Not the way anyone wanted it to end and not the way anyone expected that game to go, but the Buccaneers have seen their repeat bid end on a walk-off field goal from former Buc Matt Gay as the Los Angeles Rams move on to host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship.
It was a loss in the most heartbreaking and frustrating fashion, but the Bucs have no one to blame but themselves when it comes to how the game play out.
For the final time in the 2021 season, let’s pick six.
Six Topics Suitable For Conversation
1.) Shooting yourself in the foot is never good. The Buccaneers beat themselves up and down the field, especially in the first half. Three personal fouls (though, two of them were beyond weak and should not have been called), 3-for-14 on third downs, abandoning the run game after the initial fifteen scripted plays, a blown coverage that leads to a 70-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-20, a blown final play that results in a 44-yard gain and the game winning field goal. The Bucs beat the Bucs. No protection, no sustainability, just an ugly performance. Yes, credit the Rams for creating mistakes and credit the Bucs for fighting their way back into it and even making the game as close as it was - but that made it hurt even more.
2.) Injuries caught up. The Rams’ pass rush is one of the best in the league and it was facing an offensive line that was the best in the NFL in sacks and QB hits allowed per dropback in 2021. However, you lose your All-Pro right tackle while his replacement and the starting center are also dealing with injuries and it’s a recipe for disaster. The Rams attacked Josh Wells mercilessly with a combination of Von Miller, Aaron Donald, and Leonard Floyd. Then when he left the game, they went after Nick Leverett. It worked. Brady was uncomfortable all game long, leaving passes short or way too long while forcing his timing to be off for the majority of the game. For a team that overcame injury after injury this season, eventually it was going to catch up and that day was Sunday. It almost makes you wonder how different the game could have been with Tristan Wirfs and Chris Godwin out there.
3.) Tom Brady. The Bucs have won thirty games - including the postseason - since the arrival of Brady. Bucs fans have witnessed two incredible seasons with the most recent one ending sooner and more painfully than many wanted. But now the question arises whether or not Tom Brady has played his last game as a Buc and in the NFL. I find it hard to believe he goes out like that, with that loss - but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I also find it hard to believe he would pay back $16 million dollars while leaving the Bucs with a dead cap hit of $24 million dollars - but that doesn’t mean he won’t. At the end of the day, all those players returned this season with the goal of winning another one. Together. They fell short of that goal and I think the Buccaneers find a way to bring back as many of those guys as they can - and that includes Brady returning for a twenty-third and final season.
4.) It’s not all on the coaches. People were beside themselves wanting both Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles to get head coaching jobs just so they won’t be with the Bucs any longer. Nevermind the fact that those were the two coordinators that won a Super Bowl last year. That doesn’t matter. Nor does a franchise record for wins in a season. Nope. A bad game means fire everyone. Were there questionable calls? Absolutely. At the end of the day, it was on the players to execute and for most of the game, they didn’t. You can question the final defensive play all you want, but it wasn’t Todd Bowles that got burned in man coverage by Cooper Kupp to set up the field goal. It wasn’t Todd Bowles that slipped and fell in zone coverage the play before that. It wasn’t Byron Leftwich that couldn’t get Tom Brady from being hit, hurried, and sacked. Players on the field failed to execute over and over. That’s why the season is over.
5.) Lots to figure out. The page turns pretty fast and now the Bucs have to look towards the free agents coming up and who they’ll be able to keep - and how they’ll be able to keep them. Chris Godwin is at the top, but there’s Leonard Fournette, Alex Cappa, Carlton Davis, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard to name a few. The Bucs don’t have the cash to keep them all and have already borrowed against future seasons to go for a second championship in 2021. On top of all that, they have two coordinators and a front office exec interviewing with other teams for Head Coach and General Manager positions. The 2022 Bucs might look very, very different...
6.) It’s the journey, not the destination. I know it’s tough to look back an appreciate what we witnessed - especially with a loss that hurts that bad. By the way, what is it about the Rams in the playoffs that causes so much heartache and pain? Anyway, this was a fun season. It was a roller coaster, it was injury after injury, constant adversity - but the Bucs overcame it to have a record 13 wins. It was a year where you knew, no matter what, the Buccaneers had a chance to emerge with a win. There were distractions, striptease exits, and bizarre moments. But look - isn’t that so much better than so many of the seasons fans have dealt with? Isn’t heartbreak in the final seconds of the divisional round better than looking at the draft before Thanksgiving? Isn’t it better than needing a win and five other things to happen in each of the last three weeks just to make the playoffs? Enjoy this while it lasts. Enjoy knowing that your team is a contender. It isn’t going to last forever.
Six Numbers To Consider
4 - Takeaways by the Bucs, second most in a playoff game in franchise history
119 - Receiving yards by Mike Evans, most in a playoff game in franchise history
555 - Total yards by Fournette in playoff games with the Bucs, most in franchise history
7 - Consecutive playoff games with a touchdown by Leonard Fournette
1 - Playoff loss in the career of Jason Pierre-Paul
0 - Franchise playoff wins against the Rams (three losses)
Six Best Tweets
You win or you learn.— TB12sports (@TB12sports) January 23, 2022
There are no failures, only lessons. When you fall you need to pick yourself up with greater enthusiasm than you went down. Now we look back on an incredible season, learn our lessons, and get up... because even greater things are coming.#KeepGoing pic.twitter.com/tCXI3q1J5p
Thank you for everything this season, Krewe. Through the ups and downs, you've stood by us through it all. ♥️#GoBucs— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 23, 2022
So is unnecessary hit the same as a late hit? And therefore not part of the play?— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) January 23, 2022
Couldn't you have called it targeting and then that would have been part of the play?
Someone explain this to me like I'm five.
Super Bowl was the goal and we fell short. This team overcame a ton and fought their asses off until the end. Gutted but damn proud! #GoBucs— Jake Arians (@JakeBArians) January 23, 2022
Six Super Bowl Bets
1.) Kansas City Chiefs - Mahomes magic strike again
2.) Los Angeles Rams - This is why they traded for Stafford and Miller
3.) Cincinnati Bengals - They beat KC once...
4.) San Francisco 49ers - Hot at the right time, but can Jimmy G get back to the Super Bowl?
5.) These next three weeks are gonna stink
6.) But the Halftime show is gonna be LIT.