It may have been a week after many expected and everyone wanted, but the first job has been done - the Buccaneers have won the division and punched their ticket to the 2021 NFL playoffs. Not since Jeff Garcia was under center and Joey Galloway was catching deep passes have the Bucs held the title of NFC South champion, but they accomplished exactly that with the 32-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers in what was likely Cam Newton’s final game in front of Panthers fans as their quarterback.
Let’s pick six.
Six Topics Suitable For Conversation
1.) Overcoming adversity. The offense was far from what you would call “pretty” on Sunday, despite the lopsided score. However, they were able to do enough to score over 30 points yet again - thanks in large part to Ryan Succop’s leg. However, that is no reason to worry or be concerned about the Bucs’ offense. Much of this game was figuring out what they could and couldn’t do without Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette. With Antonio Brown getting things done as the top receiver, both Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn making big contributions to the offense and Cameron Brate being the tight end to step up, the offense will play just fine down the stretch. The Panthers made the removal of Rob Gronkowski a big part of their game plan but Tom Brady had no problem utilizing both Brate and O.J. Howard. Against the NFL’s second best defense in terms of yards allowed, the Bucs racked up nearly 400. It’s just a matter of finishing. Also, bear in mind, Evans and Fournette will be back. Once they have Evans and AB as the 1-2 punch and Fournette running behind a line that is comprised of 60% Pro Bowlers, the offense won’t have a huge drop off from what we’ve seen much of the season.
2.) Hi there, defense. The Buccaneers’ defense has not allowed a touchdown since the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to win against New Orleans despite the defense’s stellar performance, but it’s a good sign moving forward. No, they haven’t held high octane offenses out of the end zone, but rewind the clock a year. The defense hit its stride against some teams in the final quarter of the season against some lackluster offenses as well. Sometimes, all you have to do is get in a rhythm and then it doesn’t matter the level of the offense you play - you impose your will on them and dominate. Now, it looks like the Bucs are beginning to hit that stride. They sacked Carolina quarterbacks seven times, got an interception, and held them to 7-for-18 on third downs. Through the first half, the Panthers had zero rushing yards out of their running backs. They certainly have a great opportunity to extend that streak of keeping teams out of the end zone next week against the New York Jets.
3.) Have a day, Jordan. A huge reason that the defense played so well was the emergence of Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead seemed to have his name called on just about every play. He forced Newton into a sack by William Gholston in the first quarter, had an interception, finished with a team high seven tackles, as well as a team high three passes defensed. In the absence of Antoine Winfield Jr., Whitehead was the star of the secondary and wasn’t just making plays in the passing game, but crashing the box to stop the Carolina running game. If he plays like this into the postseason, the Bucs’ defense is going to be terrifying.
4.) Ok, I’ll eat the crow. I haven’t been overly critical here, but on the Locked On Bucs Podcast, I have really given Ronald Jones some grief this season for not looking good or taking advantage of what little opportunities he’s had. Now, there’s no question his opportunity has been limited because of how well Fournette has played, but I felt RoJo was almost pouting and mailing it in when he got the chance to play. I was wrong. As the lead guy for the Bucs, RoJo finished with 65 yards on 20 carries - which is an unimpressive 3.3 yards per carry - but he played much better than that. He was hit for little or no gain a lot late in the game when the Bucs were in “run out the clock” mode. RoJo was consistently breaking off big chunks of yards early on and getting the offense tough yards and moving the chains. He looked like the RoJo of 2020 and that’s exactly what you wanted to see. The fresh legs of Fournette helped a lot late last year and into the playoffs, so you have to hope that history repeats itself just with the players switching places.
5.) More unfortunate news to keep an eye on. Shaquil Barrett, who got a sack to reach double-digits yet again, left the game late in the first half with an injury. Now, he returned for the first series of the second half before leaving again and being ruled out with a knee injury. After the game, Bruce Arians said that it appears Barrett has a mild MCL injury but will undergo more tests on Monday. Mild MCL seems to be good news all things considered, but keep in mind that after last week’s game the team believed Godwin avoided a major injury. You hope they’re right this time around and it isn’t another situation where we think Barrett will be back just to find out he’s on the shelf for an extended period of time.
6.) Enjoy it. After as much grief as Saints fans were dishing out following last week, enjoy this. The Buccaneers are 11-4, in line to go 13-4, and have won the division. There should be plenty of excitement and happiness among Tampa Bay faithful. Remember, most of these key players are coming back (and hopefully no one else gets injured) so things will just continue to look up. And once the playoffs start, there’s a whole lot of players in that locker room that know exactly what it takes to reach the top of the mountain.
Six Numbers To Consider
1 - Win away from tying the franchise record for wins in a season
4 - Players with multiple double-digit sack seasons for the Bucs - Barrett, Simeon Rice (5), Warren Sapp (3), and Lee Roy Selmon (4)
530 - Yards needed by Brady in final two games to break the Bucs’ single season record for passing yards in a season
3 - Cameron Brate’s rank on the Bucs’ all-time list for receiving touchdowns after passing Kevin House on Sunday
19 - Years since the Buccaneers appeared in the playoffs in back-to-back years
143 - Consecutive games Antonio Brown has played in where he got a reception - the longest active streak in the NFL
Six Best Tweets
Bucs Sacks: pic.twitter.com/ZlBQPOzF7D— Evan Closky (@ECloskyWTSP) December 26, 2021
Quarterbacks and NFC South Champs. Great team achievement from the top down. Also.. everyone please note, QB room is tallest, best looking, and probably the funniest too. pic.twitter.com/uVeLncXjlu— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) December 27, 2021
Ke’Shawn Vaughn 55 yard touchdown run pic.twitter.com/yZFYKT1GCO— Bucs Nation (@Bucs_Nation) December 26, 2021
Robby Anderson spun the ball in front of the #Bucs bench and pointed up to celebrate a meaningless catch on 1st down, while being down 32-6 with no time left in the game.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 26, 2021
[He also celebrated a short catch the play earlier, and yes, the score was still 32-6] pic.twitter.com/0lozsS0UkH
This one is funny on a few levels. First off, have some self-awareness. You’re down 26 with under 2 minutes left and you’re posing for a first down. Second, peep Antonio Brown’s reaction as he’s on the exercise bike. Hilarious.
what you see when you look at jordan whitehead vs. what he sees in the mirror pic.twitter.com/1ogWIdlhJk— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) January 24, 2021
NFC South Champs ‼️ pic.twitter.com/dauIAfghmS— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 26, 2021
Ok, not a list of six, but important information to pass along. At this stage, all Bucs fans need to do - outside of the Bucs winning their final two - is to root for a Rams loss. A Rams loss means the Buccaneers enter a two-way tie with the Dallas Cowboys where the Buccaneers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and would get the second seed. The Rams still play at Baltimore and home against the 49ers. Either game could be a loss, but the Baltimore game seems more likely if the Ravens get Lamar Jackson back. Division games are always tough and in their first meeting this year, the Rams were dominated by San Francisco 31-10. Even if the Cardinals win out, they’d be one game behind the Bucs. So, for the next two weeks, your second favorite teams are the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
Six Super Bowl Bets
1.) Green Bay Packers - Top seed in the NFC, holding strong after a narrow win on Christmas
2.) Kansas City Chiefs - Ugh. How did we get to this point after the way the season started?
3.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Winning in the face of adversity with plenty of impact players returning
4.) Dallas Cowboys - Could prove problematic in the playoffs
5.) Indianapolis Colts - Winners of six out of their last seven with an MVP candidate in their backfield. Making noise at the right time
6.) Buffalo Bills - Beginning to look like who we thought they were