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 continue with the fourth quarter of the 2020 regular season.
After dropping three of four heading into their Week 13 bye, the Buccaneers returned to Raymond James Stadium in Week 14 for a key contest against the Vikings, who came in on the fringe of the playoff bubble. Tampa Bay didn’t come out all that sharp, but it took advantage of some missed kicks by Dan Bailey to turn things around by halftime. After falling behind 6-0, the Bucs scored 17 straight points to end the half. A 48-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller got the scoring started for the home team before a Ronald Jones II touchdown run and a Ryan Succop field goal sent Tampa Bay into the locker room with an 11-point lead.
The Bucs added to their lead early in the third quarter, with Brady finding Rob Gronkowski for a two-yard touchdown pass. The defense continued to stand tall throughout the second half and only allowed a touchdown and a two-point conversion the rest of the way. A 23-14 deficit was as close as Minnesota got, then Succop drilled a 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to put the game away. With a relatively smooth victory, the Bucs got to 8-5 ahead of a trip to Atlanta.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (15-of-23, 196 yards, two touchdowns); Ronald Jones II (18 carries, 80 yards, touchdown); Antoine Winfield Jr. (12 tackles, 10 solo, sack, forced fumble); Ndamukong Suh (Six tackles, two solo, sack, three quarterback hits); Shaquil Barrett (Four tackles, all solo, two sacks, three quarterback hits)
Not many were convinced that Tampa Bay had truly figured things out after its Week 14 win over Minnesota. And for those who still doubted the Bucs at that point, they probably felt pretty vindicated after the Falcons made things look easy in the first half of a Week 15 matchup in Atlanta. The Falcons, who came in at 4-9, stormed out to a 17-0 lead before halftime and the Buccaneer offense simply couldn’t figure anything out against a very suspect defense. Things were looking dire for the Bucs, but then the second half saw Tom Brady do what he does best—break the hearts of Falcons fans everywhere with a monster second-half comeback.
The comeback attempt looked like it may be feeble in the third quarter. Leonard Fournette scored from one yard out to make it 17-7, but the Tampa Bay defense immediately turned around and allowed a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that pushed the Atlanta lead to 24-7. But from there, it was all Bucs. A Brady touchdown pass to Chris Godwin and another Fournette scoring run made it a 24-21 game heading into the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay tied it it with a field goal early on in the fourth before the Falcons finally mustered up a response to retake the lead, 27-24, with 8:22 to go. Then, a 46-yard beauty from Brady to Antonio Brown put the Bucs out in front for the first time in the game with 6:19 left and Tampa Bay’s defense took care of business from there to give the visitors a huge 31-27 comeback win that got them to 9-5.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (31-of-45, 390 yards, two touchdowns); Leonard Fournette (14 carries, 49 yards, two touchdowns); Mike Evans (Six catches, 110 yards); Antonio Brown (Five catches, 93 yards, touchdown); Devin White (12 tackles, 10 solo, three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, two passes defended)
On the day after Christmas, the Bucs took the field in Detroit with a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since the 2007 season. Actually playing the game ended up feeling like a formality, as Tampa Bay cruised past a short-handed Lions team to win 47-7, earning its 10th win and locking up a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Detroit was without much of its coaching staff and then lost Matthew Stafford early in the game, and it was smooth sailing for the Bucs all the way. They jumped out to a 34-0 lead by halftime, with Tom Brady throwing touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Leonard Fournette added a rushing touchdown of his own as well, making for a big enough lead that the Bucs decided they didn’t need Brady for the second half.
Blaine Gabbert opened the second half with a scoring strike to Gronkowski, pushing the lead to 40-0. The Lions later got their only touchdown of the afternoon on a 74-yard punt return by Jamal Agnew, but the Bucs later answered when Gabbert hit Evans for another touchdown to bring the score to a 47-7 final. It was an easy one for Tampa Bay, which got to 10-5 and set itself up for its first 11-win season since 2005. The victory also improved the Bucs’ regular season road record to 6-2, a mark that would prove to be telling as they hit the road for the first three rounds of the postseason.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (22-of-27, 348 yards, four touchdowns); Blaine Gabbert (9-of-15, 143 yards, two touchdowns); Ke’Shawn Vaughn (15 carries, 62 yards); Mike Evans (10 catches, 181 yards, two touchdowns); Rob Gronkowski (Two catches, 58 yards, two touchdowns); Chris Godwin (Five catches, 84 yards, touchdown); Devin White (10 tackles, 10 solo, sack, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits); Herb Miller (First career interception)
The Bucs wrapped up the regular season in Week 17 with their fourth straight win, beating the Falcons at home by a score of 44-27. Early on in the game, Mike Evans got the yards he needed to become the first player in NFL history to start his career with seven consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He unfortunately left the game shortly after with what looked like a bad injury, but thankfully he was back in the lineup the very next week. Without Evans, Tom Brady looked elsewhere. He threw first-half touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, while three Ryan Succop field goals gave Tampa Bay a 23-10 lead heading into halftime.
The Bucs let the Falcons back into the game in the third quarter, getting outscored 10-0 to make it a 23-20 game heading into the regular season’s final 15 minutes. The two teams traded touchdowns to start the fourth before Tampa Bay put the game away. Godwin and Brown both caught touchdown passes down the stretch to give the home team an emphatic 44-27 win. The Bucs picked up their 11th win and wrapped up the NFC’s No. 5 seed in the process, setting up a first-round matchup in Washington the next week—the franchise’s first playoff game since January of 2008.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (26-of-41, 399 yards, four touchdowns, one interception); Ronald Jones II (12 carries, 78 yards, touchdown); Antonio Brown (11 catches, 148 yards, two touchdowns); Chris Godwin (Five catches, 133 yards, two touchdowns); Ndamukong Suh (Three tackles, all solo, sack, two quarterback hits); Sean Murphy-Bunting (Six tackles, five solo, tackle for loss, pass defended, forced fumble, fumble recovery); Antoine Winfield Jr. (Seven tackles, five solo, pass defended, fumble recovery)
Fourth Quarter Recap
After looking a bit wobbly throughout the regular season’s third quarter, the Buccaneers took their bye week to regroup before coming back to figure things out down the stretch. While the win over the Vikings in Week 14 was a solid one, it felt like the team truly turned a corner in the second half of its Week 15 comeback victory in Atlanta. The offense started clicking and the defense kept making big plays to complement the scoring, making for a dangerous team heading into the playoffs. While past years were made exciting if the Bucs were simply playing meaningful games in December, the strong stretch run ensured that Tampa Bay would be playing into the second weekend of January. And from there, well, you know the rest—and we’ll get there tomorrow.
Be sure to check back on Friday for the playoff edition of our “Road to Super Bowl LV” series!