We’d love nothing more than to just focus on all the good this Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad has done. With one more game to play for the right to be called Super Bowl Champions, there are still areas for the Bucs to clean-up.
That’s what this weekly column is all about. Celebrating the good which point to future success while identifying the bad in hopes your favorite team can get it all on the right path.
Great thing about humanity is it doesn’t have to be perfect to be great. Tampa Bay is one step from being on top of the NFL. Let’s take a look at some of the best moments that got them there, and look at a few items they surely hope to see get better the next time they take the field.
Leonard Fournette was considered the lesser of two backs between he and Ronald Jones II during much of the regular season. ‘Playoff Lenny’ however, has been a postseason monster, leading all playoff running backs in yards.
With Jones injured late in the season and into the early rounds of the postseason, Fournette’s playoff performances have been a breath of fresh air. The threat of a running game helps everyone, including the greatest quarterback of all-time, and his amazing 20-yard touchdown run was one of several key moments in Sunday’s NFC Championship win.
If the Bucs offense has ‘Playoff Lenny’, the defense has ‘Showtime Sean’. A nickname first heard by this writer from a voicemail left on the Locked On Bucs Podcast, Sean Murphy-Bunting has three postseason interceptions in as many games. SMB joins Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed as the only players in NFL history to record an interception in three consecutive postseason games.
You could make the argument the Buccaneers might not even be heading home to play a Super Bowl if not for SMB. His interception late in the first half setup what would become a ‘no risk it, no biscuit’ touchdown bomb from Brady to wide receiver, Scotty Miller.
In a five-point win, it’s hard not to look at that interception as the catalyst for the play that helped secure their margin of victory.
RETURN OF THE SACK
Coming into the NFC Championship games Shaquil Barrett hadn’t had a sack in four games. Jason Pierre-Paul hadn’t had one in five.
The duo combined for five sacks on Sunday, aided in large part due to the return of Vita Vea.
Tampa Bay’s anchor in the middle of the defensive line returned for the first time since leaving in Week 5 with an ankle injury. As soon as he stepped on the field, his presence was felt and the production was immediate.
On Vea’s first snap, Pierre-Paul got his first sack of the game. Keeping Rodgers on his toes and forcing him to look over his shoulder were critical aspects of what helped the Buccaneers defense secure the win for their team as the offense struggled in the second half.
With Antoine Winfield Jr. likely to return in the Super Bowl, the gang is finally getting back together, and they’re making beautiful music together.
STILL BETTER THAN MOSS
Speaking of offensive struggles. Chris Godwin had a strong start to the Wild Card game against the Washington Football Team before struggling through the end of that match-up.
This weekend, it was Mike Evans’ turn.
Evans had two catches on the first drive of the game and scored a touchdown to cap it off. He had just one the rest of the game, and was arguably responsible for two of Tom Brady’s interceptions.
Not a good night, but a good outcome. The trip home and a shot to win a ring will help Evans shake it off, I’m sure.
Ronald Jones II has plenty of talent and better rushing performances ahead of him, but this postseason has risen questions about whether or not he or Fournette is really the better back for the Bucs to consider carrying into 2021 - if they can’t bring both.
On Sunday, Jones got some carries. Ten to be exact. He collected just sixteen yards with those touches, nearly matching Aaron Jones’ career low rushing average from these two team’s contest in the regular season.
When you consider his longest run of the day was four yards, he had just twelve more on his other nine touches.
TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF
Tom Brady hadn’t thrown a road interception since Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints. In his last road game of the year he decided to make up for lost time. Three interceptions, all coming in the second half, prevented the Bucs from putting the nail in the coffin early and even sparked a comeback try by Aaron Rodgers’ team.
As we’ve already discussed, they weren’t completely his fault. But Brady’s job is to protect the ball above all else, and he knows this as much as anyone. He threw it, it’s his pick. And a 73.8 QBR isn’t likely to get the job done in two weeks against the Chiefs.
Best of the NFC Championship
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Worst of the NFC Championship
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