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Best and Worst of Week 17: Plenty of plot twists in season finale of 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Joy, pain, fear, and celebration as the Bucs close the book on the regular season

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Spoiler Alert: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are an eleven-win team entering the 2020-21 NFL Playoffs.

If you missed the rest of the season, I’m sorry to tell you how it ends, but it is what it is at this point. Good news is there are plenty of options for you to binge-watch the 45th Season of Bucs football, so you have time to catch up before we start watching the encore episode, this Saturday night. So, catch up!

While you do, we’ll be here talking about the best and worst from Tampa Bay’s Week 17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

THE BEST

TOM BRADY AND ANTONIO BROWN, BACK IN BUSINESS

And on Sunday, business was boomin’. You had to know it was coming eventually.

When Mike Evans went down with a knee injury in the first quarter all of Bucs Nation - the fan base and staff, believe me - all took a collective deep breath of terror.

However, it didn’t take long for Brady and the offense to adjust and proceed to lay 37 more points on the Atlanta Falcons defense.

They did so, in large part, due to the relationship between Tom Brady and Antonio Brown. Of course, they don’t have a big history having played just one game together in New England before Brown joined Brady in Tampa midway through 2020.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Still, the trust between the two is well documented and showed up big as Brady and Brown connected eleven times on fourteen tries for 138-yards and two touchdowns.

Injuries are a part of the game, and depth is always a concern, but having the wide receiver group they have in Tampa Bay surely makes the team feel confident they can hold up if forced to.

STANDING UP, WHILE BACKING UP DEVIN

Losing Devin White late in the week certainly caused some uneasiness entering Week 17 looking to clinch the NFC’s fifth-seed in the playoffs.

Enter veteran linebacker and team captain, Kevin Minter.

Stepping in for the young, electric leader, Minter had a tall task ahead of him. For one, opponents like to exploit the middle of the field against the Buccaneers with White. Without him, it was a given Matt Ryan and the Falcons would test it early and often trying to finish their own down year on an upswing.

How did he respond? Well, for starters he led the team and the entire game in tackles with nine total and six solos.

He also notched one pass defense and really was a relative afterthought in a game where Ndamukong Suh recorded a sack and two tackles for losses while Lavonte David and Sean Murphy-Bunting each forced Falcons fumbles. Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield Jr. each recovered a fumble of their own, and nobody really talked about Minter all game long.

In the case of a back-up replacing one of the most exciting players in the NFL, that’s a very very good thing.

BREAKING THE SLUMP

Ryan Succop entered the 2020 season with a career-best 86.7% made field goal percentage, coming in 2018 as a member of the Tennessee Titans. He followed it up with a 16.7% made field goal percentage in six games the following season, leading to his becoming a free-agent and landing in Tampa.

Entering 2020 Connor Barth had the best-made field goal percentage of all Buccaneers kickers, ever. Martin Gramatica and Matt Bryant will go down in Bucs history as more impactful than Barth, but his 83.8% conversion rate with the Bucs was the best the team had ever seen.

Now, both Succop and the Bucs have new highs to put on the board as they converted 90.3% of their field goal tries in 2020.

You love the overall number of course, but you love it even more because just one week ago, Succop missed two extra points and his lone field goal try in a blowout win over the Detroit Lions.

THE WORST

FOUR-WHAT?

When you look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running back room you see some recognizable names. Names don’t equal production though, and Leonard Fournette currently sits in third place among Tampa Bay running backs in yards per carry.

After seventeen weeks of football and sixteen games, Ronald Jones II is the clear leader with a 5.1 yards per carry average while rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn comes in second at 4.2, and Fournette trails both at 3.8.

Why then does Fournette continue to get the workload opportunities he does? I can’t honestly tell you it’s anything more than name recognition and stubbornness.

Problem is, we can’t really make the case Vaughn is any better on a consistent basis. He certainly looked primed to be much better during the Detroit Lions win where the rookie got his first real work in the NFL.

Vaughn’s fifteen carries against Detroit went for 62-yards for an average of more than four yards per carry. But David, that was against Detroit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Against the same Lions defense, Fournette got nine carries and recorded thirty-four yards in the process. An average of 3.78 yards per carry.

With that performance, and with Vaughn getting face-time with the media leading into Week 17, I thought the Bucs might give the rookie a little more work in Week 17.

They didn’t. Vaughn got three snaps on offense and seven on special teams without notching a carry or target.

So now, it’s hard to imagine the Buccaneers will roll out a mostly untested rookie in the playoffs. Stranger things have happened, but for now, it seems to be the Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette show. Here’s hoping we get more of the headliner this postseason.

EXIT STRATEGIES

Most every NFL mind will agree in order to build consistent team success your offense needs to convert 33% or more of their third-down tries, and your defense needs to keep opposing teams as close to that 33% conversion rate as possible.

In Week 17 the Buccaneers won the game, but they can’t be happy looking at their struggles getting off the field when they got the Atlanta Falcons to third or even fourth-down tries.

Ryan and Company converted 50% of their third-down attempts. Three of the missed tries turned into fourth-down tries of which the Falcons converted two. In all, the Bucs faced fourteen offensive plays which could have given the ball back to their offense and forced the turnover just 36% of the time.

Now, this is specifically about Week 17 of course, but it’s not a singular issue with this team.

On the year now, Tampa Bay’s defense faced 3-and-10 or fewer situations 166 times in 2020. They allowed conversion on 77 of those or 47% of the time.

Allowing near 50% third-down conversions to opponents is not going to lead to reliable defensive performances. Warren Sapp tweeted on Sunday teams would need to put up 40-points to beat the Bucs in the playoffs.

The problem with the statement is, with this lack of ability for the Buccaneers defense to get off the field, opponents are going to have the opportunities to do just that.

MIKE EVANS INJURY

No cute or corny titles for this one. Mike Evans’ injury was legitimately one of the worst moments I’ve seen covering this team.

Coming right off the heels of Evans’ record-setting catch to notch his seventh 1,000-yard season to start his career, the utter high and low of the two moments might be the most dramatic turn in all of the NFL’s regular-season games this year, and I’m not exaggerating in any way.

We all try to stay as emotionally uninvested as possible covering sports teams because that’s the only way you can stay completely objective. Even then, as you get to know guys, I don’t know there’s a way to be completely objective anyway, but that’s a journalistic theory conversation for a later time.

If you’ve watched, met, covered, or even witnessed Mike Evans play this game then you know he’s one of the good ones. Not just from a talent standpoint. He’s no drama, unselfish, family-focused, and about as unselfish as they come. And it’s not an act.

That might be the best part. He’s all those things because he genuinely is. To see him go down, try to walk it off, and go down again; it was terrible. And anybody covering this team who didn’t have a real reaction is soulless.

The good news is it doesn’t seem the injury was as bad as it could have been, and Evans may still make his long-awaited NFL Playoffs debut this Saturday against the Washington Football Team.

Poll

What was THE BEST part of Week 17?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Tom Brady to Antonio Brown
    (301 votes)
  • 8%
    Kevin Minter
    (29 votes)
  • 4%
    Ryan Succop
    (16 votes)
346 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What was THE WORST part of Week 17?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Leonard Fournette
    (12 votes)
  • 29%
    3rd and 4th Down Defense
    (99 votes)
  • 67%
    Mike Evans’ Injury
    (227 votes)
338 votes total Vote Now