With a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007, the Buccaneers were in Detroit on Saturday afternoon to kick off an NFL day-after-Christmas tripleheader against the Lions.
Tampa Bay came into Saturday’s game at 9-5, possessing control of its own destiny for the NFC’s No. 5 seed. Wins over the Lions and Falcons in the final two weeks would set the Bucs up for a date with the NFC East winner in the first round of the playoffs, set to take place the weekend of Jan. 9-10. The boys in red, white and pewter had to take the field in Detroit a little short-handed, with Ronald Jones II out for a second straight week and Carlton Davis inactive after leaving last week’s game with a groin injury.
Detroit was plenty short-handed itself for Saturday’s game, missing a large portion of its coaching staff—including interim head coach Darrell Bevell—due to COVID-19 protocols while also being without key players due to injuries. The inactive list included wide receiver Kenny Golladay, linebacker Jamie Collins and two starters on the offensive line in addition to the long list of defensive starters already on injured reserve. Matthew Stafford even came into the game questionable, but he continued to tough it out and play despite the Lions’ 5-9 record.
The Bucs were favored by nine over the Lions, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 78.3% chance to win the game and earn a playoff spot.
From start to finish, this game turned out to be all about the Bucs. The offense clicked early and Matthew Stafford exited with an injury early on, which led to the visitors earning a 34-0 halftime lead. Tom Brady wasn’t even needed in the second half, with Blaine Gabbert taking over to guide Tampa Bay the rest of the way. By the time it was all over, the Bucs had won 47-7 to improve to 10-5 on the year and earn their first playoff berth since 2007.
After a short kick return by Kenjon Barner got the game underway, the Buccaneer offense got things started from its own 18-yard line. Tom Brady missed an open Chris Godwin on first down and Leonard Fournette picked up just one yard on second before a third-down sack looked to signal another slow start for Tampa Bay. However, an offsides penalty gave the drive new life and Brady converted the ensuing 3rd & 4 with an eight-yard pass to Godwin. On the next play, the veteran playing in his 300th career regular season game found Mike Evans for a gain of 33 to the Detroit 35-yard line, and the Bucs were officially in business. Two plays later, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 33-yard touchdown to give the visitors an early lead. The touchdown pass was Brady’s 33rd of the season, which tied Jameis Winston’s single-season franchise record that was set just last year. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, though, Ryan Succop’s PAT hit the upright to keep the lead at 6-0.
Opening their first drive from the 25, the Lions got going quickly. Matthew Stafford connected with Danny Amendola for a 15-yard gain before D’Andre Swift picked up seven yards up the middle to the 47-yard line. But after pressure by Devin White forced a second-down incompletion, Detroit picked up just two on 3rd & 3 thanks to a nice tackle by Ross Cockrell. The offense lined up to go for it on 4th & 1, but a false start on the hard count pushed things back and forced a punt. After a touchback, the Bucs came back out to start at their own 20, looking to add to their early advantage.
An eight-yard run by Fournette began Tampa Bay’s second possession, then Brady went deep to Godwin for a gain of 47 to the Lions’ 25. Two plays later, we got some more franchise history. Brady and Evans linked up for a 27-yard touchdown, meaning Brady had set a new single-season franchise record for passing touchdowns (34) and Evans had tied his own team record for receiving scores in a season (12).
Things went from bad to worse for the Lions to start their next drive. Already down 13-0, they took the field without Stafford, who hobbled to the locker room with an apparent ankle injury. Chase Daniel entered the game and, to his credit, he started quick. He found T.J. Hockenson for seven yards before Swift ran for gains of 14 and four to get the ball to midfield. But after an incompletion brought up 3rd & 6, Jeremiah Ledbetter reintroduced himself to the Lions—the team that drafted him—by sacking Daniel for a loss of 11 to force another punt.
Tampa Bay’s third possession got going with a seven-yard pass from Brady to Fournette, then Fournette picked up a first down with a four-yard run. Evans continued to have a huge first quarter, picking up 16 more yards on the next play to get the ball near midfield. That got him to 76 first-quarter yards on just three catches, putting him on pace for a big afternoon.
After a short Fournette run, Brady hit Godwin for another first down across the 50 to the Detroit 45. But things went backward on the next play, with Everson Griffen dropping Brady for a loss of seven. That led Tampa Bay to use its first timeout of the first half, facing a 2nd & 17 with 58 seconds left in the game’s opening quarter. A three-yard run by Fournette brought up a 3rd & 14, which saw Brady forced to throw the ball away. That gave way to Bradley Pinion’s first punt of the game, which was downed at the 10-yard line.
After a short pass from Daniel to Mohamed Sanu, the first quarter came to an end with Tampa Bay leading 13-0.
Another two-yard pass from Daniel—this one to Marvin Jones Jr.—opened the second quarter, with Sean Murphy-Bunting making a nice tackle to bring up 3rd & 6. Some pressure on third down forced an incompletion on a pass intended for Sanu, bringing up another punt for Detroit. A 42-yarder and a five-yard return by Barner gave the ball back to the Bucs at their own 49.
A four-yard run by Fournette got the next drive started, then back-to-back completions of 12 yards each to Godwin and Fournette got the Bucs to the Lions’ 35. Fournette carried the rest of the drive, picking up six yards on a run before catching another pass for 13 down to the 4-yard line. On the next play, the big running back pushed forward for a touchdown to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-0 with 11:51 left in the first half.
Adrian Peterson checked into the game for the Lions on their next drive and picked up nine and four yards on his first two carries to get a first down. Shaquil Barrett broke through to drop Peterson for a loss of four on the next play, putting Detroit behind the sticks. A three-yard run by Swift then brought up a 3rd & 11, which Daniel couldn’t convert. White came through on a blitz to flush him out of the pocket and made him throw the ball away to force a fourth consecutive Lions punt. Barner lost ground on his return, setting the Bucs up at their own 9 with 9:02 left in the second quarter.
Brady and Evans connected for a gain of seven to open the next drive for the Bucs before Tanner Hudson got in on the fun. He caught a 20-yard pass from Brady to get the ball up to the Tampa Bay 36. Brady went back to Evans on the next play for another big gain—this one for 22. Rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn did a great job picking up the blitz on that play and was instantly rewarded with three straight carries, getting 14, 12 and nine yards to set the Bucs up at the Lions’ 7. On the next play, the offense went play-action and Brady found Godwin for a touchdown. With Succop’s PAT, it was a 27-0 lead for the Bucs with 4:52 left in the first half.
On the next drive, the Detroit offense continued to go nowhere under the direction of Daniel. Swift ran for three yards and got stopped for no gain to set up 3rd & 7, then Daniel was nearly intercepted by Jason Pierre-Paul on third down. Another quick three-and-out got the ball back to Brady and the Tampa Bay offense with 3:20 to go before halftime.
Starting from their own 34, the Bucs continued to push the ball downfield. Brady missed Evans on first down, but responded with passes of seven yards to Vaughn and 15 yards to Evans to get the ball across the 50. An illegal shift on Tampa Bay brought up the two-minute warning, with Tampa Bay up 27-0 and threatening to increase the lead before heading to the locker room.
After the break, an incompletion was followed by an 11-yard pass to Cameron Brate, but an incomplete pass on a screen to Antonio Brown brought up a 4th & 4 at the 38. The Bucs went for it and converted, with a 15-yard pass to Brown. On the next play, Brady looked to have found Godwin for another touchdown, but Donovan Smith was called for being an ineligible man downfield, negating the score. Brady found Brate for 16 yards to the 12-yard line on the next play anyway, giving the offense another first down with 1:20 to go in the half. After Detroit called its first timeout, the Bucs found the end zone again, with Brady hitting Brown this time for a 12-yard touchdown. Succop’s PAT pushed Tampa Bay’s lead to 34-0 with 1:14 left in the second quarter, and all that stood between the Bucs and a playoff berth was 31:14 of game time.
The Lions tried to put something together on the final drive of the second half, but a sack by Devin White—his ninth of the season—put a stop to that. Daniel completed passes to Amendola and Jones after that to get the ball to midfield for the first time on the afternoon, but that brought an end to the half with the Bucs on top by a score of 34-0.
The Lions’ bad day continued to open the second half, with Lavonte David forcing a Swift fumble on the first play of the third quarter. Jordan Whitehead came up with the recovery and despite the initial ruling on the field being that Swift was down by contact, Bruce Arians successfully challenged the call. That gave the ball to Tampa Bay’s offense at Detroit’s 25.
With the Bucs already up 34 and in full control, Blaine Gabbert took over for Tom Brady to start the second half. And on his first pass attempt, he hit Gronkowski for a 25-yard touchdown to make it a 40-point game. Succop’s second missed PAT of the afternoon kept it at 40-0 just 10 seconds into the third quarter.
A holding penalty on Jamel Dean gave the Lions a first down on their next possession, but there was nothing happening on the rest of the drive. Michigan State product William Gholston picked up a third-down sack to end the drive, forcing another punt.
The Bucs, taking over at their own 18, looked to continue moving the ball downfield on the arm of Gabbert. A five-yard pass to Evans and a two-yard run by Vaughn brought up a manageable 3rd & 3, but Gabbert missed on third down to bring Pinion out for a rare appearance on the day. That appearance led to the first points of the day for Lions, as Jamal Agnew made some moves and broke free and returned the punt 74 yards for a touchdown.
A taunting penalty by Detroit on its touchdown was enforced on the kickoff, and the Bucs got great field position as a result. Barner’s 30-yard return set Gabbert and the offense up at their own 37 with a 33-point lead. However, a holding call on Donovan Smith pushed them back to a 1st & 20. A 16-yard run by Gabbert on second-down and a 35-yard pass to rookie Tyler Johnson took care of that setback, though, giving Tampa Bay a first down at Detroit’s 22. On the next play, Gabbert hit Evans for a 22-yard touchdown, giving Evans a new single-season franchise record for receiving touchdowns (13). With Succop’s successful PAT, the lead was back to 40 for the Bucs.
The Detroit offense simply couldn’t get anything done on its next possession, leading to Jack Fox’s seventh punt of the afternoon. The Buccaneer offense looked to have given the ball right back after one first down, but a third-down incompletion was negated by a questionable roughing the passer penalty. After the automatic first down, the Lions still got a stop. A nice catch by Scotty Miller gave Tampa Bay a 4th & 2 at the 31, but a LeSean McCoy false start meant a 4th & 7 and the end of the third quarter.
The Bucs still went for it on 4th & 7 to start the fourth, but an incompletion gave the ball back to Detroit. David Blough took over for Chase Daniel to start the next drive, and his first pass was a six-yarder to Swift. An offsides call on Rakeem Nunez-Roches one play later gave Detroit a first down, then a roughing the passer penalty on White moved the chains once again. That got the Lions in Bucs’ territory for the first time in the game, but the drive stalled there. Anthony Nelson’s first career sack on 3rd & 7 forced another punt by Fox.
On the next drive, the Bucs went to work on the clock. Vaughn got some valuable carries, picking up a first down before some penalty issues surfaced for Detroit. A neutral-zone infraction and an offsides gave Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs to work with, then Evans drew a 35-yard defensive pass interference call. The drive stalled there, though, and Succop’s frustrating day continued as he missed a 42-yard field goal. That snapped his consecutive field goal streak at 21.
Blough and the Lions moved the ball a bit on their next drive, getting across midfield near the 30 before an incompletion on 4th & 9 gave the ball back to Tampa Bay with under five minutes to go.
The Bucs didn’t kill much time on their next drive before punting, as the Lions regained possession at their 29 with 2:19 to play. On the ensuing possession, Herb Miller—who was just called up from the practice squad this week—came up with his first career interception to put the final touches on Tampa Bay’s dominant victory.
After the two-minute warning, one more first-down pass from Gabbert to Brown finished things off. Gabbert took a knee after that, officially signaling the end to the Bucs’ 13-year playoff drought.
We have a lot left to prove.— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 26, 2020
See you in the playoffs pic.twitter.com/rEcmYQFPBZ
Quick Notes & Stats
- For once, the Bucs came out of the gates blazing hot on Saturday. Their 34-0 halftime lead speaks for itself, but the statistics just add to the picture of domination. The Bucs had the advantage in first downs (21-5), total plays (40-25), total yards (410-87), yards per play (10.2-3.5) and time of possession (18:45-11:15).
- The Bucs’ 34 first-half points were the most in franchise history.
- Tom Brady was electric in the first half, completing 22 of his 27 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He connected with eight different receivers in the first two quarters, with his four touchdowns going to four different guys as well. After such a successful half, he wasn’t even needed in the final two quarters.
- Brady recorded a perfect 158.3 passer rating for the third time in his 21-year career.
- Brady now owns the single-season franchise record for passing touchdowns with 36.
- Mike Evans took a huge step toward breaking that 1,000-yard mark for the seventh straight season. He caught 10 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
- Evans’ touchdown catch also put him in elite company, as he became the seventh player in NFL history to surpass 8,000 receiving yards and 60 receiving touchdowns in seven seasons. He joined Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe, the only others to do it before him.
- Evans beat his own single-season franchise record for receiving touchdowns in this game, with his second getting him to 13 on the year.
- Tampa Bay’s receivers were phenomenal in this one. In addition to Evans’ big day, Chris Godwin caught five passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, Rob Gronkowski caught two passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns and Antonio Brown caught four passes for 35 yards and a score.
- Leonard Fournette was a big part of Tampa Bay’s first-half success, rushing for 34 yards on nine carries while catching three passes for 32 yards.
- Devin White collected his ninth sack of the season late in the first half.
- The Bucs totaled four sacks on the day, with White, Jeremiah Ledbetter, William Gholston and Anthony Nelson all getting one.
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 62 yards on 15 carries, getting some valuable playing time in the second half.
- Herb Miller recorded his first career interception late in the fourth quarter.
- The Bucs outgained the Lions 588-186, which is the largest total yardage margin in franchise history.
- Those 588 yards were also a new franchise record for Tampa Bay.
- With the win, the Bucs earned their first 10-win season since 2010. If they can finish the regular season with a win next week, they’ll have their first 11-win season since 2005.
The Buccaneers (10-5) will close out their regular season next Sunday (Jan. 3) at Raymond James Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.