The Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed their first NFC South title since 2007 with a 32-6 shellacking of division rival Carolina, easing tensions of nervous Bucs fans and guaranteeing their first home playoff game (not counting the Super Bowl) in over a decade.
Things I Liked
- The Bucs’ wiping the smile off Cam Newton’s face.
- Jordan Whitehead having himself a day.
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn finally showing that he can be a running back in the NFL.
- The Bucs defense keeping Carolina out of the end zone.
- Cyril Grayson’s dramatic improvement at receiver.
- Antonio Brown’s return to the lineup.
Things I Didn’t
- Shaq Barrett’s knee injury (hopefully it won’t be serious).
- Tyler Johnson failed to seize on his opportunity.
- Gronk’s still in a slump.
Pieces of Eight
Okay, you can all calm yourselves now. Man, what a tough week for Bucs fans. After Tampa Bay was embarrassed by the Saints at home on National TV last week, you would have thought it was the end of the world. I’m sure the police department had to have a 24-hr watch on the Skyway Bridge for Bucs fans who couldn’t cope with Tampa Bay getting swept by their division rivals. I was reading that Brady showed he was washed up because he couldn’t win without Evans and Godwin. That the Bucs wouldn’t win another game this season. The season was over. Crazy stuff!
This football team didn’t luck their way to 10-4. It wasn’t all because of Chris Godwin, either (although he is a big piece to the offense). It was a lack of respect to Brady and the Bucs’ coaching staff to believe they wouldn’t be able to work through their roster and figure out a formula to be successful. Losing Godwin, Evans, and Fournette mid-game was a shock and hard to recover from, but given a week to figure it out, I had the utmost confidence that the same coaching staff who navigated losing essentially their entire secondary at different points this season would come up with something.
It looked a lot different, relying more on the running game than the Bucs previously have, but in the end, Tampa Bay still put up over 30 points and nearly 400 yards against the #2 defense in the NFL and dealt the Panthers their most lopsided loss of the season.
Don’t look now, but the Bucs’ defense has kept opposing offenses out of the end zone for eight consecutive quarters (nine if you count overtime vs. Buffalo). Now, of course, this has come against two terrible offensive teams in the Saints and the Panthers, but it’s a statement nonetheless. Tampa Bay’s defense should dominate those opponents and they did.
The Bucs’ defense recorded a season high 7 sacks on Carolina quarterbacks while limiting the Panthers to just 273 yards of total offense (a lot of which came on Carolina’s final 82-yard drive to nowhere against the Bucs’ backups in garbage time). They forced an interception of Cam Newton by Jordan Whitehead, who was all over the football field on Sunday.
They accomplished a lot of this without Antoine Winfield Jr, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and unfortunately, Shaq Barrett, who left the game with a knee injury shortly after getting his 10th sack of the season.
As the Bucs return back to health, a couple more good performances by the defense could give them the confidence they need rolling into the postseason.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn silenced a lot of his critics (including this one), when he ended the Bucs’ scoring drought with an explosive 55-yd touchdown run, the longest of the season for Tampa Bay. While Vaughn still has his issues pass catching (he’s got hands of stone), he finally has shown he has the ability to be a runner in the NFL.
Now, that’s not a running back – there’s a lot more to the position than toting the rock – as Ronald Jones has found out. Jones’ poor pass blocking skills cost him the lead job to Leonard Fournette and on Sunday, the third down back job to Ke’Shawn Vaughn, despite Vaughn’s inability to catch.
It will be interesting to see how the Bucs utilize Le’Veon Bell going forward and if he’ll supplant Vaughn as the third down back. He’s always been a great pass catcher and blocker, while he may not be the guy he was in Pittsburgh all those years ago, he can help the Bucs’ mitigate the next two weeks without Fournette and maybe the first round of the playoffs if Playoff Lenny can’t make it back.
Jones did fine as the primary ball carrier, bursting for some nice runs early on and finishing with 60 yds on 20 carries and scoring a rushing touchdown (the average went down as the Bucs tried to bleed out the clock and the Panthers keyed on the run). I think he’ll be fine in that role. Bell will take over the 3rd down back spot. Where does Vaughn fit in? We’ll see. At least he showed he deserved some consideration.
Tampa Bay has now won five of the last six games against Carolina with the only loss coming in a London overseas game. The 32-6 victory was the largest win in the series for the Bucs and the largest spread since Carolina’s 38-10 win in 2015.
While the Panthers still own a 24-18 series lead, it’s the Bucs’ longest string of success against their division rivals in the series history. The Panthers used to be what the Saints are for the Bucs, that team Tampa Bay just couldn’t beat.
Carolina went on a 9 of 11 streak against the Bucs from 2013-18, many of those games being lopsided blowouts quarterbacked by Cam Newton.
After retiring Drew Brees last season, Tampa Bay may have delivered an ugly loss to another tormentor in Cam Newton’s final home game. Newton talked openly about his memories of being a Panther and his potential retirement after the game. Although he made it clear that he wasn’t necessarily talking about retirement, which made it completely unclear what he was saying, but that’s typical Cam, is it not? Even through the denials, it almost sounded like a good-bye press conference.
If it is Newton’s last run, he was the quarterback Bucs’ fans loved to hate. Brash, talented and extremely difficult to stop when he was at his best, Newton more than any other division rival tormented the Bucs like no other. Not Brees. Not Ryan. Cam Newton. In fact, it was probably that PTSD of knowing Cam was starting against the Bucs for Carolina this week that had Tampa Bay fans pearl-clutching heading into this one.
So long, Cam, best wishes to you for whatever comes next.
After getting embarrassed by the New Orleans Saints’ defensive front last week, it didn’t feel like Tampa Bay deserved three Pro Bowl players on its offensive line. The O-line redeemed itself against a Carolina front that came in ranked 5th in the NFL in sack % per pass attempt. Carolina barely touched Tom Brady, registering only 1 hit on Tampa Bay’s quarterback and no sacks.
Hassan Reddick, one of the NFL’s feared pass rushers with 11 sacks coming into the game, managed just 3 tackles and that lone QB hit on the day.
Meanwhile, the Bucs offense churned out 159 yds on the ground, the second highest total of the season.
Definitely a great bounce back game for the guys up front.
How about Will Gholston showing out with 2.5 sacks against the Panthers? Gholston has quietly been one of the Bucs’ best defensive linemen and a key contributor to the defense. He is more noted for his run defense than his pass rush ability, but yesterday’s outstanding performance has the 9-year veteran at the highest sack total of his NFL career (4.5).
Gholston will be a free agent at the end of the season, and at 30 years of age, Tampa Bay could look for cheaper, younger options. He is racking up money with every sack he makes, and while no one is complaining about his performance, it definitely will make it harder for him to continue his career as a Buccaneer, which would be a shame.
So let’s enjoy the steady Gholston while we have him.
Tonight, the New Orleans Saints fight for their playoff lives against Miami, but they’ll be doing it without 21 players and several coaches due to a COVID-19 outbreak. At this time, the NFL is going ahead with the game. Ian Book gets the start at QB vs. the Dolphins. The Falcons got back on the winning track, rallying past the Lions 20-17 to keep their fleeting playoff hopes alive.
Things didn’t go well for the Bucs in the playoff seeding this week. Green Bay held on for a win against Cleveland, which put the Bucs in a very bad position for the number one seed (Green Bay would need to lose their final two games – highly unlikely). Arizona continued their collapse, losing to Indianapolis – and while that would seem to be a good thing, it wasn’t, because the Los Angeles Rams took over the lead in the NFC West with their victory over Minnesota and by tie-breaker, pushed Tampa Bay down to the fourth seed in the NFC. Dallas maintained the number two seed by beating the Washington Football Team so badly Joe Theisman felt it.
Next up for the Bucs is their final road trip of the regular season against the New York Jets. The Jets won their toilet bowl matchup with Jacksonville on Sunday (or did they really lose by winning) to move to 4-11 on the season, which is actually a 2 win improvement on last season.
Robert Saleh’s team is a spunky bunch who actually have wins over two division leaders in Tennessee and Cincinnati, so Tampa Bay can’t just throw their football helmets on the field and expect victory.
Tom Brady was 29-7 against the Jets as a member of the New England Patriots. Let’s hope he’s 1-0 after Sunday as a Buccaneer.
DLT’s Who To Root For This Week
|y-Green Bay Packers (1)||12||3||0||North Champion|
|y-Dallas Cowboys (2)||11||4||0||East Champion||conference win percentage|
|x-Los Angeles Rams (3)||11||4||0||West Champion||head-to-head record|
|y-Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4)||11||4||0||South Champion|
|x-Arizona Cardinals (5)||10||5||0||Wild Card #1|
|San Francisco 49ers (6)||8||7||0||Wild Card #2||head-to-head record|
|Philadelphia Eagles (7)||8||7||0||Wild Card #3|
|New Orleans Saints||7||7||0|
|Minnesota Vikings||7||8||0||conference win percentage|
|Washington Football Team||6||9||0|
y- clinched division, x- clinched playoff spot, z-clinched home-field advantage Generated 12/27/2021.
Dolphins to beat the Saints – Frankly, because none of us want to see New Orleans make the playoffs.
Panthers to beat the Saints – Just to be sure they’re dead.
Ravens to beat the Rams – Los Angeles needs to lose one of it’s last two games for Tampa Bay to get to the number two seed – it honestly doesn’t matter what Dallas does (provided the Bucs win out). Can Baltimore get enough of their guys back to have a chance in this one? This seems like the best spot for an LA loss if the Ravens can get their act together.
Cardinals to beat the Cowboys – Arizona is in a freefall and we all saw what the Cowboys did on Sunday night. A loss by the Cardinals may not be the end of the world for the Bucs, as honestly if Tampa Bay can’t get to the two seed, the four seed may in fact have an easier matchup against a fading inexperienced Arizona than facing a tough, hard-nosed San Francisco team who have fought their way back to the playoffs.
Week 17 – Sunday Night
Vikings to beat the Packers – The Bucs’ minuscule hopes for the top seed ride on the Vikings rising from the dead and sweeping the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Tweet of the Game
Quarterbacks and NFC South Champs. Great team achievement from the top down. Also.. everyone please note, QB room is tallest, best looking, and probably the funniest too. pic.twitter.com/uVeLncXjlu
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) December 27, 2021