1) To Antonio Brown thinking that the Buccaneers were going to suffer without him at receiver: BWHAHAHAHAHAHA.
1a) There is a caveat here, that the Bucs reached a number of milestones and records due to a 17th regular season game that diminishes somewhat achievements that were not reached in previous 16-game seasons. Then again, we had the same problem back in 1978 when the NFL jumped from 14 regular season games to 16 games, so this should not matter as much.
With this win, Tampa Bay reaches 13 wins in a season for the first time ever, besting the 12-win season of 2002 (you know, the first Super Bowl year). In terms of postseason positioning, the Bucs are now set at the Second spot for the NFC - more on that later - which equals the 2002 and 1999 slottings as the best postseason berth we've ever had.
1b) In terms of the game itself, the Bucs did not impress much in the First Quarter, suffering yet another slow opening round which never bodes well, giving the Panthers a big 7-0 lead with Carolina racking up almost double the yards the Bucs could garner. Everything looked bad: Brady was having a hard time finding receivers and our running attack with Le'veon Bell and Ke'Shawn Vaughn going nowhere.
1c) It took the Bucs forcing the Panthers to try and use QB Sam Darnold - not exactly the best QB to rely on - to beat them with the passing game, which worked in the Second Quarter when a 4th and long for Carolina outside of field goal range failed to work with a busted throw. Bucs were able to figure out how to move the ball using drive-control passes to the TEs Gronk and Brate, and before halftime eked out a last-second TD to make it a 10-7 lead.
1d) The Second Half was all Bucs, with Tampa Bay racking up yards and expanding the score from 17-7 to 24-10 to 31-17. At that point, the Bucs got more relaxed and performed even better, boosting it up to a 41-17 blowout.
1e) And yet, for all the good things the Bucs achieved today, problems remain heading into the postseason. Other teams will know to double-cover Mike Evans and Gronkowski as much as possible. Bucs running game is lacking that spark right now, although the possible return of Leonard Fournette may help bring that balance back needed for a serious playoff run to the Super Bowl.
2) Player of the Game: Throwing for over 329 yards, three TDs, no picks, setting team records for most TDs thrown in one season, totaling over 5000 yards for the year, moving himself into serious contention for LEAGUE MVP, Tom FREAKING Brady.
2a) Another player looking for records to break was WR Mike Evans, with 89 yards today getting over the 1000 yard hump to make it EIGHT STRAIGHT SEASONS OF 1000 YDs receiving, something NO OTHER WR has done from their rookie year onward, along with 2 TDs breaking the team record he'd earlier set for TD catches in a season. Even with the Panthers covering him early and often. Evans DID see more one-on-ones as the game progressed and the other WRs proved they needed coverage as well, which is when he got that second TD to put the game way out of reach.
2b) TE Rob Gronkowski proved that while the Bucs may be short on WRs they have him as a legitimate downfield threat, where he racked up 137 total yards receiving including some long YACs like a 42-yarder in the opening Second Half drive that led to a TD later on. He and Brady are so in sync that when late in the Fourth Quarter when Gronk needed one more catch to get 55 on the year and earn a contract bonus, Brady refused to come out of the game and went in to throw just that one pass to Gronk before letting Blaine Gabbert take over QB duties.
2c) Getting Breshad Perriman back at WR helped provide a veteran presence and eased pressure during the game making 5 catches for 44 yards and getting the double-coverage off Evans' back.
2d) WR Tyler Johnson stepped up after a couple of bad games with 5 catches out of 7 targets, although not for a lot of yards.
2e) We got WR Scotty Miller back after months of being on IR... and while he wasn't a receiving threat all that often he WAS a serious threat on late trick plays with two big run reverses for 43 total yards and one late rushing TD that just really rubbed it into the faces of the Panthers BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA /evil cackle
2f) Defensively, the Bucs didn't have a lot of great plays in the early going, but once the lead expanded and they knew Carolina was going to throw more, the passing defense woke up and forced a number of big plays. Leading that charge was Safety Antoine Winfield Jr who garnered a sack, one fumble recovery that helped ice the game, and led the team in total tackles.
2g) DE/OLB Anthony Nelson had another monster stat game covering for the injured Shaq Barrett, racking up a sack, two TFLs, five tackles overall. A couple years after getting drafted and not showing up that often, he's getting his chance now to shine and the Bucs D shall prosper as he does.
2h) All Safety Andrew Adams does is get signed up from the Practice Squad covering for injured backfield guys and all he does is make at least one interception per game.
2i) What the hell, let's mention Cam Gill one more time.
2j) Vita "You're Welcome" Vea signed a huge 4-year contract extension, and while he didn't make many highlights he was seen powering through that Panthers O-line often enough to make Darnold scramble for dear life.
3) For all my nitpicking, I must admit these are heady days as Bucs fans for us all. Unlike the last Super Bowl win (2002-03) that collapsed into acrimony, injury, and a 7-9 meltdown, THIS Super Bowl win (2020-21) had the team return to defend their title by exceeding last year's performances with a NFC South title and an even stronger win record. Even WITH all the injury woes all season long, the Bucs endured. Even WITH the soap opera of Antonio Brown - the off-field trial issues, the fake COVID ID leading to suspension, the in-game conniption vs. the Jets that led to Brown hopping off the team and into infamy - the Bucs endured, and even performed well the final game without him as Perriman and Johnson stepped up as adequate replacements.
The postseason is never an easy run: despite how all pre-ordained last year's epic playoff run went, there were times the Bucs could have easily lost against Washington, against New Orleans (The Saints were LEADING to start the Third Quarter, remember), against Green Bay (bad INTs allowed the Packers back late to within a FG's score). This season we may have a home game, and it's against a team we beat - Eagles - but had trouble putting away. After that, we're looking at facing any number of teams - Rams and Cardinals in particular - who can and will give us fits. Beat any of those teams and we may have to go on the road again to Green Bay, who still won't be an easy win this year either.
The Bucs are poised to do something few NFL teams accomplish: back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, and rarer still a chance to defend the title. All things align, all things go well - and with a veteran squad led by Brady who KNOW how to win in the postseasons - and the Bucs will be among the giant teams like the 60s Packers, the 70s Dolphins and Steelers, the 80s 49ers, the 90s Cowboys and Broncos, the 2000s Patriots.
4) Statistics of the Game: Fourth-down conversions, believe it or not. Panthers went for it on 4th down SIX TIMES, granted they did that the last two drives of the Fourth Quarter because it was all desperation at that point, but they went for it early and often enough, and only made it twice, which does not speak well for overall drive performance. Giving up the ball with good field position to these Bucs is never a sound idea.
4a) Red Zone offense: Bucs were three-for-three, which is exactly the performance you want out of your team. That's 3 TDs right there, usually a good sign you're scoring the points the other team isn't. Panthers meanwhile were two-for-four, not too shabby, but again you're walking away with fewer TDs.
4b) PENALTIES WILL BE THE DEATH OF US: this was shockingly a low-penalty game, Carolina flagged once and Tampa Bay flagged twice. Although both those penalties gave the Panthers fresh first downs dammit.
4c) Rushing offense: Bucs defense gave it up too early and too often, allowing Panthers 110 yards on the ground. If Carolina had more consistency all game long, they could have kept to a ground offensive and tired out the Bucs D earlier in the game.
4d) Turnovers: Bucs were turnover-free, always a good sign, while Panthers coughed up a fumble and an INT. The only good news for Carolina was that both turnovers came late in the Fourth Quarter and the Bucs only got one FG out them (the second FG try faltered as Ryan Succop slipped on the turf).
Instead, the inconsistent Colts fell apart at the worst possible time and go home battered and unloved. A team good enough to win but messy enough to lose more often. They are facing a serious demolition job to that roster and major FA renovations.
5a) As for Jacksonville, this last win highlighted the rookie talent they have with QB Lawrence, making this a more coveted head coaching gig than it ought to be. If the Jags are rumored to be serious about Bucs' OC Byron Leftwich, he would be going to a chance to mold a potential franchise QB into pro shape.
They still gotta fix that front office and scouting people.
5b) THANK YOU MIAMI DOLPHINS FOR BEATING THE EVIL PATRIOTS. With that, New England fails to win the NFC East and are forced into road game situations where their rookie QB Mac Jones may not do well.
5c) Dammit, Baltimore, you could have knocked Pittsburgh out of playoffs and ending Ben "Accused Rapist" Roethlisberger's career once and for all. Instead, you screw up, let it go into Overtime, let the Steelers win to clinch a winning season and a likely postseason berth, and giving Urinating Tree on YouTube hope that his Steelers "Are going to DA SUPPPAAAAAA BAWLLLLLL". /headdesk
5d) The only thing stopping Pittsburgh now is the game going on RIGHT NOW for Sunday Night between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders. If those teams TIE the whole game, and there's been scuttlebutt ALL WEEK that they COULD, both of them make the wild cards (!!!) and kick Pittsburgh out.
Whether they play to that tie would bring serious ethical concerns: Yes, teams ought to play to win, but teams also play to make the playoffs, and you can't begrudge either team for playing to that loophole by NOT playing to win outright. If this DOES happen, the NFL is going to seriously change the rules for next season getting rid of tie game results no matter what. This could be HUGE...
5e) San Francisco survived an early beating by the LA Rams to tie their game up and then eke out an OT win to secure a wild card. Arizona Cardinals COULD have used the chance to win the West outright by beating Seattle but failed to.
This is a crazy and unpredictable playoffs due to all three of those guys. On paper the Rams are unbeatable but they fail to dominate as they should. The Cards are the most reckless team on both sides of the ball and that defense could give the Bucs fits if we faced them, but that recklessness explains their inability to dominate as well. The Niners are somewhat patchwork at key positions but they have enough talent to impress and win late games. It's a good thing the Bucs are facing the more predictable Eagles in the first playoff round, otherwise I'd be scared out of my wits.
5f) Tennessee Titans eked out a close win to earn the top AFC seed, rebounding from the last season crash they went through as their QB Ryan Tannehill struggled without a running game to back him up. With feared RB Derrick Henry poised to return for the postseason, this COULD be the team representing the AFC in February... except they just weren't dominant enough to make them untouchable.
The whole AFC looks wide open. Tennessee could falter, as could Buffalo, as could Cincinnati, as could Kansas City (going for the rare back-to-back-to-back Super Bowl runs). Every team is inconsistent enough to be vulnerable to bad matchups, to where we could see a Bengals - Chargers AFC title matchup to the detriment of the NFL front office.
5g) You want me guessing how the playoffs work out? I'm terrible at it. All I can tell you is what the NFL would hope to see in the Super Bowl: Either a Bucs - Patriots matchup, a Chiefs - Cowboys matchup, a Chiefs - Rams matchup, or a Packers - Chiefs matchup.
6) In professional college football news, I refuse to watch the Alabama - Georgia disaster and I hope everybody else ignores it too. KILL THOSE RATINGS, America. DO NOT WATCH.
7) In professional hockey news: GODDAMMIT LIGHTNING WILL YOU JUST PLEASE WIN GAMES?! Stop losing to Boston! STOP IT! JUST WIN! DEFEND THE CUP!!! DAMMIT BOLTS YOU HAVE ONE JOB.
8) In professional baseball news, I want the Department of Justice to arrest every MLB team owner and the players union reps and send the teams into court-appointed receiverships to establish a strong salary cap, better revenue sharing, and extra money for a Ybor City Rays ballpark goddammit.
8a) Speaking of, to every Tampa Bay business CEO who agreed to Stu's horrific "time-share" with Montreal should have their businesses boycotted for high treason to the Bay area fan base.
9) In professional binge watching news: DAMMIT DISNEY PLUS WOULD YOU LET BOBA FETT DRIVE HIS VETTE!!!
10) Next up: Tampa Bay hosts a home playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's not an easy win, but it's much preferable over the wacky NFC West teams we could face.
LET'S EFFFFFFFFFFFING GO!!!! #GOBUCS