What a way to start the year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers! After defeating the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, the Buccaneers advanced to the NFC Championship game. In the penultimate game, they faced off against the number one seeded Green Bay Packers. In a rematch of their Week 6 matchup, the Buccaneers were looking to prove the 38-10 win wasn’t a fluke. Let’s take a look at the keys to the game and who deserves the most praise in one of the better team wins in Tampa Bay history.
In the first matchup, the Buccaneers defense dominated the Packers. All of the NFL pundits were saying that this Packers offense was playing at a different level than before. Maybe that was true, it just didn’t truly matter in this one.
During the Packer’s first drive of the game, the pass rush of the Buccaneers came out hungry. On 3rd and 9 with the Packers down seven, linebacker Shaquil Barrett came through for a huge sack to force a punt. Shaquill Barrett would end the game with three sacks on the day, teammate Jason Pierre-Paul would counter with two of his own.
On Green Bay’s second scoring drive of the game, a big play flew under the radar. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a short pass to halfback Aaron Jones, he would gain five yards on the reception. The play is significant because of safety Jordan Whitehead.
On the tackle, he directly hits the football and the ball comes loose, but the ball is recovered by the offense. Foreshadowing one of the biggest plays of his young career.
Buccaneers Sean Murphy-Bunting on the Rising
With less than a minute in the first half, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting made the play of his life. Green Bay was looking to either kick a field goal or take the lead before the half and instead, Bunting produced his third interception in as many playoff games. His play had a lot of contact but in the end, there was no flag and it gave the Buccaneers the ball.
The interception led to a huge 39-yard touchdown to wideout Scotty Miller. The lead became 21-10 good guys and sent the Packers into the locker room deflated.
Murphy-Bunting has played out this world during this postseason run and is really lifting up his fellow defensive backs. No matter how you slice it getting a pick off of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in back-to-back must-win games is big time.
“Hardest Hitting Safety in the League”
Jordan Whitehead has been the other safety in the Tampa backend on defense. His fellow safety rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. has been the man earning all the buzz. In the NFC Championship Jordan Whitehead, in my opinion, was the player of the game because of two big hits on Aaron Jones.
The Packers started the third quarter with the ball down 11. Rodgers and company needed to score here and make it a one-score game but the Buccaneers defense had other plans. Aaron Jones was targeted on three straight plays to start the drive.
On the third play, Jones was lined up out wide. Linebacker Devin White in man to man coverage on Jones. White ends up losing him in traffic as Jones crosses the field right to left. Wide open, Rodgers hit Jones in stride but was met by Jordan Whitehead who lays a perfect textbook hit on the receiver. He forces another fumble but this time it was recovered by the defense.
This forced fumble led to an immediate touchdown from the Buccaneers offense and the lead ballooned to 28-10. This essentially put the game out of reach.
Buccaneers Heading Home for Super Bowl 55
During their run to Super Bowl 55, the Buccaneers have relied on defense against two of the most legendary veteran Quarterbacks in history. In both games, they have forced turnovers from both quarterbacks and stymied their potent offenses.
With Tom Brady on offense, the defense has the chance to be aggressive against the incoming Chiefs offense. Kansas City has one of, if not the best collection of offensive talent in the league. Tampa Bay on the other hand has studs at each level on defense.
The Buccaneers defense, led by the young defensive backs, has proven to be up to the task. Making two future Hall of Famers look uncomfortable, with it all on the line, is a good sign.
Defense Wins Championships.