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Buccaneers of the Playoffs: vs. Rams

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s season-ending loss to Los Angeles?

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

On Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers turned a 27-3 second-half deficit into a 27-27 game with 42 seconds to go. But just when it looked like Tom Brady was poised to lead another legendary comeback, a coverage breakdown in Tampa Bay’s defense set Los Angeles up for a game-winning 30-yard field goal by none other than former Buc Matt Gay.

So, instead of getting a chance to win the game in overtime and move on to a home NFC Championship Game next Sunday, the Bucs saw their Super Bowl repeat hopes come to an end with a crushing 30-27 loss.

Tampa Bay will now enter what is sure to be an interesting offseason, especially with the news that Brady will be mulling his future for a month or so before deciding whether or not he will return for a 23rd NFL season. It’s not only that, of course, as the Bucs could be losing some of their coaching staff, plus they have some key free agents to pay, such as Chris Godwin, Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead.

But the offseason puzzle is another conversation entirely. For now, let’s put a bow on this year’s Buccaneers of the Playoffs series by awarding some points from Sunday’s loss to the Rams.

Honorable Mentions

While the Bucs didn’t get much from Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller stepped up and contributed when his number was called. He caught four of his six targets for 38 yards, with his biggest catch of the night going for 16 yards on a 4th & 9, which extended what turned into a Buccaneer touchdown drive. He also had a 19-yard catch in the fourth quarter that preceded another Tampa Bay score… Rob Gronkowski didn’t have his best game, but he did have catches of 29 and 42 yards on his way to a four-catch, 85-yard day. He was also asked to stay in and help block, giving the Bucs’ banged-up offensive line some support against a tough Los Angeles pass rush…

There weren’t a lot of guys who really stood out on the Buccaneer defense, but Lavonte David led the way with 11 tackles (seven solo), a tackle for loss, and a key fumble recovery that set up Tampa Bay’s game-tying touchdown… Rakeem Nunez-Roches tallied two tackles for loss… Jason Pierre-Paul, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield Jr. all came up with key fumble recoveries (and Winfield forced the one he recovered)… Jamel Dean forced the fumble that Murphy-Bunting recovered.

5. Vita Vea (One point)

Tampa Bay’s pass rush was largely non-existent against the Rams, but whenever anything was getting generated, it came from the interior of the defensive line. Vita Vea was winning his matchup time and again on his way to three tackles (two solo), a sack and two quarterback hits. He was straight-up dominant at times throughout the game and played a key role in holding Cam Akers to just 48 yards on 24 carries. However, it’s fair to wonder why the big nose tackle only played 47% of the team’s defensive snaps. Considering he was one of the top performers on Tampa Bay’s defense in the biggest game of the year, it’s hard to understand why Vea didn’t get more time on the field (unless he was battling an unknown injury). Nonetheless, he gets a point to put himself on the board in this year’s Bucs of the Playoffs Standings.

4. Ndamukong Suh (Two points)

As the Buc with the second-highest Pro Football Focus grade (78.3) in Sunday’s game, Ndamukong Suh gave Los Angeles’ offensive line problems all day. He was constantly in Matthew Stafford’s face (perhaps a little too much after one play, though he appeared to be provoked by Stafford in the lead-up). Other than that one 15-yard penalty, the veteran defensive lineman did everything he could to give Tampa Bay’s defense a chance. He totaled six tackles (three solo), a half-sack, FOUR quarterback hits and a key forced fumble. The fumble came late in the fourth quarter and gave the Buccaneer offense a short field, which it took advantage of and tied the game. Suh’s impact was especially significant given the lack of a consistent pass rush from the edge, and he gets two points in the standings.

3. Tom Brady (Three points)

Los Angeles’ defensive line is one of the league’s best, and the offensive line was missing Tristan Wirfs. The unit also consisted of a banged-up Ryan Jensen and a limited Josh Wells. Suffice to say, things didn’t go so well for Tom Brady in the pocket on Sunday. He was under constant duress and it clearly affected him to the tune of an interception, a fumble and some off-the-mark throws. But the 44-year-old quarterback also had to overcome some bad drops and eventually led the Bucs back from down 24 points in the second half. He made some big-time throws—as he always does—and miraculously put Tampa Bay in position to potentially win the game had it gotten to overtime. Overall, the 22nd-year legend completed 30 of his 54 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown. Now, the Bucs will await Brady’s decision about his future. After leading them to 29 wins, an NFC South title and a Lombardi Trophy over two years, he’s cemented his legacy in Tampa. But will he come back for one last ride? For now, the 2020 and 2021 Buccaneer of the Year gets three more points to lock down the No. 2 spot in this year’s Bucs of the Playoffs Standings.

2. Leonard Fournette (Four points)

Tampa Bay got a big boost on Sunday in the form of Leonard Fournette returning to the lineup. In 2020, he earned the “Playoff Lenny” nickname and in 2021, he lived up to it. He broke free for two chunk runs to start off the game and went on to have an impact both on the ground and through the air, rushing for 51 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while catching all nine of his targets for 56 yards. Fournette has now scored touchdowns in seven straight playoff games, tying the fourth-longest streak in NFL postseason history. The first of his touchdown runs came from one yard out to get the Bucs within 27-13, then he found the edge on 4th & 1 late in the game, rushing for a nine-yard touchdown to tie the game at 27. Big-time players make big-time plays in big games, and Fournette did that once again on Sunday. For his efforts, he gets four Bucs of the Playoff points.

1. Mike Evans (Five points)

Coming into the playoffs, the Bucs needed Mike Evans to step up and be the type of No. 1 receiver he was early in his career. That’s not to say he hasn’t been a reliable No. 1 receiver over the last few years, but it’s been a while since he’s been the only top-tier option on the offense. It’s safe to say that he was up to the challenge and then some. After totaling nine catches—a Bucs playoff record—for 117 yards and a touchdown last week, he posted eight more catches for 119 yards—tying his own franchise playoff record—and a touchdown on Sunday against the Rams. His 55-yard touchdown—a play that saw him burn Jalen Ramsey—brought Tampa Bay within 27-20 late in the fourth quarter. Things didn’t go so well early for Evans, but he went on to make a massive impact on the game and was a large part of the Bucs’ comeback efforts. For the second straight week, he gets the full five points and cements himself as the 2022 Buccaneer of the Playoffs.

FINAL 2022 Buccaneers of the Playoffs Standings

1. Mike Evans — 10 points

2. Tom Brady — 7 points

3. Leonard Fournette — 4 points

4. Mike Edwards — 3 points

5. Antoine Winfield Jr./Ndamukong Suh — 2 points

6. Jordan Whitehead/Vita Vea — 1 point