The season ends the same way it went pretty much all season - lackluster, disappointing, and frustrating. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were completely dominated by the Dallas Cowboys, losing at home 31-14 and effectively ending their 2022 season - and potentially their last with Tom Brady.
Let’s Pick Six.
Six Topics Suitable For Conversation
1.) Tom Brady’s Future. If that was it, it certainly wasn’t the storybook ending everyone hoped for. Instead, Brady’s final pass with the Buccaneers was an incompletion intended for Julio Jones on 4th-and-5 with under 90 seconds left in a game long since over. He was under heavy duress all night, missed open receivers, and ultimately played poorly which isn’t want most people expected from the man with 35 playoff wins, seven Super Bowls, five Super Bowl MVPs, and countless legendary postseason moments. Is that the final image we’ll have of Tom Brady as a member of the Bucs? Is that the final moment we’ll have of Tom Brady in the NFL? Time will tell, but signs point to him returning for an unprecedented 24th NFL season - the question is whether or not that season will be in Tampa or not. There’s a lot to dive in about that and we won’t delve fully into it here - but after the way this game ended he’ll either want to run for the hills or return to prove that this team is far better than what they showed.
2.) Bye Bye Byron? According to Pewter Report, the Buccaneers are expected to fire offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich - and have had the green light to do so for quite some time. Since Brady’s arrival, the Bucs have averaged over 30-points per game. This season, they averaged 18.4 in the regular season. With six of their nine losses coming by twelve points or less, that drop in average played a large part in the team’s record. Not only that, but it was a shell of the Bruce Arians version of the offense that took chances, took deep shots, and scored seemingly at will. The Leftwich offense was vanilla, predictable, and repetitive. I mean, I love Chris Godwin as much as the next person but if I saw one more screen to Godwin on 2nd-and-10, I was going to throw my shoe through my television. While the Bucs are likely to keep Todd Bowles around next season, moving on from Leftwich seems like one of many changes on the way to try and get this team back on track.
3.) Welcome Back, Ryan. It wasn’t the result we all wanted in his return, but hats off to Ryan Jensen for returning last night. He’s the anchor along the offensive line, he’s a leader in the locker room, he’s someone every player respects - and his comeback is nothing short of amazing. According to Bucs staff writer Brianna Dix, Jensen suffered a torn MCL, PCL, ACL, flipped his meniscus, had a fracture, and suffered a bone chip when he injured his knee on the second day of training camp. No surgery. Just rehabbing and working to get back to this point. There’s no one tougher and he deserves all the credit in the world for accomplishing what he did - regardless of the result of the game.
4.) Decisions Are Looming. The Bucs aren’t getting any younger and the salary cap is going to be a huge issue. Upcoming free agents for the Bucs include Tom Brady, Lavonte David, Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Keanu Neal, Logan Ryan, Mike Edwards, Scotty Miller, and many more. In total, the Bucs have 26 pending free agents and are currently $43-million over the salary cap. There is either going to be some fancy financial footwork or the Bucs are going to see some key players walk away and use this time to start the rebuild. Coming up soon they’ll have to pay Antoine Winfield Jr., Devin White, Tristan Wirfs and more. So you’re either going to hurt now or hurt later. It’ll all hinge on Brady whether or not the team kicks the can down road one more time to go all in on one more run before it all blows up and the Bucs go through some very lean years.
5.) Bigger Than The Game. Late in the game - when it was already well in hand - Russell Gage took a scary hit to the back of the head/neck area and couldn’t get up off the ground. The cart was brought out and Gage was attached to the backboard before being taken to a local hospital for evaluation. In the wake of what we all witnessed with Damar Hamlin, the most important thing is the health of Gage. Hopefully this is nothing serious and he will make a full recovery - but that was a very scary moment in a game that was already over. Thoughts and prayers are with Gage and we are all hoping for a full, speedy recovery.
6.) One Last Time This Season. I’m not going to blame officiating for this loss. The Bucs got worked. That said, Dallas got away with murder all night long. Numerous uncalled holds - though, they did call two on the Bucs that were weaker than most Dallas got away with - as well as uncalled defensive holdings and pass interference on the two point conversion attempt that failed. I mean, Craig Wrolstad was appointed the referee for this game and the Cowboys were 8-0 heading into Monday night when Wrolstad officiated their games - but I digress. We know bad officiating is going to happen. We know missed and blown calls are going to happen. All we ask is that it happens for both sides. On Monday night, it didn’t. Par for the course this season.
Six Numbers To Consider
1 - Red Zone interception thrown by Brady since joining the Bucs - right after Joe Buck said he had none. Thanks, Joe.
15 - Straight games by Chris Godwin with 5+ receptions in a game, longest active streak in the NFL
10 - Consecutive playoff games where Julio Jones had 50+ yards in a playoff game - just the fourth player in NFL history to do so
114 - Receptions by Chris Godwin this season, breaking Keyshawn Johnson’s franchise record for receptions in a season including playoffs (109 - 2001)
7.5. - Sacks by Vita Vea this season, most on the team and a career high
2 - Straight home playoff losses for the Bucs
Six Best Tweets
So ends Brady's undefeated record against the Cowboys, possibly his time with the Bucs, possibly his time in the NFL. Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened pic.twitter.com/oFZ3TEomjK— Bucs Nation (@Bucs_Nation) January 17, 2023
Steven Stamkos had a better playoff outing against Dallas. That lasted about 2 minutes— Bolts By The Bay (@BoltsByTheBay) January 17, 2023
Brett Maher kicking an extra point pic.twitter.com/1i6BA9tAQD— Annie Agar (@AnnieAgar) January 17, 2023
Tom Brady has surprised us before, but this felt like it. This felt like goodbye...at least to Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/gYMBwoXYw4— Evan Closky (@ECloskyWTSP) January 17, 2023
My gut— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) January 17, 2023
Kellen has the hand signals for TB defense
It’s why they’re going NH—get to LOS, force defense at home to communicate non verbally and get into perfect calls on offense
Six Super Bowl Bets
1.) Buffalo Bills - All bets are off in divisional postseason matchups. Now they’re back home
2.) Philadelphia Eagles - If Jalen is even 85%, they’re going to be a tough out
3.) San Francisco 49ers - That defense is next level lethal. Can Purdy hold up?
4.) Kansas City Chiefs - Mahomes is going to do Mahomes things
5.) Cincinnati Bengals - Offense needs to look a whole lot better than they did against Baltimore
6.) Dallas Cowboys - I don’t want to give them any credit, but they have a better chance of winning than the Giants or Jaguars