DLT’s Doubloons – Buccaneers Take Control of the NFC South

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With their 30-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured their third winning season in the last decade and took four game lead in the NFC South with five games left to play.

What I Liked

  • Chris Godwin breaking the Bucs’ receptions in a game record with 15.
  • Tom Brady throwing for 368 yds and 4 touchdowns.
  • The Bucs defense shutting out the Falcons in the second half.
  • The defense also sacking Matt Ryan 5 times.

What I Didn’t

  • The Bucs’ playcalling on offense in the final seconds of the first half.
  • The Bucs’ run defense.
  • The Bucs’ 3rd-and-long defense.

Pieces of Eight

One

Usually, I like to start off the pieces of eight section with something positive, and heck, the Buccaneers won, so what’s there to be an old man shouting at a cloud about? Well, that play calling at the end of the first half still chaps my hide (that means “ticks me off” for you youngins out there).

The situation: The Bucs are fully in control of the game, leading 20-10, with about 44 seconds left and the ball at their own 7 yard line. Brady passes the ball to Godwin on a screen pass, that gains a yard. The Bucs don’t call time out and let the clock run.

At this point, you’re thinking to yourself – okay, just run the ball, run out the clock, head to halftime. You aren’t going 90 yds down the field in 20 seconds. There’s no reason to risk the biscuit here.

Instead, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich decides he hasn’t called enough screens in the first half and we have to have one more. Buccaneers Brady tried to be slick, staring at a receiver on the opposite side of the field before spinning around and dumping it off to Leonard Fournette. The problem was, while he was trying to look off the Falcons’ secondary, Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson leaked out into coverage to account for Fournette.

Brady spun, fired the ball essentially without looking, expecting Fournette to be wide open (as he had been most of the game up to that point), and Davidson made a superb play on the ball, tipping it to himself, securing it, and rumbling in for the easiest touchdown of his life.

None of this had to happen. All the Bucs had to do was run the football. That’s it. Run it, you head to halftime with a 10 point lead. Don’t run it, Four things can happen and only one of them is a good result.

It was a terrible play call by Byron Leftwich and put Brady in a very precarious position. Should Brady have looked before he threw? Sure. He’s also backed up in his own endzone and doesn’t want a sack that could be a safety. He needed to get the ball out quick if the play was going to work.

Again. What is the point of calling a pass play to Fournette there? I mean, is Leonard Fournette really going to rumble 90 yds down the field for a score? I love Lombardi Lenny, but he isn’t that guy.

Instead of the Buccaneers leading comfortably despite not playing their best ball, it’s a 3 point game, and Atlanta actually believing they could win.

Terrible decision to pass it. Worse play call. Even worse execution of it. Bad all around.

Two

Okay, so now that I got that out of my system. The Buccaneers secured their second straight winning season and their third of the last decade. Having a winning season was a foregone conclusion for a team as talented as Tampa Bay, so to most, it’s not an accomplishment.

For Bucs fans here before Tom Brady came to Tampa Bay, it is a major one. We’ve seen a lot of bad football from this football team over the last decade, folks. Seasons that would test the loyalty of even the most diehard fans. Think about it. Tampa Bay has won 9 games in a season just three times in the last 10 years. Going deeper, the Buccaneers have won 9 or more games just 13 times in the past 46 years of this franchise’s existence and 14 winning seasons total heading into this season (the Bucs went 5-4 during the strike year of 1982).

That is a lot of losing seasons, folks. So yes, in the grand scheme of things, securing a winning season doesn’t mean much, but around these parts – it happens so infrequently, it should be acknowledged and noted.

An even bigger fish is on the horizon, though. With Sunday’s win, the Bucs are now 4 games up on the entire NFC South with five games to play. Tampa Bay hasn’t won the division since 2007 and has only won the NFC South three times since the division was created in 2002 (the least of any of the NFC South teams, the Saints have won it 7 times).

That’s got to be wild for Brady, whose New England Patriots won the AFC East 11 straight years and 17 of his 20 years with the franchise.

Tampa Bay can clinch the NFC South next week with a win over Buffalo and losses by the Saints (to the Jets) and Panthers (to Atlanta). If either of the rivals pulls off wins, the Buccaneers can just seal the deal themselves with wins in their next two games (against Buffalo and New Orleans).

For a team with only 6 division championships in their 46 years of existence (Tampa Bay used to play in the NFC Central, now known as the NFC North). Yeah, that will be huge, too.

Three

What the heck happened to the Bucs’ run defense in the first half? The Falcons ran Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis down the Bucs’ throats on their first drive of the game, pounding out 63 yds that included a 39 yd run by Patterson and a 17 yard score by Davis. Tampa Bay looked like they weren’t ready to get the game started and Atlanta took quick advantage. It was the first time the Falcons scored a touchdown on their opening drive all season.

Atlanta would finish the first half with 101 yds on the ground. The Buccaneers tightened things up in the second half, limiting Atlanta to just 20 yds rushing the rest of the way, but the Bucs were certainly shocked to be gashed by Atlanta early on.

Four

The Bucs defense struggled on third down and long yet again. Overall, Tampa Bay allowed Atlanta to convert 9-of-17 third down opportunities (52%) that helped the Falcons eat up 32:46 of possession time in the game.  6 of the Falcons’ 9 conversions were 3rd-and-7 or longer, when a defense should absolutely be getting off the football field.

With that said, the Bucs’ defense did hold Atlanta to just 10 points (the other 7 points came off of Tom Brady’s pick-six), and shut out the Falcons in the second half.

Tampa Bay also sacked Matt Ryan 5 times (2 by both Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea), and forced a key fumble on one of those 3rd-and-long conversions that ended an Atlanta threat.

Injuries remain a concern as the Buccaneers were already playing without Jordan Whitehead (calf injury) and Mike Edwards (suspension). We saw Jamel Dean leave the game (concussion), and on the Falcons final drive for garbage time points, both Sean Murphy-Bunting and Will Gholston went off with undisclosed injuries. Carlton Davis, playing his first game in 8 weeks, also was slow to get up a few times. Hopefully, none of the injuries will linger (although it looks like Whitehead could be out significant time).

Five

Despite the gaff at the end of the first half, Tom Brady and the Bucs passing game was nigh unstoppable on Sunday. It’s funny, just last week I said that we probably wouldn’t see too many more 300+ 4 touchdown days from Tom Brady this season as teams play things a little tougher down the stretch. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case against Atlanta.

Falcons defensive coordinator threw everything but the kitchen sink at Brady, but the G.O.A.T. simply carved up the Atlanta defense like thanksgiving turkey. Most of those throws went to Chris Godwin, who set a Bucs’ record with 15 receptions for 143 yds. Mike Evans added 7 receptions for 99 yds, giving the Bucs top two weapons a combined 22 receptions for 242 yds. Brady also hit Gronk twice for touchdowns, bringing the duo’s total to 90 touchdowns, passing Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates for 2nd all-time. Brady would also hit his other tight end Cameron Brate as well as running back Leonard Fournette for two more scores.

It was a really interesting play distribution for the Buccaneers, who started the game with 13 straight passing plays and finished with 51 pass attempts and only 17 rushing attempts. Typically, you’d worry about a 44-yr old QB throwing the ball that many times in a game where you led pretty much wire-to-wire, but Atlanta didn’t sack Brady and only registered one hit on him for the game.

Six

So who are these Bucs now? The scoreboard says it was a 13 point win on the road, which is nothing to sneeze at. After struggling on the road this season, Tampa Bay has put up 30 points in consecutive weeks on the road, has a three game winning streak (scoring 30 or more in each game), and heads back home where they are undefeated at 5-0.

Fans will forget that while the Bucs won their last four games to make the playoffs and begin their Super Bowl run, not every game was a work of art. Tampa Bay won a tough game against a Minnesota team desperate for a win. Then went to Atlanta against a really bad Falcons team and fell behind by 17 points twice, 17-0 and 24-7 before rallying to win 31-27. They destroyed the Lions 47-7, but then in the season finale against the Falcons held just a 3 point lead in the fourth quarter before scoring two late touchdowns to pull away 44-27.

So easy games there (except the Lions game), either. All that matters is the W. It’s December football. If you win by 1 or you win by 50, the dub is all you care about.

Seven

As I mentioned, the Bucs made a major move in the NFC South this week. The Saints continued their collapse, losing to the Dallas Cowboys 27-17 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Bayou Tebow (Taysom Hill) threw 4 interceptions, not exactly becoming the savior that New Orleans fans were hoping for him to be. The Bucs beat the Falcons, obviously, handing them their 7th loss of the season and the Panthers licked their wounds on the bye week. Tampa Bay stands four games up on the division at 9-3, with the rest of the NFC South at 5-7.

In the chase for the number one seed, Arizona just keeps winning, plastering the Bears at Soldier Field. The Packers enjoyed their bye week at 9-3 and win the tie-breaker over the Bucs thanks to the conference record, so they stay at 2. The Bucs are the 3 seed, and Dallas is the four seed after beating down the Saints.

Eight

The Buccaneers will get their final test against a team with a winning record, facing the Jekyll-and-Hyde Buffalo Bills. Buffalo takes on the New England Patriots tonight on Monday Night Football – a battle for the lead in the AFC East, then on a short week faces Tampa Bay, followed by another showdown with the Patriots two weeks later. Could the Super Bowl Champions actually be a “doughnut” game? Is that even allowed?

Buffalo boasts a superb quarterback in Josh Allen, some weapons at receiver with Stafon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and former Saint Emmanuel Sanders. Buffalo enters Monday Night Football with the league’s number one defense, sixth against the run and 1st against the pass.

Buffalo can lose to a team like the Jaguars and beat a team like Kansas City on the road by 18. You never know which Bills team you’re going to get. Let’s hope it’s the one that played the Jaguars earlier in the year.

The Bucs Can Clinch This Week If…

NFL Playoff scenarios typically don’t come out until Tuesday, they need all the games to be played. One of the better sites to follow for playoff scenarios is this one (check back on Tuesday for their week 14 scenarios): http://nflplayoffscenarios.com/

By my reckoning, the Bucs need a win against Buffalo and losses by the Saints and Panthers this coming week to wrap up the NFC South and a playoff berth.

Tampa Bay lost to New Orleans earlier in the season and still has two games to play against Carolina. Conceivably, the Bucs could win against Buffalo to get to 10 wins and then lose out to finish 10-7. The Saints would have to win out to stay in division contention, which would include sweeping the Bucs again. As for Carolina, no matter what New Orleans does, the Panthers would also need to win out to stay in the division chase, including sweeping the Bucs. Carolina and New Orleans face each other Jan. 2nd.

Of course, the Bucs could just beat Buffalo and New Orleans the next two weeks and be done with it, but we’re talking about this week – and this week, the Bucs have to win and New Orleans and Carolina need to lose to end the drama.

Of course, if the Buccaneers lose to a very good Buffalo team…well, that changes things. Let’s not talk about that right now, right?

DLT’s Who to Root For This Week

NFC Playoff Standings Table
Tm W L T Position Reason
Arizona Cardinals (1) 10 2 0 West Champion
Green Bay Packers (2) 9 3 0 North Champion conference win percentage
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3) 9 3 0 South Champion
Dallas Cowboys (4) 8 4 0 East Champion
Los Angeles Rams (5) 8 4 0 Wild Card #1
Washington Football Team (6) 6 6 0 Wild Card #2 conference win percentage
San Francisco 49ers (7) 6 6 0 Wild Card #3
Philadelphia Eagles 6 7 0
Minnesota Vikings 5 7 0 head-to-head record
Carolina Panthers 5 7 0 head-to-head record
Atlanta Falcons 5 7 0 head-to-head record
New Orleans Saints 5 7 0
New York Giants 4 8 0 conference win percentage
Chicago Bears 4 8 0 conference win percentage
Seattle Seahawks 4 8 0
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2021.

So not much has really changed in where the Bucs currently are in the playoff race, other than Tampa Bay being that much closer to winning the NFC South.

Who should the Bucs fans root for this week to win (other than Tampa Bay)?

The Two Big Ones: Jets to beat the Saints and Falcons to beat the Panthers

If the Bucs beat Buffalo and get these two results, pop the champagne corks, Tampa Bay wins the NFC South and they’re headed back to the playoffs, with a home playoff game at Raymond James Stadium to boot. It’s unlikely the Jets will beat New Orleans, but hey, you never know. We didn’t necessarily think Miami and would beat Carolina and they dropped a beat down on them. Where does Atlanta fit in with all this? Nowhere. The Bucs swept them, so a win by the Bucs eliminates Atlanta from division contention. The Bucs would literally need to lose the rest of their games and Atlanta win the rest of theirs for the Falcons to take the NFC South.

Cowboys to beat the Football Team – This one’s kinda tough. If the Bucs lose to Buffalo, things get a little tighter for the third seed than we’d like. Still, the Buccaneers beat the Cowboys and lost to the Football team. Strength of Victory is higher on the tie-breaker chart than Strength of Schedule, so a win by Dallas helps the Bucs’ SOV.

Giants to beat the Chargers – Helps the Bucs’ SOV.

Bears to beat the Packers – Yeah, I know. Rodgers owns the Bears. Still, if Chicago pulls off the miracle in this rivalry game (and the Bucs win), Tampa Bay moves into the two seed and Green Bay falls to the three. Even if the Bucs lost to Buffalo, it would give the Packers another conference loss and then we go down the tie-breaker scenario tree – I’m not sure where the Bucs end up on that and honestly, I’m too lazy to find out – anyway, the Bears beating Green Bay would be a very good thing.

Rams to beat the Cardinals – Monday Night Football – if the Rams finally cool off the red hot Cards and get a win, they keep their division hopes alive and if the Buccaneers beat Buffalo, Tampa Bay will catch the Arizona Cardinals at 10-3. Where does that put the Bucs? Not sure, but I’d love to find out.

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