ONE DOWN, THREE TO GO!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in their first home playoff game in Raymond James Stadium;since 2007 on Sunday. And they won their first home playoff game in Raymond James Stadium since 2002 when they beat the 49ers in the divisional round on their way to their first Super Bowl. It was a dominant performance that resulted in a 31-0 lead, at one point, in the 3rd quarter. However, as “GOOD” as this game was, it wasn’t without its “BAD” and “UGLY” parts. So here’s what I saw in the Bucs wildcard matchup with the Eagles.
The Win Obviously
No Godwin. No Brown. No Fournette. No Jones. They lost Wirfs in the first minute. Jensen was hobbled for half the game. They were missing 49% of their total offense from this season, and they STILL put up 31 points in three quarters against a pretty good Eagles defense. The Bucs are now 29-9 with Tom Brady at quarterback and 5-0 in the playoffs scoring 30+ points in each of those games.
The last time the Buccaneers had two home playoff games; was in 1979 when they hosted the Eagles in the divisional round then lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship game. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself here.
The Defense (for the most part)
The Bucs defense was FINALLY near full strength (with the exception of Sean Murphy-Bunting) for this game, and they came out firing on all cylinders. They held the Eagles offense to just 10 plays for 17 yards in the 1st quarter (the Eagles’ lowest total in a qtr of the season) and 29 plays for 103 yards and zero points in the first half. They also held them to 17 plays for 51 yards and zero points in the 3rd quarter. Philly only had 14 first downs for the entire game and were 5 of 14 on third downs and 1 of 3 on fourth downs.
They held the NFL’s #1 rushing offense to just 95 yards on 17 carries, with Jalen Hurts being their leading rusher with 39 yards. Running back Boston Scott was their second-leading rusher with one carry for 34 yards, running back Miles Sanders, their second-leading rusher for the season, finished with just 7 carries for 16 yards and a 2.3 yards per carry average. Needless to say, the Bucs run defense was back with a vengeance holding the Eagles under 100-yards rushing for the first time since Carolina did it in Week 6.
Despite the injuries, this Bucs defense has held four of their last five opponents to 17 points or less. They got Shaq, JPP, and Lavonte back for this game, and they should get Murphy-Bunting back for next week’s game against the Rams. If that happens, it will be the first time the Buccaneers’ entire starting defense from Week 1 will be on the field at the same time this season.
The Special Teams
Boy, were they! Bruce Arians said it’s probably the best performance they’ve had all season. Ryan Succop was 5 for 5 on his kicks in windy conditions. Bradley Pinion averaged 49 yards per punt and put two inside the 20-yard line. The punt and kick coverage was great all afternoon, and they even caused a turnover on a perfectly timed hit by Scotty Miller. They’ll need to put another game like this together next week against the Rams.
I don’t think that this Buccaneers’ starting secondary has played an entire game together yet, this season. In this one, they were short Sean Murphy-Bunting. However, they played really well, with the exception of a few big chunk plays. Mike Edwards had an exceptional game, finishing with a team-high 9 tackles and a HUGE interception. Jamel Dean was second with 8 tackles and 1 pass defensed. Jordan Whitehead was third with 6 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Antoine Winfield Jr. had 5 tackles, a tackle for loss, 2 QB hits, and a sack. And Carlton Davis had a decent night with 5 tackles and 1 pass defensed, even though I have him on my “BAD” list this week. This group played with an aggression that has been missing for most of this season, and it was nice to see. Hopefully, they can get Murphy-Bunting back and be at full strength next week when the Rams come to town.
About one minute into this game, right tackle Tristan Wirfs went down with an ankle injury. He did try to come back in later in the game after going to the locker room but came back out after just three plays. Wells came in as his replacement and played extremely well despite battling a quad injury; himself. How well? Well, he was the third highest-rated player on offense for this game, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Not offensive linemen. The third highest-rated offensive player behind only Tom Brady and Mike Evans. With the exception of one play where he got off balance and bull-rushed by Ryan Kerrigan, he played a fantastic game. That being said, I still hope that Wirfs is healthy enough to go next week. Wells may have played well, but it’s tough to fill the All-Pro shoes of Wirfs. And with the Rams coming to town, this offensive line needs to be at full strength.
After missing four games with a hip injury, Giovani Bernard was back in a big way in an expanded role with Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones out with injuries. He finished this game with 44 rushing yards and 39 receiving yards, along with a rushing touchdown. He ended up with a higher yards per carry average (3.4) than Ke’Shawn Vaughn (3.1) and a higher yards per catch average (7.8) than Rob Gronkowski (6.2). When Fournette and Jones do come back, the Bucs will have a tough decision to make about; which running backs to keep active on gameday between Fournette, Jones, Vaughn, Bernard, and Bell.
Wow. Raymond James Stadium hasn’t rocked like that in 20 years. It didn’t even look, sound, or feel like the same stadium. They FINALLY painted the endzones red, like many of us have been requesting for years. The seats were packed, and I didn’t even see big patches of green Eagles fans either., and the white and red flags that everyone had in their seats were being raised and waved all at once. It was an awesome sight. It was one of the loudest “12th Man” games that I’ve ever witnessed in that stadium, and it did not go unnoticed. Quite a few Bucs players mentioned how much energy and motivation the crowd noise gave them. Bruce Arians said the fans were great. And even Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert admitted that the crowd noise made it difficult for their offense to communicate at times; THAT is how a home crowd is supposed to be, and THAT is how we’re going to need to be again next Sunday.
The 4th Quarter
Okay, I’m probably nitpicking here with this one, but I was really wanting that shutout, and when the defense gave up 160 total yards and 15 points in that final quarter, it kind of pissed me off. However, it wasn’t just the defense. The offense took its foot off the gas and off the Eagles’ throats and got conservative instead of sticking with the game plan that had been working all game. They had three possessions and only ran 17 plays for 56 total yards and did not score in that 4th quarter. I’d like to see more of a “go for the kill” type of mentality late in games like that where they have a big lead. I mean, it’s supposed to be “no risk it, no biscuit“, right?
It’s been an issue all season: Dropped passes. It’s plagued this team all year. In this game, it happened on BOTH sides of the ball. Breshad Perriman had two drops, Tyler Johnson had a drop, Giovani Bernard had a drop, Rob Gronkowski had a drop, and I believe Cam Brate even had a drop, but it wasn’t just the offense. Jamel Dean and Lavonte David BOTH got their hands on balls that could’ve and should’ve been caught. And Carlton Davis had two that he could’ve intercepted. I don’t know what the problem is. Maybe these guys need a little more work on the Juggs Machine after practice or something.
He didn’t have a terrible game, but he could’ve played better. I already mentioned the two picks that he dropped, and he also gave up a couple of big chunk catches. But the worst thing that he did all night was his bone-headed move of yanking his helmet off on the field after a nice pass breakup on fourth down. He cost his offense 15 yards for that nonsense. Instead of starting the drive on their 37-yard line, the Bucs were back at their own 22-yard line. They went three & out and had to punt, which gave Philly the ball on their 39-yard line close to midfield AND gave them a chance to score some points before the half. Luckily, Mike Edwards made a touchdown-saving interception, and it didn’t cost the Bucs anything but time. It’s little mental mistakes like this that can cause teams to lose in the playoffs, so I hope he learned from it.
Everyone BUT Mike Evans
Mike Evans finished this game with 9 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown; nobody else was even close. Giovani Bernard was the second-leading receiver with 5 catches for 39 yards; Rob Gronkowski had 5 catches for 34 yards. Tyler Johnson had 2 catches for 30 yards, Cam Brate had 3 catches for 29 yards, Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, and OJ Howard COMBINED had 3 catches for 16 yards. That’s NOT going to get it done, folks. Without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, the Bucs need other guys to step up and take over those roles. Sure, Mike was enough for this game, but I doubt that will be the case against the Rams. Mike and Gronk will get theirs, but the other guys need to step it up a notch for the playoffs.
The Wirfs Injury
The Bucs were FINALLY starting to get healthy coming into this game. All they had to do was get through one more week, and then they’d probably be getting Leonard Fournette and Sean Murphy-Bunting back and possibly getting Ronald Jones and Cyril Grayson back as well. Then tragedy struck. The Bucs o-line, which was one of the healthiest and most consistent all season, started falling apart. One minute into the game, right tackle Tristan Wirfs went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the field and straight back to the locker room. Josh Wells came in to replace him, but he was battling a quad injury. Then, center Ryan Jensen went down with an ankle injury. Jensen came back in and gutted it out, finishing the game. Wirfs attempted to do the same but limped off the field after three plays and after getting bull-rushed by Ryan Kerrigan for a sack. Bruce Arians says that BOTH Wirfs and Jensen will probably be game-time decisions, which is not good news with the Rams coming to town.
With the exception of most of that 4th quarter, the Buccaneers dominated the Eagles and won their first home playoff game in 20 years by a 31-15 score that made it look closer than it ever was. The offense was efficient, the defense was relentless, and the special teams were, well, special. It was a total team win and a great way to kick off this playoff run. Now, if this team can just get healthy, they might be able to do some real damage in this postseason.
We knew WHERE and WHEN. Now we know WHO. The LA Rams will be coming to Tampa to play our Buccaneers in the divisional round on Sunday at 3 pm. The other NFC divisional game is happening Saturday night with the 49ers traveling to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers. That game will be interesting. The weather is calling for a HIGH in the low 20’s with snow and a LOW that night around zero degrees with the windchill. Not exactly great weather for a Packers team that likes to throw the ball; on the other hand, it’s probably ideal for the Niners rushing attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if San Francisco pulls an upset in Green Bay, which means the Bucs would know that they could be hosting the NFC Championship before they kickoff against the Rams. It could give them just a little extra added motivation to win on Sunday as if they needed any.
THE LOOK AHEAD
It’s only fitting that we start this postseason journey off with one old nemesis then move on to another. The Rams were another team that I used to hate with a passion after that bullshit Bert Emmanuel catch ruling, so for us to get a chance to knock them out of the playoffs, too, is a blessing. This game is all about revenge. For the 1979 NFC Championship game; where the Bucs lost 9-0 in Tampa. For the 1999 NFC Championship game: where the Bucs lost 11-6 in St. Louis; for Week 11 of last year, when the Bucs lost 27-24 in Tampa, and for Week 3 this year; where the Bucs lost 34-24 in Los Angeles. The Rams have won seven of their last meetings with the Bucs, and it’s time for a little payback. I think they get it on Sunday.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!