The defending Super Bowl champions Bucs secured the second seed in the NFC and tied the Packers for the best record in the NFL (13-4) with a 41-17 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in the regular season finale at Raymond James Stadium.
What I Liked
- Mike Evans got to his 1,000 yards and escapes a major hand injury. Breathe.
- Tom Brady making sure Gronk got his one million dollars in incentives.
- The Bucs defense limited Carolina to 17 points.
- The 49ers rallied from 17 points down to beat the Rams.
- A Scotty Miller sighting!
What I Didn’t
- The slow start on both sides of the ball.
- Injuries to Cyril Grayson, Breshad Perriman, and Jamel Dean. (It appears only Grayson’s may put his availability for next week in jeopardy).
Pieces of Eight
What an amazing way to end the season, eh, Bucs fans? While the start of the game wasn’t a thing of beauty against a Carolina club with nothing to play for, we witnessed upsets all over the NFL, some that shook the foundations of the playoff picture to its core. Jacksonville shocked Indianapolis and knocked them out of the playoffs. The Lions got a rare win over Green Bay.
The Seahawks rose from the dead and beat Arizona on the road. Pittsburgh came from behind and beat Baltimore in overtime. The Raiders and Chargers threatened to tie and knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. But then the Raiders instead knocked out the Chargers with :02 seconds left in the overtime. And of course, the one we all cared about – the Niners rally from 17 points down to upset the Rams in overtime, ending Sean McVay’s perfect record when leading at halftime, sending the Bucs to the second seed and the Saints into their off-season.
Just Unbelievable Football
Just unbelievable football, but the Bucs wouldn’t be one of the ones lamenting what could have been. Tom Brady put together an amazing 2-minute drill again, going 92 yds in 8 plays and ending with a touchdown pass to Le’Veon Bell to give Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead at halftime. From there, the Bucs poured it on, putting up 31 points in the second half to walk away with an easy win.
The victory gave the Bucs 13 wins in the regular season, a team record, and positioned the Super Bowl champions for the defense of their title.
You heard it all around the league. What are the Bucs going to do without “He Who Must Not Be Named”? As if that guy hadn’t been missing since Halloween. Of course, everyone’s memory is tainted by the Saints shutting out Tampa Bay in Tampa. Tom Brady basically lost all of his weapons in that game. Yet, somehow, Tampa Bay recovered, still managing to score 28 or more points in each of their final three games. In fact, other than the Saints debacle, the Bucs offense has scored 28 points or more in 7 of its last 8 games. All but one of those games were without “He Who Must Not Be Named.”
Here’s The Thing
Here’s the thing, folks. As long as Tom Brady is quarterbacking this offense – they’re going to score points. They still have Mike Evans, who caught 6 receptions for 89 yds and 2 touchdowns yesterday. They also have Gronk, who had 7 receptions for 137 yds. They’ll likely get Leonard Fournette and Gio Bernard back for the playoffs – and hey – there was a Scotty Miller sighting on Sunday. Not to mention Breshad Perriman seems to do his best work in Pewter and Red.
Brady has won championships with less talent.
Meanwhile, the Bucs defense will hopefully see the return of Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, and Jamel Dean for the playoff game on Sunday. The Bucs defense could be intact for the first time since the kickoff of opening night.
Of course, the Bucs will be facing the Eagles, a team they faced earlier in the season and built a 28-7 lead before taking off the gas pedal a little too early and allowing Philly to close the game in garbage time to 28-22. The Eagles won six of their last seven games, albeit against teams that didn’t make the playoffs and boast the NFL’s top rushing attack.
That stat is a little unnerving since the Bucs’ run defense has sprung a leak the last 7 games of the season, surrendering 112 yards per game, including 110 to Carolina yesterday. Of course, it’s worked for the Bucs, whose bend but don’t break style has allowed them to limit their opponents to just 18 points per game. As one would expect, that’s not even close to good enough to beat Tampa Bay, whose offense, as we mentioned, has still been averaging 28 ppg in their final 7 (and that number was skewed by the Saints’ shut out, remove that and the Bucs were averaging 33.7 ppg in their 6 wins down the stretch). The Bucs, despite all of their injuries, finished the season tied for 5th in scoring defense, giving up just 20.8 points per game.
Get the Bucs’ defense restored to full strength and it’s going to be hard for any team to walk into Raymond James Stadium and leave with a win.
Two blowouts of Carolina sandwiched a way too close for comfort come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets. What do we make of this team heading into the playoffs?
As I already talked about, it really is amazing that this team just kept moving along despite its M*A*S*H unit of injuries and the fiasco with “He Who Must Not Be Named.” The Bucs finished the regular season tied with Green Bay for the best record in the league – not just the NFC, but the entire NFL.
They know if they beat the Eagles on Sunday, they’ll be back home again for the divisional round. That’s really the significance of the second seed, isn’t it? Sure, you get the weakest wildcard, which helps, but this seed only really matters if you win that game, because that gets you another home playoff game and potentially a third home playoff game if Green Bay performs their annual postseason flame out a week early.
If the Bucs can get their injured players back, I am very confident in this team’s chances. Yes, losing Godwin and the other guy hurt, but Tom Brady is Tom Brady. The Bucs are going to get their points. It’s the Bucs’ defense that needs to bring it to put it all together into a championship resume. I think they will.
Welcome back, Devin White. White wasn’t hurt (according to coach Arians) but played like a shell of his former self in the last two weeks. While he only managed 3 tackles on the stat sheet, White was buzzing all over the football field, including a tackle for loss and quarterback hit on Darnold. White wasn’t perfect, he played a little reckless (as he tends to do) overrunning Darnold on a few blitzes and taking some bad angles that led to some runs by the Panthers, but it was encouraging to see White play with some energy and fire.
Kevin Minter played better on Sunday as well, finishing second on the team with 7 tackles and one tackle for loss.
Man, it was tough to see Cyril Grayson go down with what looks to be a hamstring injury. For a guy whose role is to take the top off the defense with his speed, hammy injuries are no bueno. Grayson was such an inspiring story, especially in the wake of last week’s ridiculousness, and was really looking like he could help fill the void of some of the Bucs’ key losses. We don’t know if Grayson will make it back for Philly, but if the Bucs do win that game, we can hope he can get back for the divisional round game.
Breshad Perriman looked like he got dinged up toward the middle of the third quarter, as did Jamel Dean, but coach Arians said in his postgame press conference that neither injured appeared to be serious and shouldn’t jeopardize their availability for Sunday.
Losing Grayson stings, but for the most part, it appears the Bucs escaped the season finale without any major injuries and with some guys coming back, should be as close to full strength as you could possibly hope for at this time of year.
As we take our final look at the NFC South for the 2021 season, none of the Bucs’ division rivals qualified for the playoffs. Tampa Bay won the division by 4 games. New Orleans managed to squeeze out a winning season at 9-8 despite their own injury issues. Atlanta finished 7-10…or, as we like to call it around these parts “an Atlanta” because the Falcons always seem to be around 7-9 or 8-8 on the year, am I right? The Panthers finish losing their last 7 games and going 2-12 after a 3-0 start – and they’re apparently bringing everybody back next year. Yikes.
The NFC playoff field is set, with the Bucs hosting Philly on Sunday at 1pm, The Cowboys and 49ers get the 4:30 pm window on Sunday while the Rams and Cardinals get the dreaded Monday Night playoff game.
Bucs Are Favored
It should be interesting. The Bucs are favored by 7 (or 8 depending on which sportsbook you look at) over the Eagles and they should be. It would be a big surprise if Philadelphia walked out of Ray Jay with a win, but hey – it’s a crazy season. I think Dallas has their hands full with San Francisco. Good defense, strong running game, and Deebo Samuel. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Niners pull off the upset and keep Dallas’ playoff futility intact. If Dallas wins, they’ll likely be coming to Ray Jay in the divisional round if Tampa Bay takes care of their own business.
Then there’s the rubber match on Monday Night with the Rams and Cardinals. Los Angeles being at home gives them the slight edge. Which Cardinals team will show up? The one who beat the Rams earlier in the year and thrashed Dallas a few weeks ago, or this other team that’s lost four of their last five games?
Ah, the Eagles. This will be the fifth time Tampa Bay and Philadelphia have met in the postseason, with the series tied at 2 games apiece. All but one of those games have been in Philadelphia, but this time the Bucs will get Philly at Raymond James Stadium. You have to go all the way back to 1979 for the first meeting, where a young Buccaneer franchise shocked the NFC with a 24-17 win. Then there were the playoff frustrations in 2000 and 2001 when the Eagles spanked the Bucs out of the playoffs in the first round.
First, 21-3 then an even more embarrassing 31-9 – a game that cost Hall of Fame Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy his job. Finally, the Bucs would breakthrough, beating the Eagles in the final game at Veterans Stadium in Philadephia, in the NFC Championship game, thrashing the Eagles 27-10 and punching their ticket to their first-ever Super Bowl, where they would go on to beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Who doesn’t have fond memories of Ronde Barber intercepting Donovan McNabb and taking it coast-to-coast to seal the deal? Well, several folks in Philly, but who cares about them?
So what does this latest iteration of the Eagles bring into Ray Jay on Sunday? As we mentioned, they’re hot, playing well in the second half of the season after a 3-6 start. Jalen Hurts is a scrambler, who hurts you more with his feet than his arm at this point in his career. He’s Philadelphia’s leading rusher, but Miles Sanders is definitely no slouch. The Eagles have a talented rookie at WR in Devonta Smith, who narrowly missed hitting 1,000 yds on the season and led Philadelphia with 5 TD receptions. The Eagles finished 14th in the NFL in Total offense, 1st in rushing, 25th in passing, and they’re 12th in scoring (26.1).
Defensively, Philadelphia is led by Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat, who have 7.5 sacks on the season, and Darius Slay, who led the Eagles with 3 interceptions. They finished the season 10th in total defense, 9th against the run, 11th against the pass. They were 18th in scoring defense (22.6 ppga).
In their previous meeting this season, Tampa Bay rolled up 399 yds of total offense, with Brady going 34 of 42 for 297 yds, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. He Who Must Not Be Named led the Bucs with 9 receptions for 93 yds and one of Brady’s two touchdowns. Tampa Bay got 81 yds and 2 touchdowns rushing from Leonard Fournette, who also added 6 receptions for 46 yds. Tampa Bay held a 28-7 until late in the third quarter, when Jalen Hurts began a rally for the Eagles and closed the gap to 28-22 with 5:54 left in the game. The Bucs would run out the final minutes and walk away with a win.
Hurts only managed 115 yds passing with a touchdown and an interception, despite the Bucs not having their top three corners for the game and starting Richard Sherman on short rest. Sherman would leave the game with an injury too. Philly managed just 21 yds rushing in the first half, but as the Bucs played the Eagles to pass, Philly suddenly found success on the ground, pounding out 79 yds in the second half, 56 of which were by Miles Sanders. Hurts would rush for 44 yds and 2 touchdowns.
It’s tough to glean much from this game, considering it was a short week early in the season. Both teams are different ball clubs now, namely, the Bucs will have their entire secondary back and the Eagles are now a run-focused team.
Tweet of the Game
— Paul Dellegatto⚡️FOX (@PaulFox13) January 10, 2022