Buccaneers Ground Eagles 31-15 in Playoff Opener

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Via Sports Talk Florida’s Michelle Sabin
Special to Bucs Report

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense went to work on Sunday shutting out the Eagles for the first three quarters, while their offense steered them to a 31-15 playoff victory.

Complementary Football 

“Overall, we just played some complementary football; offensive, defensive, and special teams,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said, “We all contributed and all played off each other and that’s how you win playoff games.”

On the opening drive of the game, Tom Brady targeted multiple receivers and used a combination of running backs Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn to charge down the field. They were able to strike first with a 2-yard touchdown run by Bernard, who was just activated off the injured reserve on Saturday.

Ke’Shawn Checking In

Two possessions later, Vaughn scored on a 1-yard touchdown run giving the Buccaneers a 14-0 lead. With starting backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones both still out, the Buccaneers were able to rely on the combination of Vaughn and Bernard throughout the game.

As Head Coach Bruce Arians said,  “Band-Aids and duct tape, [Bernard] played his ass off. Ke’Shawn can run and he can catch. He’s a damn good back. He’s making the best of his opportunities and we’re very, very confident in him.”

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continued to work on the scoreboard adding to their lead with Ryan Succop’s 34-yard field goal in the second quarter.

Learning to Fly

The Eagles, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to get much of anything going against the Buccaneers defense in the first half.  Quarterback Jalen Hurts tried to shift momentum in their favor at the end of the second quarter. With a 35-yard pass to Quez Watkins on third down, he kept the drive alive and moved closer to the red zone.

On 2nd and 4 from the 21-yard line, Hurts attempted a pass to DeVonta Smith in the corner of the end zone. Cornerback Jamel Dean slipped and lost coverage leaving Smith open, but safety Mike Edwards shifted over and intercepted the ball.

“[Edwards is] always that turnover machine that we need and every time we need to make a big play on defense or a play on the football, he makes it and that’s expected,” said linebacker Lavonte David.

Special Teams Are Special 

However, it was special teams that stood out the most to Arians on Sunday. “I think our special teams really played the best game of the year,” he said.

One of those key plays came in the third quarter when the Eagles muffed a punt return under pressure and tackle by Scotty Miller. The ball was recovered by Buccaneers Ross Cockrell. Tampa Bay capitalized on the special teams turnover with Brady’s touchdown pass to Gronkowski in the end zone to expand the lead 24-0.

The Buccaneers took advantage with a turnover on the next drive. The Eagles decided to go for it on 4th and 3 from their own 46-yard line.  Linebacker Shaquil Barrett tipped the ball to himself for the interception and ran it back 17 yards to the Philadelphia 36-yard line.

Evans Checking In

From there it was just one play, as Mike Evans was open on a deep pass from Brady for the 36-yard touchdown. Evans dodged a tackle and front flipped his way into the end zone.

Speaking to Barrett’s interception, Evans explained, “Man, that was the play of the year by Shaq Barrett. That’s not an ordinary play by a defensive lineman/outside linebacker.” He added, “Really kind of iced the game for us, I think. We score after that, Tom [Brady] changed my route, actually. Good thing he did because it led to a touchdown.”

A Little Too Late

After being shut out the majority of the game, the Eagles finally found success in the fourth quarter with a 34-yard touchdown run by Boston Scott and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Gainwell with 2-point conversion.  Their attempt at an onside kick failed, however, and the Eagles short-lived momentum in the fourth quarter was not enough to change the outcome.

The Buccaneers advance to the divisional playoff round next weekend, as they continue their journey to defend their Super Bowl title.  David explained, “I felt like we played a really good football game, but from here on out it’s going to get harder and we just got to keep getting better.”

The Buccaneers will play the winner of Monday night’s wild card matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams.

The videos used in this story were provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers YouTube channel.

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