The Buccaneers entered week 18 with nothing to lose and even less to gain. Tampa had made their intentions for the final game of the season relatively clear during the week leading into the regular season finale, where they announced that not only would a majority of their players who have been battling nagging injuries sit this game out but that there was a chance Buccaneers fans would finally bear witness to the long-awaited debut of potential future franchise quarterback Kyle Trask. Trask’s debut was short-lived and in the bigger picture that is a disappointing storyline, however in the here and now, today was just another Sunday where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers waged battle against the birds from Georgia and—
Any time the Buccaneers take the field it comes with certain expectations for the team as well as the players on the field. The reality, at times, can be syncopated with those expectations while other times reality hits and it is something entirely different, here’s:
Who we thought would do well and did:
Tom Brady- Following up his best game of the season, Brady parlayed that momentum into a second solid performance. The Bucs’ quarterback didn’t play the full game in its entirety but in a small sample size he looked fairly in sync with his receivers and his offense, even without being dealt a full deck. Brady finished the game with a touchdown pass and a passer rating over 100.
Devin White- While Buccaneers’ star wide receiver Chris Godwin has been the recipient of a peanut punch and put the ball on the ground in back-to-back games, in opposition the Buccaneers’ star linebacker Devin White, has been on the receiving end of fumbles as he has scooped the ball twice for two fumble recoveries in the last two games.
Who we thought would do well and didn’t:
Chris Godwin- No Bucs fan will question Chris Godwin’s effectiveness as a receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nor his status with the team. 2022 marks his third thousand yard receiving season and also the first time in his career he totaled 100 catches, but Godwin’s fumble this week, combined with the fact that it has been now two consecutive games in which he has put the ball on the ground and the receiver has earned a spot here as a player ‘who we thought would do well and didn’t.’
Who we thought might struggle and did:
Tampa Bay’s hamstrings- Hamstring injuries are common injuries, every team has players that go through them and most every athlete has dealt with a hamstring injury or two at some point in their career. Unofficially, the Buccaneers have dealt with 5,600 hamstring injuries during the 2022 season. Mike Evans, Russell Gage, Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette, to name a few. Now, the dreaded curse of the hamstring has infected the center position. Robert Hainsey, the Buccaneers’ backup turned starting center, became the unconfirmed 63rd member of the Buccaneers’ roster to succumb to a hamstring injury this season. Hainsey left the game early and was replaced by starting guard Nick Leverett. Depending on the injury’s severity it will be interesting to see how the Buccaneers manage the interior offensive line going into the playoffs with the potential return of beloved center Ryan Jenson looming.
Who we thought might struggle and didn’t:
Kyle Rudolph- In a ranking of offseason acquisitions that haven’t had on-the-field impact, the Buccaneers’ tight end deserves a spot right at the top of the list. Rudolph entered Sunday’s game with just two catches on the season for 20 yards. Having not registered a catch since October, Rudolph put his stamp on this game early, making his most memorable catch as a Buccaneer to date, finishing Tampa’s impressive opening drive off with a touchdown grab. Rudolph went to the sidelines clutching the ball under his arm, with it being his 50th career touchdown reception and first from Tom Brady, it is a ball he will likely keep for a while.
Surprise of the game:
Kyle Trask- Trask could have been in a category labeled— ‘players who should have played more but were held back due to bad decision making’— It’s difficult to assign Trask’s performance into one category because depending on your specific outlook on the quarterback, placement in a variety of categories may be merited. Regardless of any preconceived notions towards Trask coming into the game, anyone could have agreed, taking advantage of the opportunity of a meaningless regular season game to evaluate a young quarterback is crucial. Instead, the Buccaneers spent more time watching Blaine Gabbert under center. In his first career regular season action, Trask looked somewhat like what you might expect a rookie to look like. While the former Florida Gator is not a rookie his time spent on the field playing does equate him to rookie status. The three of nine 23-yard outing is a shockingly small sample size considering the chance that was presented to the Bucs young passer in this game. Trask may still need more time and opportunity before he is considered a lost cause or a poor draft pick, but will not get another chance to show what he can do until next preseason, at the earliest and that is a missed opportunity.
Antione Winfield Jr.- Maybe by default Antione Winfield Jr. finds himself as the game’s MVP if for no other reason than the mere fact that he played the entire game. As the Buccaneers flooded the field with backups, Winfield Jr. started and stayed in the game until the bitter end. The safety finished Sunday with a game-leading 13 total tackles and a near strip of Atlanta Falcons’ receiver Drake London. Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of the bright spots of the Buccaneers’ future as a young building block for Tampa’s defense. Seeing the 24-year-old play as many snaps as he did in a meaningless game was quite surprising.
The Buccaneers may have just lost an irrelevant game but next week they play the most relevant game of their entire season. While Tampa Bay did have the familiar faces of Tom Brady, Chris Godwin and company touch the field Sunday, the team took this game with an outlook similar to that of a preseason game, giving players who have been nursing injuries the breather and rest they need to prepare for a playoff run. Next weekend the Bucs will suit up for a Wildcard round game against an NFC East opponent for the third consecutive season. The Buccaneers have faced and battled through mounds of ridicule and critique in 2022 and the playoffs present the team with an opportunity to dismiss it all and show that they are still the dangerous playoff threat they have proven to be since Tom Brady first donned the red and pewter.