Since 2019, Todd Bowles has been the Buccaneers’ defensive play caller and every season since 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a playoff team. Led by an offense that features the notoriety of Tom Brady, a running back coined ‘Playoff Lenny’ and Mike Evans, the Buccaneers scorers have been presented as the more pivotal pieces of Tampa’s recent playoff success, rather than focus being on the team’s score-preventers. The Tom Brady led attack has put up 30 or more points in all but one postseason contest, in which they accounted for 27. Scoring, of that nature, can instigate a mirage. Tampa Bay’s defense needed to dismantle one of NFL’s most historically explosive offenses on the game’s biggest stage for the world to see through the veil of that illusion to the true image. Pictured, was the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl 55 victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs which siphoned credit away from Tampa’s name-brand offensive superstars and pushed Todd Bowles and his defensive unit into the center of the table.
Even still, it was Tom Brady who won Super Bowl MVP.
Overlooked, has been the uncanny ability of Tampa Bay’s defense to force turnovers and get the ball back for its offense. In 2020, the Buccaneers put their defense up against three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in a four-game stretch, going on the road through Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, before coming home for a Super Bowl matchup against Patrick Mahomes. The Buccaneers found a way to force eight turnovers in those three games. Add in the additional interception they forced against Washington in round one of the playoffs and Tampa’s defense collected an extra nine possessions for their team’s offense in a single postseason.
Everything fell Tampa’s way down the stretch in the 2020 season. The Buccaneers felt somewhat like a team of destiny, so devil’s advocate says maybe that run of games was an outlier, maybe it was fluke. In 2021, the story played out in a very similar fashion. The Buccaneers began their postseason at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa stomped the inexperienced Eagles and coaxed another two interceptions and a fumble out of their opponent. The Bucs’ most recent postseason contest was against the Los Angeles Rams in last year’s Divisional round. Tampa’s offense and defense found a way to collaborate on one of the team’s slowest starts in recent memory, ultimately digging themselves a hole that would be too deep to climb back out of. Even still, as Tampa was faced with a 27-3 deficit in the second half, the Bucs ate into the Rams seemingly insurmountable lead. The Buccaneers forced fumble after fumble, until four recoveries later the game was reset at a tie score, 27-27. Tampa Bay’s defense had finished the game with another four-turnover outing, their second in as many years of postseason play, bringing their 2021 postseason total to seven in just two games.
This Monday’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is one we’ve seen in each of the last two NFL seasons. In 2021, the Buccaneers opened their season at Raymond James Stadium against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys with a win. Tampa’s defense forced Prescott into a bad decision which resulted in an interception by Carlton Davis. 2022 saw a very familiar start to the season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were once again slated to take on the Cowboys. This season would start in Dallas, but the result would be similar. Tampa Bay defeated the Cowboys again and for the second year in a row, the Buccaneers forced Dak Prescott into an opening night interception, when the ball found its way into the hands of Antione Winfield Jr.
When the Cowboys come into Tampa, they bring an explosive offense full of playmakers, but they also bring a quarterback who has thrown 15 interceptions in just 12 games this season. Dallas comes in off an ugly two turnover loss, where they were thoroughly out played by the Washington Commanders who entered the game with nothing to play for. Prescott & co. have to prepare to battle a Tampa Bay defense which, under Todd Bowles, has never gone through a playoff game from start to finish without finding a way to get their hands on the ball and steal a possession for Tom Brady and their offense. The Buccaneers may enter the first round of this year’s playoffs as home underdogs, but the path to victory and advancement into round two is not a road untraveled.