Not quite the nail-biter we grew accustomed to in the early 2000’s between these two teams, was it? The Buccaneers made quick and easy work of Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday on their way to the Divisional Round - and a currently unknown opponent.
Let’s Pick Six.
Six Topics Suitable For Conversation
1.) The defense we’ve been waiting for. That was the kind of defensive performance so many have been waiting to see all season long. The Buccaneers absolutely smothered the Eagles from the jump. Two sacks and two interceptions of Jalen Hurts, holding the Eagles to 5-of-14 on third downs, 1-of-3 on fourth downs, and keeping the league’s number one rushing attack to under 100 yards. At one point, Tampa Bay had seventeen points while the Eagles had just ten plays. That’s the kind of performance this team has to have to make another run in the playoffs and it was led by players like Devin White, Jordan Whitehead, Shaquil Barrett, Carlton Davis, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Regardless of Monday night’s winner, the test gets much tougher next week.
2.) Mike Evans is still overlooked and underrated. Evans set a franchise record for receptions in a playoff game, With his support staff within the receiving corps injured or gone from the team, Evans continues to find ways to put the game on his back and take care of business any time he’s called upon. Fighting hard for yards after catch, making tacklers miss, sliding and diving to make catches and move the chains - that’s leadership, reliability, and pure excellence. Kay Adams of Good Morning Football said it’s not right that Evans isn’t in the same conversation with the likes of Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, or DeAndre Hopkins because all people want in a wide receiver is consistency but no one talks about consistency since it’s “not sexy.” With Evans playing this way, there’s no question the Bucs can win another one even without Chris Godwin and that other guy.
3.) All I do is win, win win... Prior to the arrival of Tom Brady, the Buccaneers were 6-9 all time in playoff games. Since Brady’s arrival, the Buccaneers are now 5-0. Again, this is the reason Tampa went all in on Brady and this short window where they’ve already won one championship and are looking for another. Trading draft capital for Rob Gronkowski, taking the chance on Antonio Brown, taking the chance on Leonard Fournette - it’s all been because the Bucs know their best window to win is right now with number 12 under center. After that, the future is a giant unknown. So far, it’s paying off in a big way. However, there’s still a long way to go.
4.) Your rooting interest. It’s the playoffs so anything can happen, right? Well, for those Buccaneers fans that will be paying attention to the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams in the first ever Super Wild Card Weekend Monday night game, here’s something to keep in mind. Since the Buccaneers signed Brady, they have lost nine games over two seasons. Six of those nine losses have come at the hands of the New Orleans Saints (four) and Los Angeles Rams (two). Yes, Tampa Bay hasn’t won a regular season game against the Rams in each of the last two seasons. Now, I know what you’re telling yourself - the Bucs didn’t win in the regular season against the Saints last year and still won the playoff game. Yes, that’s absolutely true. That said, the Bucs match up better against the Cardinals than they do the Rams. And do you really want to see Von Miller screaming off the edge if Tristan Wirfs is out with an ankle injury?
5.) Ok, my bad. In my preview for this game, I spoke a lot about the return of Leonard Fournette in this game. To me, all signs pointed to him playing and I was a bit surprised when the Buccaneers didn’t activate him in time for the deadline. That said, another return is more than deserving of stealing some headlines - Gio Bernard. Bernard was an absolute force for the Bucs on Sunday in the run and pass game, finishing with 44 rush yards on 13 carries while adding 39 receiving yards on five receptions, and a touchdown to tie it all together. Gio looked fresh, ready, and motivated in this game as he was able to get his first postseason win of his career while complimenting the “lead back” in Ke’Shawn Vaughn who finished with just four more carries than Bernard. One person we didn’t see was Le’Veon Bell who had zero snaps. It seemed odd considering the role he played over the last two weeks, but maybe the Bucs are still trying to save him a little. There isn’t a lot of film on him in the Bucs’ offense and that could create some looks teams aren’t ready for in the postseason. You don’t want to throw that away in the first round when you’re on cruise control.
6.) Send ALL the good vibes. For the first time in franchise history, the Buccaneers had a first team All-Pro offensive lineman - and now his status is in doubt for the rest of the postseason. Tristan Wirfs, in just his second year, has become the most dominant right tackle in the league. After suffering an ankle injury in the first half, Wirfs tried to come back and play on one leg and was promptly beat causing Brady to be sacked. Now, there’s no clarity on the status of the injury but there’s no question that if Wirfs is out, the Bucs could be in some trouble. These games get tougher the deeper you go and not having the best offensive line in the NFL intact for playoff games is a scary proposition. Josh Wells didn’t look great in his short stint at right tackle before he got hurt. Now, Robert Hainsey played tackle at Notre Dame but has mostly worked as a center with the Bucs. Could he be the one to fill in, making his first snap as a tackle in the NFL in the Divisional Round of the playoffs? You hope not, but it’s possible. Just send all those positive thoughts and vibes Tristan’s way and hope he’s able to go on Sunday.
Six Numbers To Consider
5 - Playoff wins, without a loss, in the Bruce/Brady era
9 - Receptions by Mike Evans, most in a playoff game by any Buccaneer in franchise history
29 - Completions by Brady, a franchise record for a playoff game
16 - Margin of victory over the Eagles, fifth most for the Bucs in team playoff history
55 - Yards Evans needs to pass Keyshawn Johnson for most postseason receiving yards in team history
15 - Playoff touchdown receptions by Gronk, second most in the NFL all-time (Jerry Rice, 22)
Six Best Tweets
When Howie Long mentions Todd Bowles as a head coach candidate… pic.twitter.com/P8bAACW5Pn— Locked On Bucs (@LockedOnBucs) January 16, 2022
But everyone wants to talk about Brady not shaking Foles’ hand...
Six Key Players
6.) Jamel Dean - There were some questions surrounding his availability, but he was able to go and kept Devonta Smith in check for pretty much the entire game.
5.) Gio Bernard - A dual-threat weapon returns to the team after injury and becomes a reliable guy that the Bucs put the ball in the hands of repeatedly. Huge game for him in Fournette’s absence
4.) Mike Edwards - Led the team in tackles and teleported across the field for a touchdown saving interception
3.) Jordan Whitehead - This guy has been an absolute missel for the last month. What a spark he brings to that defense
2.) Tom Brady - A little off early on, but ended doing Tom Brady things
1.) Mike Evans - Mr. Consistency, franchise record for catches in a playoff game. He’s the engine that will drive the team in the playoffs
Six Super Bowl Bets
1.) Green Bay Packers - Lambeau in January is never ideal
2.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Blow out win and Playoff Lenny hasn’t set foot on the field yet
3.) Tennessee Titans - Congratulations on the playoff win, Bengals - now you face the return of The King
4.) Kansas City Chiefs - Still rolling, still dangerous, still championship caliber
5.) Buffalo Bills - Statement. Win.
6.) Los Angeles Rams? - Guess we’ll see, but I have a funny feeling the Cardinals pull this off