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Buccaneers vs. Eagles recap: Super Bowl defense begins with 31-15 win

Tampa Bay got out to a 31-0 lead after three quarters and coasted through the fourth, advancing to the NFC Divisional Round with a 31-15 win over the Eagles.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Following a historic 13-4 regular season, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers got the next step of their title defense underway on Sunday afternoon, welcoming the Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) to Raymond James Stadium for an NFC Wild Card Round matchup.

For the Bucs, Sunday marked their first true home playoff game since 2008. On that day, their season ended with loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants. Rather than repeating that, they were looking to take down another NFC East team in the first round of the playoffs, just like they did a year ago on their way to their second-ever Lombardi Trophy.

In last year’s NFC Wild Card Round, the Bucs hit the road and took care of business by beating the Washington Football Team, 31-23. Key contributors from that victory were missing for Sunday’s contest against the Eagles, with Antonio Brown released, Chris Godwin (knee) out for the season and Leonard Fournette (hamstring) unable to return from injured reserve. The big boosts for Tampa Bay, however, came via the returns of Lavonte David (foot), Shaquil Barrett (knee) and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder). The offense also got Giovani Bernard (hip/knee) back from injured reserve, which was significant as Fournette and Ronald Jones II (ankle) were sidelined.

The Eagles remarkably overcame a 3-6 start to their season to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Score-wise, they played the Bucs close in Week 6, losing 28-22 in Philadelphia. They were aided by two long pass interference penalties in that game and Tampa Bay left some points on the board, but they’ve improved over the second half of the season and came into Sunday eyeing a big upset.

The Bucs came into Sunday’s game as seven-point favorites, with ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor giving them a 77.4% chance to extend their playoff win streak to five and stay alive for the NFC Divisional Round.

From the very beginning, the Eagles were outmatched. The Bucs drove down the field in 12 plays to take an early 7-0 lead and the defense swarmed early and often. The home team took a 17-0 lead into halftime and added on in the third quarter, going up 31-0 before taking its foot off the gas a bit in the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, it was a 31-15 victory for Tampa Bay in the end, which means another home game at Raymond James Stadium next weekend with the opponent to be determined on Sunday afternoon.

Game Recap

The Eagles won the coin toss and elected to defer, meaning the Buccaneer offense would get things started from its own 25-yard line after a touchback on the opening kickoff. Ke’Shawn Vaughn took his first carry of the afternoon 17 yards up the middle for a first down, then Giovani Bernard dropped a pass on the next play to bring up 2nd & 10 at the 42. Brady missed Breshad Perriman on second down, but a late hit to his knees drew a roughing the passer call and got the ball into Eagles territory. With a first down at the Philadelphia 43, the Bucs went back to Vaughn for three yards before a second-down miss brought up 3rd & 7, but not before an injury timeout. All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs had to be helped off the field, which was a bad sign for the Tampa Bay offense.

After the Wirfs injury, Brady converted the 3rd & 7 with a pass to Mike Evans. Another short pass to Evans on the next snap got the Bucs inside the Eagles’ 30, then Brady hit Bernard for a six-yard gain. Brady went back to Bernard again on 3rd & 2 and hit him for nine yards down to the 15-yard line, extending an impressive opening possession for the home team. A three-yard pass to O.J. Howard and an eight-yarder to Cameron Brate then set up a 1st & Goal from the 4 and, two plays later, Bernard got Tampa Bay on the board with a two-yard touchdown run. Ryan Succop’s PAT split the uprights, capping the Bucs’ 12-play, 75-yard drive that lasted five minutes. With 10:00 left in the opening quarter, it was a 7-0 lead for the defending champions.

After Bradley Pinion sent the ensuing kickoff into the end zone, the Philadelphia offense took over from its 25-yard line. Miles Sanders opened the drive by taking a pitch for seven yards, but then Devin White dropped Boston Scott for a gain of just one on Jalen Hurts’ first pass of the day to set up 3rd & 2. And to build off of that stop, White and Jordan Whitehead swallowed Hurts for a loss of three on an option play, forcing a quick three-and-out. And even better for the Bucs, Arryn Siposs shanked his punt, sending it just 27 yards to give the ball over to the Tampa Bay offense at its own 43.

Vaughn got two yards to open the next drive and Perriman made his first catch to the 50 to bring up a manageable 3rd & 3, but a third-down drop by Tyler Johnson wasted the solid field position and brought Pinion out for his first punt of the day. It wasn’t a great one, as it was caught at the 19 for a net of 31 yards. A quick three-and-out in 1:01 by the Buccaneer offense brought Hurts and the Eagles offense back out with another chance to tie the game.

Hurts took an option for nine yards on the first play of Philadelphia’s second drive, then an offsides call on Jason Pierre-Paul gave the Eagles their first first down of the day. But on 1st & 10, Jordan Whitehead continued his fast start by making an excellent play in space to drop Sanders for a loss of five. Sanders got six yards back on a reception to set up 3rd & 9, but the Eagles went to the air and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka knocked the pass away to force another punt. After a 36-yarder, the Tampa Bay offense took back over at its own 30, already leading 7-0 with 4:25 left in the opening quarter.

Vaughn got another two yards to start the next Buccaneer possession before Rob Gronkowski took over with back-to-back catches for 13 and eight yards. With a 2nd & 2 at the Philadelphia 47, Brady threw to Johnson, who hauled the pass in for a 17-yard gain to the 30. Two plays later, Evans got the Bucs inside the red zone with a 16-yard catch. He brought in another catch for eight yards on the next play, setting Vaughn up to move the chains inside the 5. Two plays later, he found the end zone from one yard out to give the Bucs a two-score lead. Succop’s PAT made it 14-0 and marked the end of a 10-play, 70-yard drive that took four minutes.

A short kickoff by Pinion didn’t hurt the Bucs too much, as Kenneth Gainwell got to the 27-yard line before getting stopped. Sanders got two yards on the first play of the third Philadelphia possession, and that brought us to the end of the first quarter with Tampa Bay leading 14-0.

Hurts missed Dallas Goedert to open the second quarter, bringing up a crucial 3rd & 8 at the 29-yard line. Philadelphia failed to convert once again, with Antoine Winfield Jr. getting to Hurts and getting credited with a sack. After another punt, the Tampa Bay offense took over at its own 31. And in even better news, Ryan Jensen was back on the field to start the next drive.

Philadelphia’s defense got a heavy dose of Mike Evans to open the next possession, as the eight-time 1,000-yard receiver caught passes for gains of 18 and nine yards to get the ball into Eagles territory. A first-down run by Vaughn and an eight-yard pass to Scotty Miller got the Bucs to the 29 before Vaughn moved the chains again with a six-yard pickup. Brady then found the second-year running back out of the backfield for five yards before hitting Tyler Johnson for a 13-yard pickup to the Eagles’ 5. A 1st & Goal incompletion and a loss of four on a pitch pass to Bernard backed the Bucs up to 3rd & Goal at the 9 before Brady got sacked at the 16. That brought Succop on for a 34-yard field goal, which he drilled to extend the Tampa Bay lead to 17-0 with 9:16 left in the first half.

Grant Stuard and the Buccaneer kick coverage team kept the momentum going on the ensuing kickoff, stopping Gainwell at the 17. An 11-yard run by Hurts looked to get things going for the Eagles on their next drive, but a pass for no gain to Quez Watkins and a three-yard pass to Gainwell forced them into a 3rd & 7. Hurts picked up a big conversion on third down, hitting Goedert for 16 yards to the 47 before getting into Buccaneer territory for the first time on the afternoon with a six-yard run. But a 2nd & 4 near-interception by Lavonte David forced another third-down try, which Philadelphia failed to convert as Hurts overthrew Goedert deep. Down 17-0 and facing 4th & 4 at the Bucs’ 47, the Eagles looked to go for it, but not before a Tampa Bay timeout.

After the timeout, the Eagles did go for it and converted, with Hurts finding Goedert again for a gain of 10 to the 37. The tight end looked to have another big gain on the next play as Hurts avoided a blitz, but the ball went through his hands with no one around him to bring up 2nd & 10. Going back to the ground, Sanders got nowhere, with Devin White getting to him for a loss of one. White then snuffed out a screen pass to Sanders, stopping him for a gain of just one. The Eagles lined up for another fourth-down try, but Carlton Davis knocked the 4th & 10 pass away to turn the ball over on downs. He was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet after the play, though, backing the Bucs up to their own 22.

Tampa Bay’s ensuing possession went nowhere, with Vaughn losing a yard on first down and getting four on second down before Brady was sacked again on third down. Tristan Wirfs had made his way back into the game, but looked noticeably shaky in allowing the sack before limping off after the play.

Philadelphia’s return on the next Pinion punt went for just five yards, setting the next drive up at the 39. Penalties quickly became the story of the next possession, as Goedert broke free for a 32-yard gain on a screen to give the Eagles some life, only for it to get called back due to a holding penalty. That brought them back to a 1st & 10 at the 39 after the two-minute warning. DeVonta Smith looked to pick up nine yards on the next play, but offensive pass interference pushed the Eagles back to 1st & 20 at the 29.

Philadelphia rebounded nicely from there, but only briefly. Hurts got nine yards on the ground on 2nd & 20 before finding Watkins for a 35-yard gain on 3rd & 11, getting to the Tampa Bay 27. A six-yard pass to Smith kept things going, but then an ill-advised throw to the pylon was jumped and intercepted by Mike Edwards. The Bucs got the ball back with 43 seconds left in the half, already leading 17-0.

A five-yard run by Vaughn led to the Bucs’ second timeout of the half before a three-yard pass to Gronkowski brought up 3rd & 2. But the drive ended there, with Brady getting sacked for a third time on the day with 27 seconds to play in the second quarter. Pinion’s punt was a good one, carrying and rolling to the Philadelphia 19-yard line, going down as a 61-yard punt with no return. The Eagles took over there with 15 seconds left before halftime.

Jamel Dean dropped Kenneth Gainwell on the first and only play of the next Eagles drive, sending the teams into their locker rooms with the Bucs leading 17-0.

After Pinion delivered a touchback on the opening kickoff of the second half, the Eagles went to work on their 17-point deficit from the 25-yard line. A two-yard run by Sanders and a holding penalty that negated a nine-yard Hurts run didn’t help, as they were pushed back to 2nd & 18 at the 17. A 10-yard pass to Gainwell got them to a more manageable 3rd & 8, and once again it was Goedert coming through with a 28-yard catch to the Bucs’ 45. Carlton Davis dropped a sure interception on the next play, but two more incompletions ensured that it wouldn’t come back to haunt the defense. On 4th & 10 from the 45, the Eagles punted the ball away. After a fair catch called by Jaelon Darden, the Buccaneer offense took over at its own 9, with Josh Wells in at right tackle for the injured Tristan Wirfs.

The Bucs opened their first possession of the second half with a seven-yard run by Vaughn, only for Vaughn to go nowhere on second down to bring up a 3rd & 5. Brady then looked for Perriman on third down, but the pass was broken up with some early contact going uncalled. The Bucs had to punt after a quick three-and-out, but just when it looked like they were in danger of letting the Eagles grab momentum back, they got another turnover. Pinion’s punt was muffed by Jalen Reagor and recovered by Ross Cockrell at the Philadelphia 48, keeping the Buccaneer offense on the field.

Tampa Bay immediately took advantage of the turnover, with Brady finding Bernard for a 22-yard gain out of the backfield for a first down at the Eagles’ 26. Bernard got a couple on the next play and Brate caught a five-yard pass to bring up third down before Evans caughta 17-yard pass to the 2-yard line. And one play later, Brady found Gronkowski all alone in the end zone for a touchdown. With Succop’s PAT, the Bucs’ lead stretched to 24-0 with 7:38 to go in the third quarter.

Miles Sanders went for 14 yards on his best run of the day to start the next Eagles possession, then Hurts found Reagor for two yards and Sanders for five to bring up 3rd & 3 near midfield. Solid coverage by Dean forced the Eagles to go for it on 4th & 4 and when they did, Hurts had his pass tipped up into the air and intercepted by Shaquil Barrett. The return went 18 yards, setting the Bucs up with a first down at the Philadelphia 36.

One play after the interception, Tampa Bay cashed in. Brady found Evans for a 36-yard touchdown. Evans escaped a defender and flipped into the end zone, extending the Buccaneer lead to 30. And with Succop’s PAT, it was 31-0 with 5:18 left in the third quarter.

Joe Tryon-Shoyinka dropped Hurts for a loss of four to start the next Philadelphia possession, then Anthony Nelson pressured him into an incompletion. Hurts found Jordan Howard for a gain of seven on third down, but it wasn’t enough and it forced the Eagles to punt. After an eight-yard return by Darden, the Bucs took over from their own 19 with a 31-point lead and 3:50 left in the third quarter.

Runs of eight and seven yards by Bernard got the Bucs out to the 34-yard line, but a two-yard loss, an incompletion and a snap infraction pushed the offense back to a third and very long. Tampa Bay got seven yards back, but had to punt the ball away. Pinion’s kick flipped the field, with Dee Delaney getting to the return man for a loss of one. That set the Eagles up at their own 20 with just over a minute left in the third quarter.

Mike Edwards hit Sanders for a loss of three to start the Philadelphia drive, then Hurts overthrew Watkins to bring up third down. And on that third down, Devin White came flying in to force a Hurts incompletion and another three-and-out. After the punt, we reached the end of the third quarter with the Bucs leading the Eagles 31-0.

Vaughn lost five yards on first down and gained six on second to open the fourth quarter, then Brady was sacked again. That brought Pinion out for a punt, which he sent 57 yards to the 8-yard line, only for Reagor to return it 28 yards to the 36. The Eagles set up shop there with 12:48 to go.

Philadelphia struck quickly on its next offensive series, with Hurts finding Smith for a gain of 31 before Boston Scott broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run to break the shutout. With the PAT, the Eagles got within 31-7 with 12:08 left.

With Brady still in the game, the Buccaneer offense went back to work at its own 10 after a holding penalty on the kickoff. Bernard got five yards on first down and Brate caught a 16-yard pass on the next play, but the drive stalled there. Brady missed on third down and had a late shove go uncalled, leading to a punt. Reagor muffed another Pinion punt, but eventually recovered it only to be tackled at the 7.

Going from the 7-yard line with little left to play for, the Eagles got six yards from Gainwell on first down and 19 on second down thanks to a pass from Hurts to Smith. After a five-yard run by Hurts, Goedert got back in on the action with a 17-yard catch to the Bucs 46. Tampa Bay got the Eagles into a 3rd & 6, but Hurts converted it with a 20-yard pass to Gainwell. The drive kept moving, with Hurts running for six yards to the 16 before throwing incomplete in the end zone. That brought up 3rd & 4, which Hurts converted again, finding Gainwell for a 16-yard touchdown. With the two-point conversion completed to Smith, Philadelphia got within two scores at 31-15 with 4:45 to go.

Philadelphia’s ensuing onside kick was recovered by Bernard, giving the ball back to Tampa Bay at the Eagles 46. From there, Tampa Bay went to work on the clock. Vaughn picked up two yards, sending the clock to the four-minute mark by the next snap. Scotty Miller then took an end-around for nine yards, forcing the Eagles to call their first timeout. They called their second after a three-yard run by Vaughn took the clock down to 3:45. Bernard picked up three more yards on the next play to bring up third down and force the Eagles to call their final timeout.

Tampa Bay converted the 3rd & 4, as Brady found Bernard for a six-yard gain. Runs of three and five from Bernard then took us to the two-minute warning with the Bucs leading 31-15. The offense eventually turned the ball over on downs, but left the Eagles just over a minute to work with. They went nowhere, and the final errant pass of the afternoon was actually caught on the sideline by Tom Brady, capping off a 31-15 Wild Card win for the Buccaneers.

Quick Notes & Stats

  • The Bucs dominated the opening quarter of play, outscoring the Eagles 14-0 and earning an advantage in first downs (11-1), total yards (137-17), total plays (25-8), yards per play (5.5-2.1) and time of possession (10:01-4:59).
  • Much was made about the matchup between the Eagles’ No. 1 rushing offense and the vaunted Tampa Bay run defense. The Bucs got the best of things, holding Miles Sanders to 16 yards on seven carries. Jalen Hurts was more effective with his legs, totaling 39 yards on eight carries. Boston Scott had the longest run of the afternoon, which was a 34-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
  • Sunday marked the second time the Bucs have ever pitched a shutout in the first half of a playoff game. The first time came in 1997, when they held the Eagles scoreless over the opening half of a Wild Card game.
  • The Bucs are now 21-0 when leading at halftime with Tom Brady as their quarterback.
  • Brady finished the afternoon 29-of-37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with nine different receivers in the game.
  • Mike Evans led the way for Tampa Bay’s receivers, hauling in nine catches (a new Bucs playoff record) for 117 yards and a touchdown.
  • Rob Gronkowski caught five of his six targets for 31 yards and a touchdown.
  • Giovani Bernard was a big contributor for the Bucs, running for 44 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries while catching five of his seven targets for 39 yards.
  • Ke’Shawn Vaughn got the job done in the backfield as well for Tampa Bay, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
  • Tom Brady’s 84 passing touchdowns in the postseason are the most in NFL history. Rob Gronkowski’s 15 receiving touchdowns in the postseason are the most by a tight end in NFL history, as well as the second-most ever. He trails only Jerry Rice.
  • Mike Edwards was one of the starts of the defense for the Bucs, leading the team in tackles with nine (all solo), a tackle for loss and an interception. Shaquil Barrett later added an interception of his own.
  • Jordan Whitehead had two tackles for loss, playing a big role in Tampa Bay’s stout run defense.
  • Antoine Winfield Jr. had yet another impressive day, totaling five tackles (three solo), a sack and two quarterback hits.
  • Tampa Bay won the turnover battle 3-0.

The Buccaneers now await their opponent in the NFC Divisional Round. If the Cowboys beat the 49ers on Sunday afternoon, they’ll come to Raymond James Stadium next weekend. If the 49ers win, Tampa Bay will play host to the winner of Monday night’s game between the Rams and Cardinals. Dates and kickoff times are TBD for the next round.