1) Well for starters, the Buffalo Bills made everyone happy the day before, so Tom Brady being in a good mood watching the Hooded One go down in flames had to get his spirits up, ya think.
1a) For all the worries about missing key players due to injury, for all the concerns about the dinged-up players coming back in less-than-ideal situations, for all the bad weather of the morning soaking the field and threatening more rain during the afternoon, for all the reality that Philadelphia was coming in with a red-hot running attack while Tampa Bay's run defense had turned porous...
1b) DAMN THIS WAS THE BIGGEST BEATDOWN THE BUCCANEERS EVER DELIVERED IN A PLAYOFF GAME. Well, at least for three quarters of play...
1c) Not even the Super Bowl wins, where those defenses pummeled the Raiders and Chiefs, forcing turnovers, generating sacks, while our offenses purred like well-tuned engines scoring enough points by halftimes to ensure those victories, were this lopsided. At least the Raiders put up some points early. At least the Chiefs kicked a FG or two.
These Eagles came out flat and uncoordinated. Their vaunted run attack underwhelmed as the Bucs LBs reclaimed their tackling and containing prowess. Philly relied a little too early on Jalen Hurts to throw, and he had to throw while scrambling a little too often. By halftime, Bucs had double the offensive yards and a comfortable 17-0 lead.
1d) Bucs meanwhile came out like they owned the place (well, it IS Home Field). Other than a few miscues on pass plays, the offense got 14 points in the First Quarter like they needed (team has to score early dammit) and showed they were able to run effectively while Brady connected to multiple targets to underscore how he wouldn't need to rely on Mike Evans or GRONK too much (although he kind of did). That the early TDs were on run plays at the goal line meant the Bucs were comfortable scoring that way instead of Brady forcing throws into red zone coverage, which bodes well for this postseason.
1e) By the time the Eagles were making desperation plays - and inducing themselves to turnovers - in the Third Quarter it was all over. Bucs scored off one of those turnovers and then ran a long drive ending in a big Evans TD scramble that pretty much made it 31-0 at the start of the Fourth.
1f) And I swear to GOD, that 31 points must be some sort of jinx or cut-off point for the offense because once we hit that it was like the Bucs took their foot off the accelerator. WILL YOU PLEASE, ARIANS AND LEFTWICH AND BOWLES, WILL YOU PLEASE SCORE MORE THAN 31 POINTS NEXT GAME BECAUSE I'M FREAKING OUT OVER HERE!!! (to any latecomers to my fanposts, at the start of the 2020-21 postseason run I made a rather flippant observation that the Bucs were an offense that could score 31 points at will, and I think I jinxed it so that they ONLY score 31 points (or 30, close to it) just for the Football Gods to SPITE me)
Granted, you don't want to exert your starters late in a game you're winning by 31 to ZIP, and you just want to burn the clock out, but DAMMIT when you're inside the Red Zone after the opposing team scored 15 points to cut your lead in half, just KICK THE DAMN FIELD GOAL and make it 34-15, demonstrate your dominance through ALL FOUR QUARTERS. AND BREAK THAT DAMN JINX. /cries
2) Player of the Game: When the team shut out the Iggles offense for three full quarters, respect must be paid to a Bucs defense that owned the scrimmage line and also controlled the backfield. Respect to a secondary that had been playing dinged up and doubt-riddled for most of the regular season, so I'm making Safety Antoine Winfield Jr that guy. Opening early with a sack to show the blitz scheme was going to work in ANY direction, and then add another TFL and putting enough pressure on Hurts to make him, well, hurt.
2a) Shaquil Barrett was silent in the sack numbers but he single-handedly - literally - created an Interception that led to the quick TD strike from Brady to Evans to make the score 31-nil.
2b) Mike Evans - even as the primary WR, without a healthy Godwin to scare opposing secondaries - still made 9 catches on 10 targets for 117 yards and the big TD.
2c) Rob Gronkowski didn't get many yards but he was clutch in making first down catches, and lethal in the Red Zone snagging a TD from Brady to make the score 24-0 and confirm the game was a blowout.
2d) RB Giovani Bernard, a late-season signee to fill for Fournette and Jones' injury woes, did his best Playoff Lenny impersonation by rushing 13 times for 44 yards and the first TD of the game, AND catching 5 throws for 39 yards and key first downs.
2e) RB Ke'shawn Vaughn balanced out with 53 yards rushing and a red zone TD. He didn't catch often but he did enough to make other teams wonder how he'll be used in passing plays. Oh, Brady will have his weapons...
2f) LB Devin White was relatively quiet, although he was part of a defense that stifled the Eagles' run attack. He did show up with 3 QB hits showing he was making pressure on a lot of plays.
2g) Normally you don't want to mention your punter, but Bradley Pinion had a very effective day with 7 punts for a 48 yard average and a long of 61 yards, and didn't give the Eagles strong field position for most of the day. The Eagles punter at least shanked one bad one early on, which is why I paid a little more attention to Pinion's consistent work. Field position DOES matter in a game of inches...
3) If there's anything to nit-pick about this weekend's wild card win, it's some of the bad luck with injuries the Bucs faced this Sunday.
Especially hurting is the possible loss of Right Tackle Tristan Wirfs. Arguably the best offensive linesman the Bucs ever drafted since Paul Gruber, a pass-blocking marvel and one of five guys who made up the BEST O-Line in the entire NFL, he got hurt early in this matchup and spent most of it on the sidelines or the locker room for medical checks. When he tried to return in the Second Half, he didn't last long. Reports are now a sprained ankle (Gods help us if it's worse) and he may miss next week's big game against a scarier opponent (either Rams or Cardinals).
Losing Wirfs - and seeing C Ryan Jensen dinged up, although he kept playing - arguably led to the worst outing the O-line had in blocking for Brady: they gave up 4 sacks to a decent Philly pass rush. This can be a more troubling problem against either L.A. (anchored by Aaron Donald!) or Arizona (led by a rotation of blitzing LBs similar to the Bucs' scheme) that will eagerly blitz Tom Brady every chance they get.
3a) In terms of bad play, an egregiously stupid penalty by CB Carlton Davis - who over-celebrated a near-INT by taking his helmet off AND taunting the Eagles sideline - brings up the discipline issues that has haunted this team for years. DAMMIT CARLTON YOU WENT TO AUBURN, YOU SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN A BETTER EDUCATION THERE.
4) Statistics of the game: Turnovers. One of the key things I argued in pre-game chatter was how the Bucs defense needed to generate a ton of turnovers. The other defensive advantage we rely on - sacks and QB pressures - wasn't as strong this regular season, but turnovers got us wins (Bucs were 6th in the league with turnover differential at +10). Against a raw and still-learning QB like Hurts, turnovers were doable. And by GOD, the Bucs snagged 2 INTs and one fumble to generate 14 points off them.
4a) First downs: Bucs earned 23 over Eagles 14. Bucs were able to move the ball more often and make more offensive scores. Overall time of possession - Bucs had the ball for 33 minutes - reflected that as well.
4b) PENATLIES I SWEAR TO GOD WILL KILL US EVERY TIME: Actually both teams evened out at 4 flags apiece. And that's NOTHING compared to another team who did WORSE...
4c) Red Zone offense: Bucs went 3-for-5 in the Red Zone, which is nice but NOT as dominant as I'd like. The good news is two of those visits ended in rushing TDs meaning we can own the goal line in those situations. For the Eagles, they made only one visit to the Red Zone but they made it count with a TD. Still a good thing because the Bucs D were keeping them away from scoring a lot of points.
4d) Offensive yards in the First Half: I think I saw a stat sheet that showed the Eagles had less than 100 yards total offense by halftime. If anybody has those numbers, please share in the comments.
5) Playoff weekend isn't over yet: there's a Monday Nighter between Arizona at L.A. to confirm who gets to face the Bucs next Sunday at 3:00 PM EST.
This is the divisional round, where the matchups get scarier as the teams get better. These are often the teams that won a division or were talented enough to pull of the upset over a divisional winner. These are the teams that can give each other fits and making it harder to predict happy times after these games.
Bucs had already played the Rams as an away game, and they pummeled Tampa Bay without mercy. On paper, their defense can shut down ours while their passing offense anchored by MVP candidate (!) Cooper Kupp can score long-YAC TD scampers. Against them, the Bucs' only advantages are home field this time and the growing signs of QB Matthew Stafford having issues finishing a season at full strength.
The alternative will be the Cardinals, a team built very much like the Bucs - due to Bruce Arians' influence as a former HC there - with the same erratic issues on defense balanced by a reckless blitzing scheme that feasts often and powered by a downfield passing offense led by a scrambling QB in Kyler Murray who makes Patrick Mahomes look like a pocket passer.
Either matchup is near-even fight for the Bucs to survive. This is going to be the toughest playoff match since the Bucs-Saints divisional round last year... and the Bucs were *lucky* let us admit that, to have won that game.
6) In other NFL news: If there is anything more satisfying than a Buccaneers win, it's a Patriots loss in the postseason.
Oh ye GODS, and it wasn't just a loss it was a BLOWOUT, against a Buffalo Bills rival that took pleasure in gutting ya, boys. The score might have been 47-17 but it wasn't even that close. For all the jokes about Josh Allen playing in cold weather, he owned the weekend with 5 TD passes. It's the kind of statement performance that makes everyone from table-smashing Bills fans to ESPN pundits sit up and say "Holy CRAP they could win this year. FINALLY."
As for the Patriots, their vaunted defensive expertise ended up flatter than a bird bath's ice sheet. Whatever coaching skills Bill Belichick (aka the HOODED ONE) had the past 25 years suddenly ended up questionable and doubt-ridden. Even after smart drafting and a rare attempt to reload talent through free agency, this is a Patriots team that for once looks vulnerable. They are no longer the terror of the AFC.
6a) If anybody had a worse game than the Pats, it has to be the Dallas Cowboys. Owning the NFC East, led by their latest marquee QB Dak Prescott, with talent level on defense they hadn't seen in decades with two rookies - Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs - at Pro-Bowl levels already, there should have been no way they could have lost to the San Francisco 49ers who were coming in with question marks at QB.
Instead it was Jimmy Garoppollo playing lights out for much of the game with an energized Niners defense balancing it out, and a Cowboys team hampered by undisciplined play - FOURTEEN PENALTIES! IN A PLAYOFF GAME! - that kept them out of much of it until late in the Fourth Quarter.
The fans may be whining about "Refball" especially at the end of the game itself, but it was due to bad coaching from Mike McCarthy that allowed such a sloppy performance all around. Coaches are responsible for discipline, and if your players are making brain fart decisions on the field it's up to the coaches to teach them better. The game's finale had more to do with bad clock management - what the hell was a QB run play doing up the field without timeouts left? - than with referees showing the yellow hankies.
I'm friends with a die-hard Packers fan, and I can still remember watching a Packers playoff game at a pizza parlor celebrating a co-worker's birthday, and she was ragging on how bad at clock management McCarthy was when he was coaching for them. There's a reason why Green Bay fired him (well, several, he'd pissed off Aaron Rodgers with bad playcalling too).
The Cowboys remain a mess because they can scout rookies and sign free agents and play well enough to win... but with Jerry Jones screwing up the coaching picks like this, the bad coaching will kill them in postseason play.
6b) The most balanced game all weekend ended up being the one that not a lot of people watched. The only drama about the Cincinnati-Vegas matchup was whether the Bengals could snap their playoff win drought since 1991. Well. They did.
6c) Everybody - including Urinating Tree, whose calls of "THE STILLERS ARE GHANNA GO TO TEH SUPA BAWL" were more mockery than sincere fanship - kind of knew Pittsburgh wasn't going to beat Kansas City. It wasn't even that entertaining the First Quarter as both teams screwed around and kept punting. It wasn't until a Steelers Fumble-Six that the Chiefs woke up and rattled off 35 unanswered points to essentially pound Pittsburgh into nothing.
Pittsburgh is now in blow-up mode. Having lucked into the playoffs, struggling with a QB who has aged too far into retirement, and facing talent gaps everywhere else, the Steelers are facing a rare situation for such a consistently-run franchise.
6d) With regards to Big Ben Roethlisberger, a long football career and a number of accolades do not hide the reality that his off-field behavior was and still is inexcusable. His behavior towards women were not "mistakes" nor "immature." They were criminal, and Ben got away with it because our legal system is terrible at investigating rape allegations, and because nobody in a position of power with the Steelers organization or the NFL wanted to hold him accountable.
7) In professional college football news, Bama still sucks.
8) In professional hockey news, WHAT THE HELL NHL YOU IGNORED STAMKOS FOR ALL-STAR, HE'S AT THE TOP OF THE LEAGUE IN GOALS AND ASSISTS HOW DARE YOU! GO LIGHTNING! WIN THE THREEPEAT!
9) In professional binge watching news: I seriously think Disney is trying to make Boba Fett TOO MUCH of a wimp/nice guy. Supposed to be a fearless bounty hunter, yet here he is paying off the least convincing street gang to work for him while riding the Star Wars equivalent of Vespa scooters. The hell, Disney?! This is your shot at making a Sopranos-esque Star Wars series and you're blowing it!
10) Next up: I am terrified enough of either the Rams AND the Cards to not watch their matchup at the Bucs' Ray Jay lest I jinx the Bucs even more.
10a) AND IT WOULD REALLY HELP TOM BRADY TO THROW FOR 6 TDS THIS COMING SUNDAY, PLEASE?! PLEASE!!!