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Buccaneers Divisional Round Top Performers: An epic comeback falls just short

It was often ugly, but the Bucs had several players nearly drag them to a comeback win.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For 45 in-game minutes, it looked like another turbulent outing against Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams would result in a disappointing loss for the Buccaneers at home.

The Bucs looked disorganized on defense and ill-equipped on offense, but they still had the golden arm of Tom Brady to keep a brief glimmer of hope alive. It took some help from the Rams in the form of ill-timed turnovers and questionable playcalling, but Tampa forged a furious 24-point comeback to tie the game at 27 with less than a minute to go.

Unfortunately, Todd Bowles couldn’t fight his own nature, deciding to launch a risky blitz that Matt Stafford exploited for a huge gain to Cooper Kupp, who destroyed the Bucs all day. The result was an easy field goal attempt for Matt Gay to dash the hopes of the home crowd just when they finally had something to cheer about.

The season ended sooner than anyone wanted, but the team still experienced franchise-best success while fighting through neverending injuries. While the Bucs now return to the drawing board for 2022, let’s shout out some top performers from their valiant comeback attempt.

Offensive Top Performer: RB Leonard Fournette

The Buccaneers offensive would’ve been completely inept without the return of Playoff Lenny, who scored twice and collected 107 yards on 22 touches. He served as an outlet on multiple screens when the offensive line was getting battered, and he made an excellent touchdown run on 4th and 1 to tie the game late.

While he might move onto financially greener pastures, Fournette’s evolved into a dependable two-way back who put together a great 2021 season. If he’s willing to take a discount, it’d be ideal to see him back in the fold next year.

Mike Evans once again showed up in a big moment, torching Jalen Ramsey for a 55-yard score to provide serious legs to the comeback attempt. He finished with 8 catches for 119 yards, giving him all three of the top receiving performances in Buccaneer postseason history despite being the only legitimate receiver on the field Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski made some highlight plays with 4 catches for 85 yards and helped all day with blocking.

Of course, Tom Brady chipped in his voodoo magic and nearly led the greatest comeback in franchise history. He was hampered by his overmatched defense, but surviving a season-worst performance from the offensive line with only two good receiving options further showed he’s untouchable prowess. Going 30 for 54 with 329 yards, not too shabby at all.

Defensive Top Performer: CB Jamel Dean

It was a rough day overall for the defense, so no candidate here is going to be perfect. Dean had some hiccups, but he generally played quite well. He created a forced fumble on Cooper Kupp, deflected multiple passes, and 7 total tackles. He’s been much improved this year and looks to have a good foundation for next season.

Most people will remember the final play that cost the Bucs the game, but Antoine Winfield Jr. had an otherwise strong game with a touchdown-saving forced fumble and 9 total tackles. An elite season overall, Winfield will have better moments in his career.

Lavonte David made some strong plays in the run game and recovered a fumble, and Ndamukong Suh played one his best games as a Buccaneer with 6 combined tackles, half a sack, and a forced fumble.

Special Teams Top Performer: No One

This unit was a weakness all year long, it made a significantly negative impact on the game, and the Buccaneers need to address it.

Ryan Succop missed a critical field goal and was generally less reliable this year after receiving a big pay day. Bradley Pinion shanked multiple kickoffs and continues to be a below-average punter. At a $3 million price tag, he should absolutely be gone in favor of more important positions.

Jaelon Darden experienced a brutal rookie season and has a lot to work on as a kick returner. The coverage unit in general needs to be revamped.

Overall, Keith Armstrong’s job as special teams coordinator should be far from safe.