The Buccaneers, largely considered a strong No. 1 overall pick contender back in August, bared their underdog teeth on Monday by dominating the Philadelphia Eagles and winning a riveting Wild Card matchup, 32-9.
The Eagles, who bullied the Buccaneers back in Week 3 and started 10-1, utterly collapsed down the stretch on both sides of the ball but saw a faint glimmer of hope entering the playoffs. The Bucs clinched their third consecutive division title but got clocked by the Saints and barely got by the Panthers in doing so to close out the year.
However, any doubt on Tampa’s side — as well as any hope for Philly — was quickly dashed as the Bucs scored on their first 4 possessions. The Philly offense found no answers for Todd Bowles’s relentless blitzing strategy, and the offense closed it out with four full quarters of balanced ball.
The Bucs will face a much stiffer test (and another rematch) when they travel to Detroit to face the Lions Sunday at 3 p.m. Let’s shout out some playoff top performers!
Offensive Top Performer: QB Baker Mayfield
After his worst game of the season at Carolina, Baker responded in vintage fashion by battling through rib and ankle injuries and tallying one of the best passing performances in Bucs playoff history.
Mayfield produced the first 300-yard, 3-touchdown postseason outing for the franchise (remember Tom freakin’ Brady quarterbacked this team for the previous 3 years). On top of that, he should’ve been credited even better numbers if not for touchdown drops by Cade Otton and Mike Evans.
He made some turnover-worthy throws and took too many sacks, yes, but ultimately Baker showed up and showed out, and he’s cemented his status as Tampa’s starting QB going forward.
GENE DECKERHOFF CALLS BAKER MAYFIELD'S 45 YARD TOUCHDOWN PASS TO DAVID MOORE pic.twitter.com/qXF7qdugKS— Bucs Rays Bolts (@BucsRaysBoltsYT) January 16, 2024
While Otton did suffer that disappointing drop, the second-year player rebounded in a big way to be the team’s leading receiver. It was the best game of his career, as he reeled in 8 catches for 89 yards.
The secondary options all came to play. Trey Palmer woke up feeling pissed off, and it translated into two touches for 65 yards and a touchdown. David Moore also popped off for a long score of 44 yards.
Mike Evans (3-48) and Chris Godwin (4-45-1) made their contributions as well to round out a complete effort.
Defensive Top Performer: LB Lavonte David
In what might have been the final home playoff game of his illustrious career, Lavonte David made sure it would be nothing but good memories in Raymond James.
The 33-year-old dominated from whistle to whistle, corralling 5 total tackles (2 for loss) and a forced fumble to set the tone for a swarming Bucs defense. The one TFL for minus-6 yards eventually set up the second-half safety, which effectively buried the Eagles’ chances.
If this is the final postseason for David, we’ve been treated to a truly wonderful player for the last 12 seasons. While Canton might not await, he’ll live forever as a franchise legend with his name in the Ring of Honor.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the team’s young guns deserve some big praise. Calijah Kancey made Cam Jurgens’s life a living hell all evening, dusting him on several occasions to make run stops and secure a huge half-sack and multiple pressures. YaYa Diaby also created pressure as part of a pass rush that really did its job.
Wooo boy the hands on Calijah Kancey (94). pic.twitter.com/OjJYMmBwlV— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) January 16, 2024
Jamel Dean struggled in coverage downfield, but he played extremely well in close quarters with 10 total tackles to lead the team. Six of those tackles were on plays that produced 4 yards or fewer for the Eagles, which was key for keeping the blitz hot and heavy.
Special Teams Top Performer: K Chase McLaughlin
This award permanently belongs to this man this season. McLaughlin has now made 20 straight field goals, as he nailed all three field goal attempts and all three extra points. The early field goals were critical for keeping the pressure on the Eagles when the Bucs offense failed to find the endzone.
With a long of 54, it improved his mark from 50-plus to 8 of 9 this season to boot — it was also the longest postseason field goal in franchise history. It was a strong overall year for kickers, but many other years would’ve seen McLaughlin’s numbers up for All-Pro honors. Like Mayfield, it seems he has secured a long-term home in Tampa.