The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were favored to win by almost ten points heading into Saturday night’s match-up with the Washington Football Team to wrap up the NFL’s first of two weekend triple-headers.
Taylor Heinicke was expected to be a weak point for Washington who hosted the eleven win Bucs despite having just a seven-win season, thanks to the rule each divisional winner hosts a playoff game.
Turns out, Heinicke was actually one of the bright spots for his team, and Bruce Arians later said they’d actually hoped Ron Rivera would put Alex Smith out there, bum leg and all.
Like every game, there are good and bad points to them, and we’re going to talk about a few of each as we go through the best and worst from Tampa Bay’s first playoff win since the 2002-2003 NFL Season.
KEEPING THEM WANTING MORE
Washington’s defense did get in on Tom Brady a bit on Saturday. The legendary quarterback was sacked three times and hit four more according to the NFL’s stat tracking.
However, none of them came via rookie pass rusher extraordinaire Chase Young. A testament to solid work by Tampa Bay left tackle Donovan Smith and others.
Of course, Smith deserves the bulk of the kudos for quieting Young who did eventually step off the field with an apparent injury but spent most of his night trying without success to sack Tom Brady.
HONEST COACH SPEAK
When Greg Auman asked head coach Bruce Arians about Lavonte David’s game-clinching sack he probably expected a beautiful moment where a coach appreciates a veteran leader finally reaching the peak of his profession.
Instead, he got the ‘S-word’ and a scathing report on the performance of Tampa Bay’s defense.
It was an honest moment, and one which showed Arians isn’t going to go back to Florida basking in the glow of a playoff win. He’s already turned the page towards their next opponent, because sloppy tackling is an insider threat, so it doesn’t matter whether they play a team from Los Angeles or a team from New Orleans. The Bucs need to clean up their defense, and Arians is already well aware of it.
Many have been critical of Leonard Fournette’s contributions this season. I know I have been. And there were some moments in this weekend’s game I could try to pick at to support my season-long stance. But I won’t.
Fournette is at a minimum always ready in anticipation of his next opportunity to help the Bucs offense, and when Ronald Jones II aggravated an existing quad injury in pregame warm-ups, he was ready to take center stage.
Twenty-three touches, 132-yards, and one touchdown later, Fournette was a big reason Tampa Bay left Landover, Maryland with a win. Given his performance, I can’t help but feel more confident in the team’s ability to control the game as Jones hopefully returns to full health before next weekend.
CHRIS GODWIN’S ROUGH NIGHT
The star receiver’s night started well. Playing in his first playoff game, Godwin caught three of his first five targets racking up 56-yards and a touchdown.
Little did we know he was about to catch just two of his next seven targets for another twenty-three yards and nothing else.
In a typical curse of network broadcasts, as soon as Tony Dungy and Mike Tirico mentioned how Tom Brady told them Godwin had the best hands of any receiver he’d ever played with, the wheels seemed to fall off.
Maybe it was the surgically repaired finger. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was an isolated stretch of drops that got into Godwin’s head.
Whatever it was, he’ll need to shake it off and get back to being one of the best young receivers in the game.
THIRD DOWN DEFENSE-LESS
In what has been largely a feast or famine season for the Buccaneers defense on third downs, the unit ranked 14th in the NFL allowing conversions on 40% of opponent third-downs.
The defenses in Washington, Los Angeles (Rams), Chicago, New Orleans, and Green Bay all stood up better in opportunities to get off the field. So you could say it’ll be something to watch moving deeper into the playoffs.
As we saw against Taylor Heinicke on Saturday, allowing any quarterback to convert on 50% of their third-downs is sure to create some tense moments in the game.
It’s not good enough to get to third down, you have to execute on third down. Tampa Bay didn’t on Saturday - 50% is worse than 31 NFL teams averaged in the regular season. Fortunately, Brady and Company did enough to cover it. Now it’s on Todd Bowles and his group to get better.
Having Devin White, and hopefully, Steve McLendon back will certainly help in that regard.
ALEX CAPPA INJURY
Arians says "it looks like a fracture" on Alex Cappa's ankle injury, so a season-ending injury this late in things.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) January 10, 2021
The tweet says it all. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
What was THE BEST part of the Wild Card weekend?
This poll is closed
Donovan Smith vs Chase Young
Bruce Arians’ Immediate Focus on Defensive Improvements
Leonard Fournette Stepping Up
What was THE WORST part of the Wild Card Weekend?
This poll is closed
Chris Godwin’s Rough Night
Lack of Third Down Defense
Alex Cappa’s Injury