The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led their playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles 31-0 at one point in the third quarter Sunday so this one was well in hand and for all intents over. Everyone knew it.
But quarterback Tom Brady refused to come out of the game — even late in the fourth quarter. So the Bucs, mostly running and milking the clock, continued to move the football.
And that’s what other NFL playoff teams should understand about Brady and the Buccaneers:
They’re not going away of their own accord even after all their success.
They’re not ready to call it a day just because they’re playing well or won the Super Bowl last year or, in Brady’s case, they’re a 44-year-old quarterback with seven Super Bowl rings.
“I don’t ever take it for granted,” receiver Mike Evans said of what the Bucs are doing and what Brady has brought to the team. “When he came to this team I knew he was going to change the franchise. And he’s done that and then some.
“He makes sure we’re all ready to play. He makes sure we all know what we’re doing. And he makes sure we’re giving it our all. That’s all you can ask from a leader.”
The Buccaneers scored on three of their first four possessions. Yeah, this one felt over before halftime.
“I’d love to always start fast like that, and have a lead like that,” Brady said afterward. “So it was a good way to start the game. Got to try to make it happen again next week, whoever we play.”
Brady finished the game with 29 completions on 37 attempts for 271 yards. He threw 2 TD passes — to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans — and had a QB rating of 115.2.
And, in case you’re wondering, this was Brady’s 17th playoff win in his last 20 outings dating back to 2014 — or more than a decade after he started collecting a handful of Super Bowl rings.
“We’re just trying to figure out a way to move the ball down the field, score some points,” Brady said. “We ran the ball really well. Line played great. Receivers played great. Tight ends played great. So we used a lot of different people and everyone got in there and made some plays to help the team win.
“Defense played great. Special teams was amazing. So we’re going to need it again next week. It only get tougher from here.”
The Buccaneers did this despite not being able to field all their best players.
The Bucs played this game with 49 percent of their offense missing. Think about that.
Running back Leonard Fournette gained 1,266 total yards for the team in 2021. He was out with a hamstring injury.
Receiver Chris Godwin gained 1,124 yards this season. He’s out for the season with a knee injury.
Running back Ronald Jones gained 492 yards. He was out this game with an ankle injury.
Antonio Brown gained 551 yards for Tampa Bay in the regular season. He’s off the team because he’s a weirdo.
It also didn’t help that All-Pro starting left tackle Tristan Wirfs injured his ankle in the first half and although he tried to return, he wasn’t the same and left for good after giving up a sack.
But it didn’t matter. Not this day.
“It’s next man up,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s like I just told them, man, feel proud of all the ones who stepped in and stepped up. When you put a Bucs helmet on, there’s a level of expectation. And you don’t have to be the guy you replaced. You just have to be the best you and play your best and everyone who’s had an opportunity has done that.”
The irony here is the Bucs made a lot of news before the season because they were able to return all 22 starters from the team that won the Super Bowl last season. This postseason, not all those starters are playing.
“Rightfully so, everybody should be talking about that, the 22 we brought back from the Super Bowl. I mean, there’s a lot of Hall of Fame caliber players,” Evans said. “But we’re all professionals and these guys have been waiting on their opportunities to step up and they made plays today. Everybody that wasn’t in those roles early in the season, they’re making the most of it now.”
The Bucs did get some reinforcements in that outside linebackers and edge rushers Shaquile Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul came back from injuries. Barrett had a key interception in the game.
“That’s what we need,” Brady said. “It’s that time of year where the margin of error is really slim and our team was 7-2 in last nine games and playing really well, so we got off to a really good start, got off to a commanding lead and glad we finished the way we did.”
Tampa Bay’s offense also got a gift of sorts from the Eagles coaching staff in that they played man coverage much of the game. That strategy basically allowed Evans to dominate, catching 9 passes for 117 yards and his TD.
Evans afterward was asked if he had a preference what opponent the Bucs would play next in the playoffs.
“Whatever team plays the most man coverage,” he said. “Whatever team plays the most man coverage, I want to play those guys.”
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