for 332 yards and three touchdowns. New York quarterback Eli Manning finished 30 of 49 for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
As Folk lined up for the winner, Winston said he was confident despite the kicker missing earlier from 46 and 49 yards.
“I knew Nick was going to win the game for us,” Winston said. “I told him that (after his second field-goal miss). He kept chopping wood and got it done. We need to play better, but when we win around here, everybody’s happy.”
In a furious fourth quarter that had three lead changes, the Bucs surged ahead 22-17 on Winston’s 14-yard pass to Brate with 7:44 remaining.
The Giants answered with a go-ahead 10-play, 75-yard drive. It was sparked by Manning’s 42-yard bomb to Odell Beckham Jr. and capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rhett Ellison on third-and-goal with 3:16 left, giving New York a 23-22 lead.
Both teams missed on two-point conversion pass attempts.
The Giants took their first lead at 17-16 on Manning’s 4-yard pass to Wayne Gallman with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter.
Trying to regain the lead, the Bucs opted to not send Folk out for a 53-yard field-goal attempt on fourth-and-2 from the New York 35-yard line. But Winston tried to force a slant pass to Brate. It was slapped away by Giants safety Landon Collins.
But Winston and Brate connected again on a go-ahead touchdown, plus the key reception on the game-winning drive.
The Bucs led 16-10 at halftime on the strength of two touchdown passes from Winston, a 6-yarder to Mike Evans and a 58-yarder to rookie tight end O.J. Howard.
The Giants made it 13-10 on an Aldrick Rosas 30-yard field goal and a 14-yard run by Manning.
The Bucs settled for Folk’s 20-yard field goal and a 16-10 advantage with 32 seconds left in the half after replay negated an apparent 32-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Evans, ruling that the player’s knee touched at the New York 1-yard line.
As it turned out, Folk made a much bigger kick.
“It was a fun game at the end,” Folk said, “and a little rough in the middle part.”
NOTES: The game began in a driving rainstorm, which appeared right at kickoff and lasted most of the first quarter. … The Bucs played without injured LBs Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and Lavonte David (ankle), who were inactive. Rookie Kendell Beckwith was moved to MLB and called the defensive signals. Bucs S Keith Tandy was lost in the third quarter with an ankle injury. … Giants QB Eli Manning’s 14-yard run in the second quarter was just the sixth rushing touchdown of his 14-season NFL career. … The Giants had to finish the game without DE Olivier Vernon (ankle), DT Damon Harrison (knee), RB Paul Perkins (ribs) and C Weston Richburg (concussion), who each left with injuries.