TAMPA, Fla. >> Anthony Barr stripped the ball, scooped it up and took off for the end zone.
“I’m thinking win, score, get out of here,” the young Minnesota linebacker said Sunday after his 27-yard fumble return on the first scrimmage play of overtime enabled the Vikings to stop a three-game losing streak with a 19-13 victory over the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And to think, the whole sequence began with the rookie being out of position, much to coach Mike Zimmer’s consternation.
“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,” Barr said.
Barr ran down Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins after a 10-yard gain that would have given Tampa Bay a promising start to the extra period.
“Initially, I was a little bit upset with him because he didn’t widen with the tight end enough, and he let him catch the ball,” Zimmer said. “But now that it’s over, I’m glad he did.”
Teddy Bridgewater cut down on mistakes that have hindered him as a first-year quarterback, throwing for 241 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for the Vikings in his fourth NFL start. The Vikings (3-5) improved to 2-2 in those games, with both wins coming on the road.
The stunning end came after Minnesota extended the game on Blair Walsh’s 38-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.
Barr’s score came 17 seconds into the extra period, the quickest of any fumble return for a touchdown since regular-season overtime was instituted in 1974.
Tampa Bay (1-6), playing for the first time since allowing Joe Flacco to throw five TD passes in the first 16 minutes of a 48-17 loss to Baltimore, fell to 0-4 at home. The Bucs have lost 16 straight games in which the opponent scored first.
Coach Lovie Smith hoped last week’s bye would help his team return with a more competitive effort.
“Ideally that’s not how we wanted to start it, as simple as that. We let one slip away. But after the disappointment, you still analyze where we are, and looking at our division we’re still in it,” Smith said.
“At the end when you have a lead, you’ve got to be able to close it out, especially at home,” Smith added. “Late in the game we needed someone to step up.”
Mike Glennon threw a 7-yard pass to Seferian-Jenkins to give Tampa Bay a 13-10 lead with just over two minutes left in regulation. But the Bucs’ porous defense couldn’t stop Bridgewater from putting together a nine-play, 61-yard march to get the game into OT.
“It was just one of those deals where we knew we had to go down and get some points, some way, somehow,” Bridgewater said. “The guys in the huddle, they believe in each other. … That last drive, guys just made big plays for this team.”
“I felt like we were in pretty good control of the ballgame most of the time,” Zimmer said. “During the week, the practices, we were humming pretty good defensively. I said: ‘If we can continue to do these things, then we have a chance to be a good defensive football team.’ We’re definitely not there yet, we’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’ve made pretty good strides since the beginning of the season.”
Many of the Bucs walked to the sideline with heads bowed, waiting for an official’s replay review to confirm the game was over.
“It’s a lot of ups and downs, a roller coaster,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It’s not how you want to see a game end. We’ve just got to do a better job of finishing.”
Patrick Murray kicked fourth-quarter field goals of 54 and 45 yards for Tampa Bay, which was held to 97 yards total offense through three quarters.
Greg Jennings had a 17-yard TD catch that gave the Vikings a 10-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Jerick McKinnon rushed for 83 yards on 16 carries, and Cordarrelle Patterson had six receptions for 86 yards, including a couple of nice sideline grabs that helped Bridgewater out of tight situations.
Predictably, the matchup of two of the league’s least-productive offenses was low-scoring, even though Tampa Bay’s struggling defense entered ranked 32nd in yards allowed and yielding a league-high 34 points per game.
Minnesota scored 29 total points in the losing streak, with Bridgewater throwing for one touchdown and five interceptions and being sacked 13 times in starts against Detroit and Buffalo.
The Bucs finished with 225 yards total offense, 66 on the ground. Glennon was sacked five times, while Tampa Bay only got to Bridgewater once.
Notes: Walsh’s 46-yard field goal gave Minnesota a 3-0 halftime lead. … Bucs RB Doug Martin gained 27 yards on 10 carries before leaving in the third quarter with an ankle injury. … Barr, who recovered two fumbles in Minnesota’s 17-16 loss to Buffalo last week, also eight tackles and a sack.