ON TO THE PLAYOFFS!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers starters did their jobs grabbing the 17-10 halftime lead, but the backups dropped the ball and let the Atlanta Falcons outscore the Bucs 20-0 in the second half, which led to a 30-17 loss and Tom Brady’s first losing season of his career. But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that it was Brady’s first loss to the Falcons in 12 games. It doesn’t matter that they finished with an 8-9 record. It doesn’t matter that they won first place in the only division in football where all four teams had losing records. None of it matters. The Bucs are in the playoffs and THAT is all that matters.
The Tampa Bay starters (minus Donovan Smith, Leonard Fournette, Mike Evans, Vita Vea, Carlton Davis III and Logan Ryan) looked good jumping out to an early lead. Then, the Bucs began pulling those starters beginning with Tom Brady. By the time the 4th quarter came around, the ONLY starters left on the field were Antoine Winfield Jr. and Anthony Nelson. And that’s only because they had already started the game thin at outside linebacker and safety and they just ran out of healthy bodies to put out there. In the end, the Falcons starters were just too much for the Buccaneers third stringers.
In any case, Tampa Bay is headed back to the playoffs for the third straight season, which has only happened one other time in franchise history (99-02). That’s exciting. But first, we need to put this Falcons game in the rear view mirror. The best way to do that is to take a look at the GOOD, BAD & UGLY from it and move on. So, here we go.
Like I said, the Bucs starters played well enough to win this game, so as far as I’m concerned, they did. Tom Brady was 13 of 17 for 84 yards and a touchdown, despite missing BOTH of his starting offensive tackles, his #1 receiver and his starting running back. In fact, the Bucs scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the game, which hasn’t happened very often this season. The Bucs starting defense could’ve played better, but they did hold the Falcons offense to 10 points in the first half.
Tom Brady set new NFL records in completions (488) AND pass attempts (730). He also became the first player in NFL history to have five straight games with 30+ completions AND he finished with 10 games of 30+ completions this season, which is also an NFL record. Chris Godwin got into the act by reaching the 100-reception mark (first time in his career) AND he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career. All after coming back from his knee injury.
I put this in my “GOOD” section because one of the most important things the Bucs could’ve done in this game was stay healthy. They did that for the most part. Even though Robert Hainsey left the game with a sore hamstring. Keanu Neal left with a hip injury. And Kyle Rudolph left the game with a knee issue. Luckily, none of those seem to be serious and hopefully, all of them will be ready for the Bucs upcoming playoff game.
Even if it didn’t hurt the Bucs playoff seeding, it still sucks to lose. The Bucs biggest goal for this game was to avoid any major injuries. They did that. Winning would’ve been icing on the cake. But they lost. The only thing that sucks about “losing” this game against the Falcons is that the Bucs finished with an 8-9 losing record instead of a 9-8 winning record. They also missed the chance of winning three in a row and lost the momentum that comes along with that. The good news is that the starters kept their momentum by winning the first half.
The Run Defense
The Bucs defense, both starters and backups AND without Vita Vea, allowed the Falcons to rush for 174 yards as a team. They allowed rookie running back Tyler Allgeier to have 24 carries for 135 yards averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The Bucs will have Vea back for their playoff game, which will help. But this defense needs to tighten up their run gaps if they want to win in the playoffs. Especially with Dallas coming to town.
The Backup Defense
I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but it’s worth mentioning again. Even Todd Bowles said they didn’t expect that big of a drop-off in the defense when they took the starters out and put the reserves into this game. What was essentially a third string defense gave up 20 points in the second half to the Falcons starting offense. When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound quite as bad. However, it does show that this team isn’t as deep as they thought they were.
The loss doesn’t matter and it was mostly the Falcons starters versus the Bucs backups, but the stats at the end of the game were somewhat alarming. Atlanta had 382 total yards to the Buccaneers 222 total yards. Atlanta had 208 passing yards to the Bucs 136 passing yards. Atlanta had 174 rushing yards to the Bucs 86 rushing yards. Atlanta averaged 5.7 yards per play to the Bucs 4.1 yards per play. Atlanta had 22 first downs and the Bucs had just 12 first downs including just one in the second half. Atlanta’s time of possession was 34:49, while the Bucs had the ball for just 25:11 in this game. It was quite the lopsided performance, but it was all moot and none of it matters.
BIG BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : WR Devin Thompkins
I could’ve given this to Chris Godwin for his 6 catches for 55 yards, since he was the Buccaneers biggest offensive producer in this game. But I’ve decided to go with rookie wide receiver Devin Thompkins who finished with 4 catches for 25 yards AND 1 carry for 17 yards. He also had 2 returns for 36 yards. He ended up playing more snaps on offense than expected because Mike Evans didn’t play, but he showed that he was up to the task by making some really nice plays in this game.
DEFENSE : DT Akiem Hicks
Statistically, Antoine Winfield Jr. could’ve been here with his team-high 10 tackles, but he’s one of just two defensive players who played the entire game. So I’m going with Hicks, who only finished with 2 tackles, but he did have the Buccaneers ONLY sack of the game, which was also his first sack of the year.
BAD BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : QB Kyle Trask
It’s probably not fair to put him here. He was playing with Giovanni Bernard in the backfield, Scotty Miller and Devin Thompkins at wide receiver and his o-line consisted of LT Justin Skule, LG Brandon Walton, RG John Molchon, C Nick Leverett and RT Luke Goedeke. Trask finished just 2 of 9 for 23 yards and never looked comfortable in the pocket. I’m not writing him off just yet. I’d like to see him play a full game with the starting unit before I do that. But in this game, he didn’t show me much.
DEFENSE : The Backups
Yes, I’m hitting it again. They deserve it. They allowed rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder to go 19 of 30 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. They allowed rookie running back Tyler Allgeier to run for 135 yards. They allowed rookie wide receiver Drake London 6 catches for 120 yards. No sacks. No turnovers. No pressure on the quarterback. Poor tackling. Poor blocking. Poor execution. Just bad all the way around. In the second half, the Falcons had 17 first downs, 304 total yards and scored 20 points. The Bucs had just 1 first down, 38 total yards and scored 0 points. Sure, some of that had to do with them playing against the Falcons starters. But the drop-off was more than the Buccaneers coaching staff wanted to see.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
It’s all set. The Dallas Cowboys are coming to Tampa for a wildcard matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. The Philadelphia Eagles ended up with the #1 seed, so they will have the first round bye. The San Francisco 49ers ended up as the #2 seed and will host the #7 seed Seattle Seahawks on Saturday afternoon. And the #3 seed Minnesota Vikings will host the #6 seed New York Giants on Sunday afternoon. The good news is, the Bucs will know where they’re headed or who they’re hosting in Round 2 (if they beat Dallas) by Sunday night. IF they do win on Monday night, they could have a few different scenarios waiting for them. They could either be headed to Minnesota, to San Francisco or to Philly OR they could be hosting the Giants.
THE LOOK AHEAD
The Cowboys (12-5) are up next on Monday Night Football. In Week 1, the Buccaneers beat the Cowboys 19-3 in Dallas holding them to their lowest point total of the season. They still finished as the 4th ranked scoring offense in the NFL averaging 27.5 points per game. Probably because they scored 49 points against the Bears, 40 points against the Vikings, 54 points against the Colts and 40 points against the Eagles in their second meeting of the season. In their first meeting with Philadelphia, they were held to just 17 points. However, they are coming off of an embarrassing Week 18 game where they got rolled 26-6 by the 8-8 Washington Commanders. I like the way the Buccaneers match up with the Cowboys, so I like their chances of winning the game. However, don’t expect another 19-3 game like we had in Week 1. It’s going to be close and I feel like it could come down to either a last minute Tom Brady game-winning drive or a last second field goal by Ryan Succop, much like most of their games this season.
THE WRAP UP
The Buccaneers didn’t accomplish everything they wanted to accomplish in Week 18 against the Falcons, but they made it through the game without any major injuries. That’s the important thing. Yes they finished with a losing record, but regular season records don’t mean anything in the playoffs. All 14 teams that made it in start 0-0 and it doesn’t matter how many wins or losses any of them had before. It’s a clean slate. Sure, I wish the offense had been able to get their shit together at some point during the regular season. But they didn’t. I wish Byron Leftwich had finally come to his senses with the playcalling. But he didn’t. I wish the defense could’ve been playing more consistently. But they weren’t. The good news is that the Bucs are getting healthy just in time. Having Week 18 to rest some of those starters who had lingering injuries was really beneficial. Starting center Ryan Jensen could even be available for this first round game. It could all be coming together at the right time for them. Kind of like fate. We’ll see how true that is come Monday night!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!