DLT’s Doubloons – Buccaneers Pluck Eagles in the Wild Card Round

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers completely dominated the Philadelphia Eagles on Super Wildcard Sunday, 31-15 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Tampa Bay moves on to host either the Rams or the Cardinals in the divisional round of the playoffs next Sunday.

What I Liked

  • The Bucs’ defense for the first three quarters of the game.
  • Tom Brady and the offense just finding ways to work.
  • Ke’Shawn Vaughn stepped up when his team needed him.
  • Mike Evans had a statement game.

What I Didn’t

  • Injuries to All-Pro RT Tristan Wirfs and Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen.
  • The Bucs’ defense let up in the fourth quarter and lost the shutout.

Pieces of Eight

One

The Buccaneers defense heard the talk all week and they made a statement. The talking heads went on and on about the Eagles running game and how the Buccaneers defense “wasn’t what it was last year”. How in the world were the Bucs going to stop the vaunted Eagles top-ranked rushing attack? As the talk continued, it reminded me of a time when then-coach Jon Gruden and his Buccaneers faced the unstoppable Michael Vick. No one believed in the Bucs defense that day either, despite Tampa Bay having 3 Hall-of-Famers (and another finalist) on their squad. At the end of the day, the Bucs dominated Vick, and it led a pumped up Gruden to exclaim to his team in the locker room, “Everyone was asking how do they stop Michael Vick? No one asked how THEY were going to stop THIS defense!”

I had a feeling the Bucs defense was hearing all the chatter this week and were ready for this challenge. They weren’t going to let the Eagles beat them running the football. If it was going to happen – it was going to have to be a great game by young Eagles QB Jalen Hurts throwing the ball – something he hasn’t demonstrated he can do.  Honestly, it was similar to the gameplan earlier this season with Jonathan Taylor and the Colts. The Bucs weren’t going to be beaten by JT – Carson Wentz had to beat them – and he almost did.

There would be no such worry against the Eagles. Tampa Bay rose to the challenge, invigorated by the return of defensive captain Lavonte David, and the Bucs dominated the Eagles, shutting them out for three quarters and limiting them to 181 yds of total offense until Philly’s final two drives of the fourth quarter, with the game long decided, the Eagles got two garbage touchdowns and racked up some yardage.

Still, Tampa Bay broke Philadelphia’s streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games, forced two turnovers (and got another on special teams), and coasted to one of the easiest playoff victories in franchise history. No one asked how that Eagles running game was going to stop this Bucs defense from feasting.

Two

Jordan Whitehead isn’t known much outside of Tampa Bay. Heck, CBS’ talking heads called him “Jerome Whitehead” while recapping Buccaneers highlights on Sunday. We see him in Tampa, though. He’s one of the most important players on this Bucs’ defense and will be a priority for the Bucs’ to re-sign in the off-season. In fact, he may be more important than Ndamukong Suh and some of the others.

Whitehead was a force on the football field on Sunday, finishing with six tackles, 2 for loss, and delivering a crunching QB hit on Eagles QB Jalen Hurts.

Future Hall-of-Famer Richard Sherman has called Whitehead one of the best safeties in the NFL. He shows it week in and week out in anonymity. Hopefully, the NFL will start to take notice.

Three

When news broke that Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones were both going to be out for Sunday, Eagles fans rejoiced. There goes Tampa Bay’s running game. However, smart Buc fans knew that Ke’Shawn Vaughn had gotten some valuable playing time in the last few weeks, was growing in confidence and the team was growing more confident in him. Vaughn rushed for 53 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown on Sunday. While his 3.1 yards a carry statline isn’t all that impressive, it was whittled down in the second half when the Bucs tried to burn clock and the Eagles began selling out for the run. Vaughn’s early runs were crucial for the Bucs’ down-and-distance and kept the Tampa Bay offense churning.

The Buccaneers would score on their first three drives of the game to build a 17-0 lead. In addition to Vaughn, the return of Giovani Bernard was underestimated. Truth be told, Bernard was hardly utilized in the regular season and then he got hurt. I’m not sure much was really expected of him in his return, but he was also crucial to the Bucs’ rushing attack, adding 44 yds on 13 carries and another rushing touchdown while hauling in another 5 receptions for 39 yds. In all, it was one of Bernard’s most productive days as a Buccaneer.

With Vaughn and Bernard, along with a nice end around by Scotty Miller, Tampa Bay outrushed Philadelphia 106 to 95.

Four

It’s really amazing we don’t talk more about Mike Evans, isn’t it? Here we are witnessing a Hall-of-Fame career but it’s almost like he gets lost in the galaxy of stars that inhabit the Bucs’ offense.

Evans decided it was a great time to remind us of just how good he is. Evans dominated the Eagles’ secondary for 9 receptions, 117 yds, and a touchdown that should be on every highlight film around. After the game, he was angrier at himself for dropping a touchdown pass in the second quarter. That’s the kind of professional he is.

Whether it’s the 1,000 yd seasons or all the touchdowns, Evans is never on anyone’s All-Pro lists or Pro Bowl ballots and it’s honestly a crime. He’s not outspoken like TO. He doesn’t flash like Tyreek Hill or get 100 targets a game like Michael Thomas or even his own teammate Chris Godwin. He doesn’t bitch for the football like some other diva receivers. Put up his numbers against any other receiver in the league and Evans is either at the top of the list or right there with them – even the All-Pros like Davante Adams. He’s unselfish. He cares only about one thing – the win.

Evans is the best offensive player in Buccaneer history, it’s not even close and we need to treasure him and appreciate him while he is wearing the Pewter and Red. There aren’t many who come along like Mike Evans.

Five

Tom Brady truly is one of the most amazing athletes I’ve ever witnessed. There will never be another Tom Brady. I know, breaking news, right? But honestly, how the hell does this man just keep leading his teams to heights they’ve never reached before his arrival?

Despite the litany of injuries coming into the game, and then losing your All-Pro right tackle for the game and seeing your Pro Bowl center go down (he would return and gut it out), Brady’s offense still put up 31 points for the fifth consecutive playoff game. They could have had more but thought 31-0 was a solid enough lead and worked the clock to get to the end of the ballgame in the fourth quarter.

Brady had a ho-hum 271 yds passing with two touchdown passes, one to Evans, the other to his favorite buddy, Gronk.

If Tristan Wirfs is out for the divisional matchup, it very well may be what finally drives the stake through the Bucs’ hearts, as Wirf’s backup Wells was overmatched and eventually was injured himself.

Somehow though, Brady will find a way. He always seems to find a way. They will never stop Tom Brady, Brady will eventually stop himself when he’s decided he’s dominated the NFL enough and wants a new challenge (hopefully in another five years).

Six

Lavonte David may have only made 2 tackles in the game, but his presence was felt in the Buccaneers defense. Devin White seemed to re-discover his playoff form now that he didn’t have to try and be Lavonte David, finishing with 5 tackles, a tackle for loss, 3 QB hits, and a pass defended. We haven’t seen that sort of production from White since David went out with an injury.

David played in 89% of the Bucs’ defense snaps on Sunday, gutting it out with an injured foot that he’s probably coming back from too soon. Consistently underrated (I think there’s been a theme to this article, no?), David’s return, along with the return of Shaq Barrett and JPP, was the biggest boost in Tampa Bay’s defensive resurgence against the Eagles.

If Lavonte David can continue to play, the Buccaneers defense can continue to dominate and be what it needs to be for Tampa Bay to repeat.

Seven

The Super WildCard weekend wasn’t as wild as it typically is, with only one upset so far with one game to play tonight.

Cincinnati won a playoff game for the first time in 31 years, downing the Las Vegas Raiders and ending an unbelievable run for Vegas, with all the turmoil they suffered through this season. Buffalo exorcised all their Patriot demons, destroying New England 47-17. The Bucs, of course, destroyed Philly in the same fashion, while Kansas City ended Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL career by trouncing the Steelers 42-21.

The only surprise of the weekend so far was the San Francisco 49ers going into Dallas and escaping with a 23-17 win. The victory by the Niners sends them to face top-seeded Green Bay, a matchup I’m sure the Packers weren’t thrilled about, and set up the Bucs to host the winner of tonight’s Monday night playoff matchup between the Rams and Cardinals.

Eight

We know the Buccaneers will host their NFC Divisional round matchup at Raymond James Stadium at 3pm on Sunday. But we won’t know the opponent until the conclusion of Monday night’s matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams.

We know the Rams pretty well, having played them several seasons in a row. If LA holds serve in SoFi, we know what they bring to the table with Cooper Kupp and OBJ on offense and Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on defense. Matthew Stafford has been pretty erratic down the stretch, but if the Rams get the win, it will be because he stepped up to win his first playoff game. They need him to since L.A. sold their souls to win the Super Bowl this year.

If the Cardinals pull off the upset, they’ll be an interesting matchup for Tampa Bay. Very similar to Philly in that they have an extremely mobile QB and a strong rushing attack, but Arizona has much better weapons and Kyler Murray is significantly superior as a thrower to Jalen Hurts. After losing DeAndre Hopkins with a knee injury, Christian Kirk took over as the primary receiver for Arizona and led the team with 5 TD receptions and 982 yds receiving. Veteran AJ Green is still dangerous, as is Zack Ertz, acquired from the Eagles. James Conner was their leading rusher before getting hurt, they hope to have him back for Monday night, but he may be back for the divisional round if they advance. Conner was among leader leaders in rushing touchdowns with 15. While skill positions their similar to the Eagles – that’s where the similarities end, as Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense is one of the most unique in the league. The Cards were 11th in scoring, 8th in total offense.

Defensively, the Cards hope to get veteran J.J. Watt back on defense for Monday Night, but he should be available if they advance.  Marcus Golden and Chandler Jones are the Cardinals’ top pass rushers, with 11.0 and 10.5 sacks respectively, and present a challenge for the best of offensive lines, nonetheless if Watt returns and Wirfs is out. Perennial Pro Bowler and ’20 All-Pro Budda Baker anchors the secondary along with Jalen Thompson while inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons patrols sideline to sideline. The Cards were 11th in total defense and 10th in scoring defense.

Of course, I’ve typed all this up about Arizona, watch the Rams wipe the floor with them. I don’t know who wins this game, both have been kind of inconsistent in recent weeks, but no matter who it is, they’ll offer a better challenge to the Super Bowl champs than the Eagles did.

Tweet of the Game

 

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