Skip to content
Don’t look now, but here’s Brady and the Buccaneers, again

Don’t look now, but here’s Brady and the Buccaneers, again

With more stars returning from injury, the defending Super Bowl champions are gaining confidence, as the Eagles have discovered

Content of the article

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are quickly becoming healthier, hungrier and more confident – after the NFL’s extended regular season grind had a particular impact on them.

Advertising

Content of the article

The defending Super Bowl champions beat the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday with relative comfort, 31-15, in the first of three NFC playoff games.

After taking a 31-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Eagles finally finished a few practices with scores, to make it more than a little interesting in the closing minutes. But the Bucs clawed back a late infield kick to seal their fifth playoff victory since last January.

Are we starting to see a repeat of last season, when the Bucs marched increasingly confidently to three straight NFC playoff victories before blasting the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl?

It’s not quite like that, said tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“Every year is totally different,” said Gronkowski, who caught an easy touchdown lob from longtime pal Tom Brady on a fake run over the goal line in third.

Advertising

Content of the article

“It doesn’t matter if you have all the guys back or if you don’t have all the guys back. I mean, last year we were on the road starting with the wild card and then the games on the road (night) throughout the playoffs. And this year we’re starting at home with a one-hour game, which is great. It’s like we now have an extra day to go home and relax .

Three key defensemen returned from injury for the Bucs on Sunday and made an impact: defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul (who had a QB hit), linebacker Lavonte David (who had two tackles and was often everywhere on the field in cover passing, as usual) and passing passer extraordinaire Shaquil Barrett, who arguably made the game of the game.

Five plays after Gronk’s touchdown, Philadelphia and second-year QB Jalen Hurts faced 4 and -and-3 from the near midfield. Barrett didn’t rush Hurts, but instead dropped into pass coverage, and he jumped high to flip through the air a pass from Hurts down the right side, intended for rookie DeVonta Smith.

Advertising

Content of the article

Then Barrett made a great athletic play to intercept him, and he looked like a huge running back weaving between the tacklers on a 17-yard return.

A play later, Brady hit top wide receiver Mike Evans on deep coverage against a man, and Evans took 36 yards home to make it 31-0.

“It was Shaq Barrett’s game of the year,” Evans said. “This is no ordinary play by a defensive lineman/outside linebacker. An incredible game from him that really froze the game.

Evans said Brady changed the route he took on the sent play, and that’s what freed him up for the touchdown.

“Today we had a little more men’s coverage,” Evans said, of Tampa Bay’s regular season win over Philly. “We took advantage of it when we got it.”

Advertising

Content of the article

To start the game, the Bucs’ defense focused on stopping NFL-leading Philadelphia’s rushing offense and largely succeeded. At halftime, the Eagles had just 118 yards on offense and just 35 rushing, without scoring a single point. The Eagles finished with 95 rushing yards, much of it trailing, including 59 on three plays.

“We have one of the best defenses in the league, and they definitely proved that today,” Evans said of his teammates on the other side of the ball. “We wanted to start fast, and our defense started very fast.”

Gronkowski said it takes solid play from all three phases of the game — offensive, defensive and special teams — to embark on a long playoff streak. Additionally, many players across the roster have high football IQs, he said.

Advertising

Content of the article

“I feel like overall, this team – we have a confidence, a stability. We know what it takes to win, and we just have to go out and put that product on the pitch to win games. .

Brady was his usual crisp, if not incredibly prolific, in the playoffs — completing 29 of 37 (78.4%) for 271 yards and two scores.

“It was tough conditions out there,” Brady said, as the winds were still gusty after the morning thunderstorms passed. “It favored a racing game instead, with the wind. It was a factor. But we found a way to play well against a good football team.

Brady was not intercepted, but he was sacked four times, an unusually high number for him. In part, the sacks could be because star left tackle Tristan Wirfs was out early with an ankle injury. Wirfs only returned to action briefly.

Advertising

Content of the article

“He’s got a sprained ankle,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We’ll see (how long he could be sidelined).”

Gronk added: “Tristan is our anchor. It has bigger quads than Quadzilla. That’s how big it is there. I hope he can (be) there next week.

Additionally, the Bucs have played without their dynamic running duo, Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, who played in the playoffs last year and were solid again for much of this season before retiring. to hurt yourself.

Fournette was almost ready to return this week from a hamstring injury; Jones is further away with an ankle injury.

That left little-known Ke’Shawn Vaughn and former Bengal pass-catching specialist Giovani Bernard as Brady’s backfield duo for this game. Together, they combined for 97 rushing yards and two touchdowns, plus seven catches for 48 yards.

“They did a great job,” Brady said. “Gio had a huge game for us today. Ke’Shawn took his opportunity and did a great job (with) Lenny and RoJo.

Indeed, injury replacements have come and gone all season for the Bucs, with most performing at least functionally, if not dynamically.

Once all of their starters are back, the more depth they will have experienced in case injuries plague them again.

This is not good news for the other three surviving NFC teams.

JoKryk@postmedia.com

@JohnKryk

Advertising

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.