THE WAIT IS OVER!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years after convincingly beating the Detroit Lions 47-7 in the Motor City on Saturday. It was a strong performance by the Bucs to get them their third straight win and gave them their first 10-win season in 10 years.
This game was never in doubt. From kickoff to kneel down, Tampa controlled every aspect of this contest. The Lions never had a chance in this one. They came into the game missing a bunch of key players due to injuries and half of their coaching staff due to COVID-19 protocols. It was over before it started…and the Bucs took advantage.
I’m not trying to take anything away from this Bucs win. That is what GOOD teams are supposed to do to BAD teams. Beat them. Badly. Humiliate them. Destroy them. Crush their spirit. That’s exactly what the Bucs did to the Lions. That’s exactly what they should’ve done to the Lions. As you can probably guess, there was plenty of “GOOD” about this game. Despite the score, there was some “BAD” in it as well. And as for the “UGLY“, well that was pretty obvious. So here’s what I came up with for the Bucs/Lions game.
I’ve been talking about it for weeks now. It’s been the topic of conversations and the biggest issue haunting the Bucs since Week 7. The slow starts have been killing Tampa Bay. Since Week 8 against the Giants, the Buccaneers have been outscored 66-10 in the first quarter. It took Tom Brady just over 3 minutes and 6 plays to go 82 yards and score to take a 6-0 lead against the Lions. It was their first 1st quarter lead since Week 8 when they led 3-0 against the Giants. Brady had more passing yards on that first drive than he had in the entire first half last week against the Falcons. The defense then held the Lions to just 19 yards and 4 plays giving the ball right back to Brady. This time it only took the Bucs offense just over 2 minutes and 4 plays to go 80 yards and score again to take a 13-0 lead. Midway through the first quarter, Brady was 6 of 7 for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns. After two drives each in the first quarter, the Bucs had outgained the Lions 157-38 in total yards. Last week against Atlanta, the Bucs didn’t have a first half play over 14 yards. On the first two drives in the first quarter, they had plays of 33, 32, 47 and 27 yards.
Just over 3 minutes into the second quarter, the Bucs had a 20-0 lead and had outgained the Lions 243-42 in total yards. Brady was 12 of 14 for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns. And Leonard Fournette had 12 touches for 66 yards and a touchdown. By halftime, Tampa led 34-0 and had outgained Detroit 410-57 in total yards. Brady was now 22 of 27 for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was done for the day and so were the Lions.
Tampa Bay’s offense was ON FIRE in this game. Their 410 net total yards in the first half was the most yards scored in a half in team history AND the most by ANY team in the NFL since 2010. The 34 points in the first half is the highest scoring first half in team history and the second most points scored in ANY half in team history.
They finished this game with 588 net total yards, which is a new franchise record and they outgained the Lions by 402 net total yards (588-186), which is also a team record. They also set a new team high for first downs with 30 in this game, breaking a team record that stood since 1983. Even backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert got in on the action playing the entire second half and finishing 9 of 15 for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns AND the highest QB rating (131.4) of his ten year career.
As a team, the Bucs ran 70 plays for 588 total yards and possessed the ball for almost 36 minutes. They passed for 477 yards and 6 touchdowns, a new team record. They ran for 111 yards and a touchdown. They had 30 first downs, a new team record. Oh and they scored a season high 47 points. They now need just 11 points next week against the Falcons to become the highest scoring offense in team history, breaking the record set just last season with 458 points. Even with one game left, they already have as many TOTAL touchdowns (54) as they did all of last year. Except in 2019, the defense had six of those touchdowns versus just one touchdown this year. The offense has 53 this season, up from 48 last year, while drastically lowering their turnovers from 41 last year to just 16 this year.
This was his 300th regular season game. At 43 years old, Brady now has 4,234 passing yards, the second most in a season in team history AND 36 touchdowns, the most in team history breaking the record of 33 set by Jameis Winston last year and the third most in his career. He’s on pace for 4,514 yards, which would be the 6th highest mark of his career AND 38 touchdowns, which would be the 3rd highest mark of his career.
In the first half of this game, Brady was 22 of 27 for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s the most passing yards in a half in Bucs history and the second most in a half in his career. He also finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating for the third regular season game of his career (2007 & 2010), which ties him with Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner for the most ever for players with at least 20 attempts in a game. To add some perspective to that number, there’s ONLY 34 such games in NFL history.
This first half is just the second time since 1991 that a player has thrown for 340+ yards, 4+ touchdowns and no interceptions in a half. The other was Tom Brady in 2009 against the Titans. There’s been four times in NFL history that a QB was in his 40’s to start a season and thrown for 4,000+ yards: Tom Brady, 2017 (40), Tom Brady, 2018 (41), Tom Brady, 2019 (42) and Tom Brady, 2020 (43). Over his last four quarters (second half vs Falcons and first half vs Lions), Brady is 43 of 56 for 668 yards and 6 touchdowns. According to Elias Sports, he’s the first quarterback in the last 49 years to throw for more than 600+ yards over a four quarter span.
It also appears that he’s got his deep ball back. From Weeks 8-11, Brady was 0 for 19 with 3 interceptions on passes of 20+ yards. From Weeks 12-15, he was 9 for 15 with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception on passes of 20+ yards. In the first half against the Lions, he was 6 of 8 for 147 yards (the most yards on deep balls by any QB in a quarter in 2020) and 2 touchdowns. Since Week 11, Brady is 15 of 24 for 505 yards and 6 touchdowns on passes of 20+ yards. All of those lead the NFL in that span. So much for being “washed up“. The Bucs had 10 plays of 20+ yards in this game, ranking them second in the league with 60 plays of that length (Chiefs are 1st with 63) this season.
Tom Brady hooked up with Rob Gronkowski for the Bucs first touchdown of the game. It was a 33 yard dime by Brady and a beautiful fingertip catch by Gronk. It was also the 96th time the two of them have connected for a score, the second most for ANY quarterback/receiver combination in NFL history behind Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. Gronk also caught the first touchdown of the second half from backup QB Blaine Gabbert giving him 17 multi-touchdown games for his career, the third most by a tight end in NFL history.
The Bucs rookies made some nice contributions in this game. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs continued his exceptional play, once again not allowing a sack. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr only had 4 tackles, but played well overall as usual. Wide receiver Tyler Johnson only had one catch, but it was a screen pass that he turned into a nice 35 yard gain. And running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn had his best game of the season with 15 carries for 62 yards and a 4.1 yards per carry average.
The Next Man Up
Tampa Bay came into this game missing two key players, one on each side of the ball. On offense, running back Ronald Jones missed his second game in a row on the COVID-19 list. And on defense, cornerback Carlton Davis missed the game with a groin injury. To fill those roles, the Bucs had Leonard Fournette start at running back and Sean Murphy-Bunting started at corner with Ross Cockrell filling in at nickel. Fournette finished this game with 12 touches for 66 yards and a touchdown while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Murphy-Bunting and Cockrell finished with just 2 tackles each, but played well as part of a secondary that held the Lions to 113 passing yards on 31 attempts.
There were a few records set and/or broken in this game. Mike Evans tied AND broke his own record scoring his 12th and 13th touchdowns of the season. He had 6 catches for 120 yards in the first half alone and finished with 10 catches for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns. He started the day 221 yards shy of his NFL record 7th consecutive 1,000 yard season. Now, he only needs 40 yards against Atlanta next Sunday to move past Randy Moss. He also added his name to a pretty elite list of only 7 players in NFL history with 8,000+ yards AND 60+ touchdowns in their first seven seasons. That list is: Sterling Sharpe, Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and now Mike Evans. Now tell me again how he’s NOT one of the best receivers in football again?
With his 348 yards and 4 touchdowns first half, Tom Brady now has 4,234 yards and 36 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. That is the second most passing yards in a season EVER by a Buccaneers quarterback. His 36 touchdowns is now the most EVER by a Buccaneers quarterback, breaking Jameis Winston’s franchise record of 33 set just last year.
The Bucs now have the top two receivers with the most touchdowns since 2014:
Antonio Brown- 61
Mike Evans- 59
Deandre Hopkins- 58
Davante Adams- 58
Odell Beckham Jr.- 51
The Buccaneers are also the ONLY team in the NFL with three or more wins by 25+ points this season, which is the most in team history for one season.
The Special Teams
If there was a weak link in the Bucs chain on Saturday, it was definitely the special teams. Ryan Succop uncharacteristically missed a field goal AND two extra points. The punt coverage team allowed the Lions ONLY points of the game when Jamal Agnew returned a Bradley Pinion punt 74 yards for a touchdown, Detroit’s first punt return TD in a year. And Kenjon Barner had a terrible day returning kicks averaging just 4 yards on five punt returns.
After missing last week’s game due to COVID-19 protocols, left tackle Donovan Smith was back in the starting lineup and did not play well. Not only did he allow one of Detroit’s two sacks of the day, but he was also flagged for two penalties in the game.
Speaking of penalties, the Bucs had a bunch of them in this game. They committed 8 penalties for 65 yards against the Lions, matching their highest total since Week 6 (Week 12 vs Chiefs- 8).
It was difficult to find anything “UGLY” about this game, so this may be a bit of nitpicking on my part. But I chose Ryan Succop’s three misses as the ugliest part of this game because it was so rare to see from him this season. Coming into this game, he had only missed five kicks all season (2 fg’s, 3 xp’s). Against the Lions, he missed a field goal and two extra points kicking on turf and inside a some with no weather conditions. He is now 25 of 28 on field goals (89.3%) and 47 of 52 on extra points (90.4%) for the year. Let’s just hope that it was a fluke game and not something that continues into the postseason.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
After their win in Detroit, the Bucs are now 10-5 and sitting in the fifth seed for the playoffs. The Bucs playoff position is pretty clear. Who they’re playing is not. Beat the Falcons next week and they’ll stay there and face the “winner” of the NFC East division. The Redskins and Cowboys are both 6-9, which leads the division, but the Giants are just a game behind at 5-8. Here’s where it gets complicated. The Redskins are playing at the Eagles next week, while the Cowboys travel to play the Giants. There could potentially be a tie between the three with 6-10 records to which they would start going to tie breakers. If I had to bet, I’d say the Bucs are headed to Dallas for the wildcard round.
If they lose to Atlanta, they could still remain in that fifth seed IF the Rams lose to the Cardinals too. If they lose and the Rams win, the Bucs will be the sixth seed and would face whoever ends up as the third seed. That’s still up for grabs as well between the Packers at 12-3 and the Saints and Seahawks at 11-4. The Packers play at Chicago. The Saints travel to Carolina. And the Seahawks are at San Francisco. I’m not sure how the tie breakers would work out IF they all finish tied at 12-4, but it will make for a suspenseful football Sunday for Bucs fans. Either way, the Bucs will be on the road for the wildcard round. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing since they’re 6-2 on the road this season, matching the 2002 and 2010 teams for the best road record in team history.
I’m happy that the Bucs beat the Lions so convincingly, but I’m also trying to temper my expectations about it as well. That was NOT a good Lions team to begin with and they were missing half of their coaching staff AND their two best offensive players plus they lost Matthew Stafford during the game. The 47-7 score is what I would EXPECT a good team like the Bucs to do to a bad team like the Lions. Sure I know it’s “any given Sunday” in the NFL, but really good teams don’t lose to bad teams, even on “any given Sunday“. The Buccaneers went into Detroit and took care of business. It’s that simple.
Now the question is, can they come home and take care of business against Atlanta? The Falcons are now 4-11 after losing to the Chiefs on Sunday. Even though they’re in the playoffs, that doesn’t mean that this game is meaningless. It means a lot. This game could be the difference between going to Washington to play the 6-9 Redskins OR going to Seattle to play the 12-3 Seahawks.
Which would you rather?
The Bucs treated the Lions game like it was a business trip to Detroit. And they need to do the same thing next week too. They need to treat this Falcon’s game like it’s the first round of their playoffs. I still have concerns about the inconsistency of this football team. We’ll just have to wait and see which team shows up at Raymond James…the team that beat up the undefeated Packers 38-10 OR the team that got wrecked 38-3 by the Saints.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!