Christmas night in 2022 saw the Bucs traveling into the desert in primetime. The Arizona Cardinals, with a third string quarterback and nothing to play for but pride, gave Tampa all they could handle. Tampa Bay now sits at 7-8 nearing the end of a season any football fan would be lucky to forget. Even still—
If the Buccaneers are playing, there are certain expectations of the team as well as the players on the field. Sometimes the reality agrees with the expectation while other times the reality is something else entirely, here’s:
Who we thought would do well and did:
The Cardinals defense- The Arizona Cardinals defense takes credit in this category, but it honestly could simply say ‘The defense that played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense.’ Tampa has one of the worst offenses the NFL has ever created, especially considering the extraordinary individual level of talent they have on their roster. The Buccaneers play as if they aren’t interested in considering compiling a good offensive performance. The mass of blame is so flagrantly large it couldn’t be submerged in the largest pools of water… Until Tom Brady and the Bucs run their two-minute offense.
Ryan Succop- The Buccaneers have failed Ryan Succop in recent weeks trotting him out for long field goals despite knowledge that he is an accurate kicker, not a big-leg kicker. Today Ryan Succop reminded Tampa Bay fans what having a good kicker feels like. Succop went a perfect four for four on field goal attempts, including clutch kicks down the stretch that could potentially have season-saving ramifications.
Who we thought would do well and didn’t:
Cade Otton- The rookie tight end has been a solid contributor for the better part of this season. Otton has had multiple games where he has looked like a potential breakout star, tonight, was the first time he has looked out of sorts. Otton spent a good bit of the first half dropping catchable passes from Tom Brady, which is rare. The Bucs have not relied on their fourth-round pick to be a flashy playmaker, but he has, up to this point, revealed himself to be a dependable target when he’s on the field. For him to seemingly now slip into the festering funk that has plagued nearly every member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at some point of this season it just makes a viewer wonder, what is it about this year? What is wrong with 2022?
Who we thought might struggle and did:
Tampa’s ability to stay in good health- The Buccaneers list of injuries has been adding names since the preseason. The list, now lengthy, continues to feature new Buccaneers. The gameday roster looks unrecognizable, at times, to its offseason counterpart and when it rains it pours. More injuries continue to come, and more new faces continue to enter the lineup. Josh Wells, a backup already tasked with filling a starter’s role, suffered a major injury as he was carted off in the first half against Arizona.
Who we thought might struggle and didn’t:
Leonard Fournette- 2022 has not been a banner year for any Tampa Bay running back. The touches have been there, the production has been left behind in 2021. Leonard Fournette is not the sole proprietor of fault for the way that 2022 has played out, but the rushing attack, ‘Lombardi Lenny’ included, has done its share of struggling. Tonight, Fournette was effective in his touches, totaling 162 yards from scrimmage. He was responsible for some of the best offensive production Tampa saw all game.
Surprise of the game:
That anything that happened in this game was surprising- Bucs fans have already seen this Movie, long before the Bucs and Cardinals kicked off on Christmas night. Take away the individual players on the field and the logos on the helmets and tonight’s game could have easily been Tampa’s game against the Rams, or Saints-Buccaneers from earlier this month. It’s near impossible to tell the difference, a quite familiar headline, the Buccaneers pull out another clutch win after looking sluggish for the majority of their performance.
William Gholston & Anthony Nelson- The Buccaneers have had injuries all over the field. Their front seven has been hit as hard as any group. Anthony Nelson has been a credible plug-in piece for the Buccaneers since joining the team in 2019 and William Gholston is a lifelong Buccaneer defender. Arizona’s first drive on offense was stymied, only to have their drive continued by a fake punt pass for a first down. The Cardinals translated that into some positive momentum until Anthony Nelson was able to strip the ball from Trace McSorley. Nelson was left unblocked, so making the play might be “simple” but it was still an opportunity that was maximized. If you are left unblocked, finish the play, get the sack and force the fumble. WiIlliam Gholston provided the Buccaneers with a fumble recovery after an unforced error on the part of the Cardinals which left the door open for the Buccaneers to force overtime. The fumble recovery was key in keeping points off the board but played a vital role in field position, shortening the field the Bucs offense had to work with. When a game finishes four quarters at 16-16 every play is a big play and big plays are HUGE plays. These two turnovers allowed this game to stay a game. Tampa Bay does not get this game into overtime without the contributions of Anthony Nelson and William Gholston.
The Buccaneers soaked up the Christmas night spotlight and came away drenched in euphoria. Tampa Bay has now put themselves in a position where the divisional race can finally come to an end, next week when the Buccaneers are scheduled to take on the Carolina Panthers. Carolina has been on a fairly impressive stretch with three victories in the last four games. Be all of that as it may, Tampa Bay is one win away from clinching the NFC South. More importantly, football has a knack for invoking a countless number of emotions out of its watchers and for Bucs fans this year those emotions have not been mostly good. Regardless of that fact, Christmas and the holiday season represent a time to spread love and spend time with those you hold dearest. Don’t let any Buccaneers feat or failure take away from that truth. Merry Christmas Bucs fans!