A WIN IS A WIN, ESPECIALLY IN THE PLAYOFFS!
Well it wasn’t pretty, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveled to the land of stolen elections and pillaged their first playoff win in 18 years beating the Washington Redskins (Yeah, I said it!) 31-23 Saturday night in a game that was much closer than it should’ve been.
The Bucs offense helped them jump out to an early lead, but the defense let Washington hang around to keep the game interesting up until the last few minutes. There was some GOOD stuff in this game. There was some BAD stuff in this game. But the whole game was UGLY, especially for the defense. So here’s what I saw in this week’s PLAYOFF game between the Bucs and Skins.
The Run Defense
The Buccaneers showed why they were the #1 rushing defense in football Saturday night by holding Washington’s Antonio Gibson to just 31 yards on 14 carries for a 2.2 yards per carry average. Taylor Heinicke was Washington’s leading rusher with 6 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown AND he had their longest run of the night of 13 yards.
Tom Brady played a beautiful game on Saturday night finishing 22 of 40 for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns doing most of his damage in the first half (209 yards, 2 TD’s). Not bad considering Washington was a Top 5 defense allowing just 10 passing touchdowns all season. Brady set a new Bucs playoff record with the 381 yards passing, smashing Brad Johnson’s record of 259 yards from the 2002 NFC title game. He received a 90.8 grade from ProFootballFocus.com in this game and no other quarterback received higher than an 80 grade against Washington this season.
Mike Evans, Cam Brate and Chris Godwin all had more than 79 yards in this game, which matches the number of 79+ receiving yard games in the Bucs previous 15 postseason games combined. In fact, the Buccaneers had just three 80 yard receiving games in their franchise history entering this game.
With Ronald Jones being a late scratch from the game, Fournette stepped up and had a HUGE night with 19 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5 yards per carry. He also added 4 catches for 39 yards out of the backfield. That was the second most rushing yards given up by the Washington defense this season behind Nick Chubb’s 108 yards. It was also the third most rushing yards in a single game in Buccaneers playoff history behind Ricky Bell (142) in 1979 and Michael Pittman (124) in the Super Bowl. His 132 yards from scrimmage is also the second most in a single game in Bucs playoff history.
The Bucs left tackle takes a ton of criticism, a lot of times for good reason, but on Saturday he arguably had his best game as a Buccaneer. Even though the coaching staff did give him a little help at times with a tight end or extra tackle, Smith held the beast Chase Young to just 3 tackles (none for loss), 1 QB hurry and zero sacks. It was a brilliant performance by him, but the Bucs will need that same kind of effort again when they play the Saints on Sunday.
Even though Bruce Arians said that “he was only playing at about 70%” on Saturday night, Mike Evans put up BIG numbers and had some BIG catches against the Redskins finishing with 6 catches for 119 yards. That was the most ever by a Buccaneers receiver in a playoff game, surpassing Ke’Shawn Johnson’s 106 yards against Philly in the 2000 season. It was a gutsy performance considering he had just hyperextended his knee last week.
The Tight Ends
The Bucs tight ends played a HUGE role in this game. Rob Gronkowski stayed in to help block more than usual and did a fantastic job keeping that dangerous Washington d-line in check for most of the night. With Gronk busy blocking, Cam Brate had his biggest game of the season finishing with 4 catches for 80 yards, including a couple of BIG third down catches. They too will need to put out that same kind of performance against the Saints for the Bucs to have a chance to win on Sunday.
I think it’s safe to say that the Buccaneers decade long kicking curse is finally over. Succop made all five of his kicks on Saturday (4 FG’s, 1 XP), although he did have an extra point blocked. This upcoming game against the Saints could come down to the wire, so it’s nice for the Bucs to FINALLY have a kicker that we can have confidence in.
The Third Quarter
After leading 18-7 at halftime, the Bucs came out of the locker room and let Washington right back into the game. The defense gave up a 7 play/52 yard drive AND a 7 play/61 yard drive, as well as 9 points. And the offense only got two possessions, which resulted in a punt and a fumble by rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
The Redzone Offense
Tampa Bay’s offense left a ton of points on the field Saturday night. They moved the ball really well in between the 20’s, but the redzone offense killed them. They reached Washington’s 11, 5, 20 and 19 yard lines and only came away with four field goals. Sure it’s nice coming away with any points, but that adds up to another 16 points that should’ve been on the scoreboard. That’s something they need to get corrected before Sunday because they will not beat the Saints kicking field goals.
The Missed Catches
One of the only issues for the offense on Saturday was dropped passes, and there were a bunch of them. Mike Evans had a drop. Cam Brate dropped a touchdown pass. Jordan Whitehead dropped an interception that hit him right in the chest. But the biggest surprise of all was Chris Godwin’s five dropped passes. That’s right, five drops. The normally sure handed Godwin only had 6 career drops in 2,712 snaps before this game.
The Missed Sacks
The Bucs defense just could not get to the elusive Taylor Heinicke on Saturday night. They only finished with two sacks, one by Anthony Nelson and one by a blitzing Lavonte David. But they missed out on at least six opportunities to sack Heinicke and instead let him loose to scramble for first downs or positive plays.
The Missed Players
One reason that Heinicke was able to scramble for so many yards on Saturday was because the Bucs were missing Devin White and his sideline to sideline speed. Kevin Minter didn’t play bad in his absence, but he’s just not the same player.
Another absence that hurt the Bucs was when right guard Alex Cappa left the game and reserve lineman Ted Larsen came in to replace him. Larsen gave up one of Washington’s three sacks and he wasn’t near as effective in run blocking as Cappa. After finding out that Cappa suffered a season ending ankle fracture, the Bucs will need to find a better solution than Larsen for right guard against the Saints. Look for them to use veteran backup Aaron Stinnie at right guard on Sunday instead.
With just under two minutes left in the first half, Washington started a drive on their own 25 yard line. On 1st &10, Anthony Nelson sacked Taylor Heinicke causing a CLEAR fumble which was then CLEARLY recovered by Shaq Barrett. The officials ruled him “down by contact” and Washington retained possession of the ball. They punted a few plays later however, the Bucs went from having the ball at Washington’s 20 yard line with 1:50 left to starting at their own 26 yard line with about 1:22 left. They missed out on at least 3 points with this one.
Midway through the third quarter, the Bucs were ahead 18-10 and moving the ball down the field once again. On 1st & 10 at the Skins 44, rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran off the left guard for a gain of 6 yards but fumbled while fighting for extra yardage. Washington recovered and went 61 yards in 7 plays to make it an 18-16 ball game. That was at least a 10 point swing in this game.
The Bucs offense looked pretty good most of this game, but they could’ve been much better in the redzone. The defense was disappointing giving up 375 total yards and 23 points to a bottom ranked offense led by a career backup quarterback. This game wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. And that’s all that matters in the playoffs. Whether it was an ugly 8 point win or a perfect 40 point win, it doesn’t matter. The Bucs are moving on to play in the divisional round.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Even though the Bucs won their game on Saturday night, they had to wait until Sunday night to find out who they were playing. It was either going to be the Saints in New Orleans or the Rams in Tampa. It turned out to be the Saints. Tom Brady has never lost to the same team three times in one season. It’s only happened once in team history where the Bucs have faced an opponent in the playoffs that had swept them in the regular season. That was in 1997 and they lost to Green Bay. Now they get a third shot at Brees and the Saints who have won five in a row against the Bucs by a combined score of 165-81 in those games. This season alone, they’ve been outscored 72-26 in their two meetings with losses by 11 points in Week 1 and 35 points in Week 9. Brees has outplayed Brady in those contest with 382 yards and 6 touchdowns compared to 448 yards, 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Todd Bowles Buccaneers defense has not been able to hold Sean Payton’s offense to less than 27 points in their four meetings, while allowing more than 31 points twice. Bruce Arians Buccaneers offense has never scored more than 24 points against the Saints. It’s clear that what they’ve been doing in the past is just not working, so they will need to change things up if they want to have a chance at winning this game in New Orleans on Sunday.
Tampa Bay was lucky to play the way they did in this wildcard game and come away with a win. Had they been playing anyone else but Washington and Taylor Heinicke, they probably would’ve lost. The offense needs to be better in the redzone. The defense needs to be more aggressive in pass coverage. And Succop needs to keep making his kicks. As long as they do all that, they should give the Saints all they can handle on Sunday.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!