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Los Angeles Chargers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

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Buccaneers’ Road to Super Bowl LV: The First Quarter

In the week leading up to Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium, we’ll be taking a look back at the Buccaneers’ journey to this point. Today, we start with the season’s first quarter.

What a magical year it’s been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers... Last March, they decided to move on from their 2015 No. 1 overall pick, Jameis Winston. And to replace him, all they did was sign the greatest quarterback of all time. From the moment Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay, expectations were immediately high for him and his new team. The roster continued to get even more star-studded as the spring and summer went on and now, in this moment, the Bucs are preparing to play for the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium on Feb. 7.

Leading up to the Super Bowl LV matchup between the Bucs and Chiefs, we’re going to take a look back at Tampa Bay’s journey to this point. Today, we start with the first quarter of the 2020 season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

When the 2020 regular season schedule dropped last spring, the Buccaneers got a tough draw right off the bat. Scheduling them to hit the road for a matchup against the Saints was great from a storyline and television perspective, but it probably wasn’t the ideal opener for a team with a new quarterback and some rookies stepping into key starting roles. Especially when you consider the abbreviated training camp and lack of preseason games to work out the kinks, the Bucs were up against it in Week 1 as they played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which was without fans due to COVID-19 protocols.

Things started off well enough for Tampa Bay as it took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to Tom Brady’s first touchdown as a Buc, which came on a two-yard run. However, New Orleans scored the next 24 points to take a commanding lead, with 14 of those points coming off of interceptions thrown by Brady. A touchdown pass to O.J. Howard and a field goal did get the Bucs back into the game, bringing it to 24-17. But a Saints touchdown and a fumble caused by miscommunication on the ensuing kickoff meant the end for the visitors. By the time it was all finished, the Bucs had lost 34-23, falling to 0-1.

Top Performers: Tom Brady (23-of-36, 239 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, rushing touchdown); Chris Godwin (Six catches, 79 yards); Lavonte David (11 tackles, seven solo, 2.5 tackles for loss, quarterback hit); Devin White (11 tackles, six solo, two tackles for loss, pass defended)

NFL: SEP 20 Panthers at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Returning to Raymond James Stadium in Week 2, the Bucs got in the win column for the first time in 2020. Hosting a rebuilding Panthers team, Tampa Bay got out to a quick start. Jordan Whitehead intercepted Teddy Bridgewater on Carolina’s opening drive, leading to a 78-yard drive that was capped off by a seven-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones II. A sack-fumble forced by rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. ended the Panthers’ next drive and set up a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans, and just like that, it was 14-0 Tampa Bay. A Leonard Fournette touchdown run before halftime made it a 21-0 game, but from there, things got a little tricky for the Bucs.

Carolina scored the first 14 points of the second half to get within 21-14 and eventually cut it to 24-17 late, but then the Bucs did something they hadn’t been able to do consistently for years: They finished the game strong. After recovering Joey Slye’s onside kick, it took one play for Tampa Bay to put the finishing touches on its first win, as Fournette broke free for a 46-yard touchdown. One stat-padding drive later and the Bucs had won 31-17 to even their record at 1-1 on the year.

Top Performers: Leonard Fournette (12 carries, 103 yards, two touchdowns); Mike Evans (Seven catches, 104 yards, touchdown); Devin White (15 tackles, 11 solo, tackle for loss, pass defended, quarterback hit); Antoine Winfield Jr. (11 tackles, 8 solo, sack, forced fumble); Ndamukong Suh (Five tackles, four solo, two sacks); Jordan Whitehead (Five tackles, four solo, 1.5 tackles for loss, interception)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Tampa Bay hit the road once again in Week 3, this time heading west to take on a Broncos team that was without starting quarterback Drew Lock. The Bucs grabbed momentum almost immediately, getting a stop on defense before Patrick O’ Connor blocked the Denver punt. That set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin. From there, Tampa Bay didn’t look back. A field goal and a couple of touchdown passes from Brady to Mike Evans had the Bucs up 23-10 at halftime and Todd Bowles’ defense took care of the rest from there.

A slow second-half for Brady and the offense wasn’t promising, but the defense pitching a shutout over the final 30 minutes meant that there would be no drama down the stretch. Shaquil Barrett picked up a safety against his former team, then both Lavonte David and Mike Edwards came up with interceptions to help Tampa Bay seal its second win of the season. With a 28-10 victory, the Bucs were 2-1 as they headed home for Week 4.

Top Performers: Tom Brady (25-of-38, 297 yards, three touchdowns); Chris Godwin (Five catches, 64 yards, touchdown); Mike Evans (Two catches, two yards, two touchdowns); Shaquil Barrett (Six tackles, five solo, two sacks, three tackles for loss); Antoine Winfield Jr. (Six tackles, four solo, sack, pass defended)

Los Angeles Chargers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The Bucs got a phenomenal battle from the Chargers in Week 4 at Raymond James Stadium. Playing in front of a limited-capacity home crowd for the first time this season, Tampa Bay opened the game with a 10-play, 75-yard drive in five minutes, taking a 7-0 lead on a three-yard pass from Tom Brady to Cameron Brate. Los Angeles scored the next 24 points, though, with rookie Justin Herbert coming out on fire. A pick six thrown by Brady and a missed field goal helped put the Chargers in an advantageous position, but for the first time this season, Bucs fans learned not to count the G.O.A.T. out of a game. The Bucs got within 24-14 right before halftime thanks to an Ndamukong Suh forced fumble and a Devin White recovery that turned into a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Evans.

In the second half, Tampa Bay got right back in the game. A Jordan Whitehead sack forced a three-and-out, then a 28-yard touchdown pass from Brady to O.J. Howard got the Bucs within 24-21. A missed field goal then opened the door for the home team to take the lead back, and it did. Brady hit Scotty Miller for a 19-yard score to make it a 28-24 game. Herbert fought right back, though, hitting Jalen Guyton for a 72-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 31-28 lead. But once again, the Bucs finished the game. A 75-yard scoring drive ended with Brady throwing a nine-yard touchdown to rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. One field goal later, Tampa Bay was up 38-31, then a Carlton Davis interception sealed a third straight win for Bruce Arians and his team.

Top Performers: Tom Brady (30-of-46, 369 yards, five touchdowns, one interception); Ronald Jones II (20 carries, 111 yards); Mike Evans (Seven catches, 122 yards, touchdown); Scotty Miller (Five catches, 83 yards, touchdown); O.J. Howard (Three catches, 50 yards, touchdown); Shaquil Barrett (Seven tackles, five solo, sack); Carlton Davis (Two passes defended, game-clinching interception)

First Quarter Recap

After four games of the Tom Brady era, things were looking pretty solid in Tampa Bay. A season-opening loss to New Orleans was a tough way to start, but the Bucs followed that disappointing debut with three straight wins, taking care of business against three lower-tier teams. At 3-1 heading into a Thursday Night Football game in Chicago, the Bucs were in a good spot. While there were certainly some wrinkles that they needed to iron out, winning three of four to kick off 2020—especially without a true offseason to prepare—was a strong start.

Be sure to check back throughout the week for the rest of our “Road to Super Bowl LV” series!

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