Good evening, folks.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 30-24 yesterday to win the NFC South for the second time in as many seasons.
I wrote last week that the final score (19-16 vs. Arizona) belied the true story of that nail-biting win, as the offense failed to show up for the first three-and-a-half quarters. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case yesterday.
A (Relative) Offensive Explosion
When your team has scored 30+ points ONCE this entire season (41-31 loss to Kansas City), seeing 30 points next to their name on the scoreboard is a VERY welcome sight. And, lo and behold, it was the result of getting one of the greatest players in franchise history involved in the game plan again.
I mean, this is exactly what I said a week ago. “No huddle, spread the field, and get Mike Evans more involved.” Check, check, and check.
This wasn’t hard to figure out. Evans is a difference maker. He and Tom Brady have been off for much of the year. That had to get fixed, and that only comes with heightened opportunities. Aka feeding Mike the ball. And how Brady did. Evans caught 10 of 12 targets for 207 yards and 3 touchdowns.
On the day, the Buccaneers threw the ball 45 times and ran 25. The plodding first and second down runs up the A gap for 1-2 yards were less used. And as a result, fewer downs were wasted. And make no mistake: short runs that gain very little are absolutely wasted downs. Fortunately, Byron Leftwich called for fewer of those, and the results spoke for themselves.
The Old Man Still Has It
Brady’s 63-yard touchdown to Evans covered 57.6 air yards, according to Next Gen stats. That’s the longest such air yards for a Brady pass since Week 1 of 2017. With one week to go in the season, Brady is second in the NFL with 4610 passing yards on the season, to go with 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Any questions about his arm strength or physical conditioning at his age should be put to rest.
And That Again Begs the Question….
Why haven’t more shots been taken down the field this season? Are you telling me that there have been that few one-on-one opportunities with Evans and a cornerback this year? Especially with how loaded the box has been by defenders on early downs this season? No way I believe that. I think it’s been a case of Leftwich trying to ram a giant square peg into a tiny round hole with the running game, and that’s just unfortunate. At least they didn’t lose the division because of it, thanks largely to Brady’s fourth-quarter/overtime heroics against the Rams, Saints, Cardinals, and Panthers. It’s just frustrating to think what could have been this year with less stubbornness and more common sense.
Vita Vea Made His Presence Known
in beating the Detroit Lions 37-23 two weeks ago, the Panthers rolled up 320 rushing yards on 43 carries. Yesterday, the Panthers totaled 74 yards on 22 carries (3.4 ypc). Leading rusher D’Onta Foreman carried 13 times for only 35 yards. It’s no small coincidence that the Buccaneers’ strong defensive showing against Carolina’s running game happened with the return of nose tackle Vita Vea, who helped turn the middle of the Panthers’ line into a pileup of bodies with nowhere to run. The Buccaneers’ defense works best when they limit first down yardage on the ground and enable the aggressive Todd Bowles’ philosophy of getting after the passer on second and third and long. And it looks like they’re getting back to the first part of that plan with the very-welcomed return of Vea.
Starters to Play in Atlanta
Bowles said he plays to play his starters this weekend against Atlanta. I’m fine with that – as long as this is treated like a preseason game. You want to play Brady and other key starters for a quarter and a half? Keep them from getting rusty? That’s fine. But you’d better get them off the field for at least the second half. That injury report has been far too long lately, and this is the perfect opportunity to give those players with bumps and bruises more of an opportunity to heal up and get ready for either the Cowboys or the Eagles on Wild Card weekend.
The Bucs Report/ Sports Talk Florida Postgame Show!
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