That was certainly one way to cap off your Christmas night. As the Buccaneers looked lost, disheveled, and inept for most of the game, they turned it on when it was needed most and rattled off thirteen straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime to beat the Arizona Cardinals 19-16, improving their record to 7-8 and putting them one game away from winning the NFC South next week against the Carolina Panthers.
Let’s Pick Six.
Six Topics Suitable For Conversation
1.) What Is Going On, Tom? He made the throws he needed to with the game on the line, but make no mistake about it - Tom Brady looked bad for the third week in a row. Another multi-turnover game - throwing two interceptions to Marco Wilson, killing positive looking drives - and more of the quick dump-offs that seem to barely put a dent in offensive progress. Now, some of that can be attributed to the offensive line which we’ll get to in a minute, but Brady was missing receivers that had their defenders beat from the first drive when he missed a wide open Julio Jones in the end zone. Underthrows, throwing behind receivers, low passes - this isn’t Tom Brady. I don’t think he’s lost the ability to throw the ball the way we saw Peyton Manning and Drew Bress late in their careers - to me, this is mental. And when the sharpest mind the NFL has ever seen starts to dull, it’s worrisome.
2.) Woe-ffensive Line. Donovan Smith has been bad this season. In fact, this might be the worst season he’s ever had. In spite of that, Bucs fans got a front row seat to what happens when Smith isn’t in. Backup Josh Wells left the game and will have season ending surgery on his patellar tendon then they went to backup backup Brandon Walton. Things were not pretty from a pass protection standpoint where even Tristan Wirfs was getting beat rather easily early on by J.J. Watt - then Wirfs looked hobbled down the stretch, signaling he re-aggravated that injury that kept him sidelined since the loss in Cleveland. Somehow, someway the Bucs didn’t allow a sack in this game, but the pressure was consistent and constant all night long.
3.) Late Season Lenny. What a solid performance from Leonard Fournette. He touched the ball 29 times and racked up 162 total yards, including a 44-yard catch and run to set up the Bucs’ only touchdown of the night - a pass from Brady to running back Rachaad White. While at times Fournette looked slow and indecisive, then moments of running directly into the back of his blockers and ending what could have been larger gains, this was probably Fournette’s best game since the week one win against the Dallas Cowboys. The running game as a whole did well - and even included Ke’Shawn Vaughn - as they racked up 115 yards on 30 carries and running backs added in thirteen receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown.
4.) C’mon, Man! I have been pounding the table for months that Cade Otton should be the featured tight end. That he was a better and more explosive player in the passing game than Cam Brate, yet Brate kept getting the targets. Then, on a night when the Bucs faced the worst defense in the NFL against the tight ends, Otton gets seven targets (all other tight ends combined for zero targets) and he comes away with two catches for 12 yards. Some painful and costly drops, a false start penalty - it was awful. Otton is way too talented of a player to have a performance like that and in a game where he was the unquestioned guy at the position, he blew it. Prepare for more Brate targets moving forward.
5.) Byron Is Bad. I like Byron Leftwich and I know we’ve discussed playcalling non-stop, but it’s not getting any better. You have a great run and push on 1st-and-15 to set up 2nd-and-1, then run the ball directly up the middle on three straight plays for no gain and a turnover on downs. The Cardinals were stacking nine guys in the box to take away the short passing game, daring Brady to throw it more than ten yards down the field. It didn’t matter. Leftwich was stubborn and didn’t change the offensive approach whatsoever. Brady is one of the best we’ve ever seen off play-action and the Bucs rarely use it. It’s shades of the Dirk Koetter era where it didn’t matter the strengths or weaknesses of the players, you were going to run this system no matter what. Whole lot of square peg, round hole nonsense going on. I’d like to say I’d be surprised if Leftwich is still the offensive coordinator next season, but to be honest I won’t be.
6.) Carlton And SMB. Over the last two weeks, Carlton Davis has stepped his game up in a huge way. He allowed only three receptions on eight targets to Ja’Marr Chase last week then didn’t allow a single reception by DeAndre Hopkins when lined up across from him. However, more impressive than that, has been the play of Sean Murphy-Bunting. A player who had a down year last season and lost his starting job in camp to Jamel Dean and he went toe-to-toe with Hopkins all night long with some impressive coverage and even more impressive pass breakups. He has elevated his game to a level reminiscent of his play in the Super Bowl run two years ago than what we saw last season once he returned from injury. Bucs will have a tough decision coming up as Murphy-Bunting and Dean are both set to become free agents and the Bucs likely can’t keep both.
Six Numbers To Consider
12 - Straight games with 5+ receptions for Chris Godwin - longest streak in the NFL and second longest in Bucs’ history
7.6 - Play-action snaps per game by the Bucs, 28th in the NFL
83 - Yards needed by Mike Evans in the next two weeks to reach 1,000 for the ninth straight season
15 - Games since 2020 that the Bucs have not allowed a sack - most in the NFL over that span
2 - Chris Godwin’s place on the Bucs’ all-time receptions list with 431, passing James Wilder (430)
1 - Win this week against the Carolina Panthers and the Bucs win the NFC South for the second straight year
Six Best Tweets
Bucs do the same thing 3 plays in a row and it's a turnover on downs pic.twitter.com/PM4VdOrCGt— Bucs Nation (@Bucs_Nation) December 26, 2022
Cris Collinsworth will forever be unbearable— Bailey Adams (@BaileyJAdams22) December 26, 2022
The Buccaneers continue to strictly rotate RBs by drive— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) December 26, 2022
Rachaad White has more yards per carry, yards per reception and yards per target
Leonard Fournette has 22 touches and White has 7
The chances of Byron Leftwich returning to the #Bucs next year are ZERO.— PewterReport (@PewterReport) December 26, 2022
Ending my Christmas with Bucs vs. Cardinals pic.twitter.com/EFEO6koHTQ— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) December 26, 2022
Six Super Bowl Bets
1.) Buffalo Bills - Still the team to beat in the AFC
2.) Philadelphia Eagles - Nearly beat the Cowboys with Gardener Minshew - top to bottom great team
3.) Cincinnati Bengals - Things got dicey, but if they beat the Bills next week they’re in line to take the top seed
4.) Minnesota Vikings - How? How do they keep doing this? Also, Justin Jefferson should be MVP
5.) Kansas City Chiefs - Looking a little shaky down the stretch
16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Just beat the Panthers and get in the playoffs. From there, anything can happen. Heck, it was a 9-7 New York Giants that beat an undefeated Patriots team.