It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game.
The Bucs beat the Panthers, 41-17, to improve to 13-4, which is the franchise’s most wins in a season. By virtue of Tampa Bay’s win coupled with Los Angeles’ loss, the Bucs claimed the No. 2 seed in the NFC, while the Rams fell to the No. 4 seed. Tom Brady, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski starred for the Bucs in a battle against an over-matched Panthers defense. But Carolina’s offense gave Tampa Bay’s defense fits early, rushing for 79 yards in the first half alone. The Bucs need to get Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett back in the worst way this week with the Eagles and the NFL’s No. 1 ranked rushing attack coming to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1: Bucs Defense Needs David, Barrett Back – NOW
“Nobody runs the ball on us,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians after a 38-31 comeback win at Indianapolis. “I don’t care who the hell you are. I mean, you are going to end up throwing it. Because if you’re going to run it all day, you’re not going to get much.”
The Bucs defense allowed just three 100-yard rushing games out of the Bucs’ first 10 games of the year. Since Arians’ proclamation in Week 12 after allowing the Colts to run for 107 yards, Tampa Bay has allowed opponents to run for over 100 yards in five out of the final seven games of the season.
That includes a season-high 173 yards against Buffalo in Week 14. Mobile quarterback Josh Allen ran for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Bucs ILB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts – who the Bucs will be facing in the first round of the NFC playoffs – is an even more dangerous running quarterback. Hurts led the Eagles with 784 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for a 5.6-yard average. Philadelphia’s run game is the best in the NFL, averaging 159.7 yards per game on the ground. In Tampa Bay’s 28-22 win at Philly, Hurts rushed for 44 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Over the last two games, the Bucs once impenetrable run defense surrendered 150 yards at New York in a 28-24 comeback win over the Jets. In Sunday’s 41-17 win over Carolina, Tampa Bay allowed 110 rushing yards. That’s an average of 112.7 rushing yards per game, and 21 rushing yards more per game than the Bucs’ season per game average of 91.4 rushing yards allowed.
What does all this mean? The Bucs certainly could use linebacker Lavonte David and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett back immediately for this Sunday’s playoff game against the Eagles. David is Tampa Bay’s second-leading tackler with 98, while Barrett is sixth on the team with 51 stops despite missing the last two-and-a-half games with a knee injury.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said that Barrett and fellow outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul should return for Sunday’s game. David, who has a foot injury, could be a game-time decision. Arians will know more about David’s status as the week goes on. It’s clear the Bucs run defense has suffered without him.
“Lavonte – his calming influence as a leader,” Arians said. “And missed tackles. We’ve missed some tackles out on the edges that we just can’t miss because they end up as big gainers. We had a mental error on a 22-yarder last week. We just chased the passer instead of hitting the cutback with young players. Getting those things corrected…but we have to tackle better.”
Teams have been attacking the Bucs young outside linebackers Anthony Nelson, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Cam Gill without Barrett and Pierre-Paul on the outside. Nelson has played exceptionally well recently, with a sack in each of the last three games. Yet Gill and Tryon-Shoyinka haven’t always set the edge.
Jets RB Austin Walter and the Bucs defense – Photo by: USA Today
“We haven’t done a good job the last two weeks because everyone’s trying to go wide on us and stay away from those big guys in the middle,” Arians said. “We need to do a better job of setting the edges. Anthony Nelson did a heck of job, played a great ballgame again. Two weeks in a row he got a game ball. … Just getting those guys back to have that rotation.”
Part of the problem with the Bucs run defense has been the awful play of inside linebacker Devin White. He had four tackles at Carolina, a career-low two stops at New York and just three tackles yesterday versus the Panthers.
White had a career-high 140 tackles last year. He finished this season with 128 stops. Had White had double-digit tackles over the last three games like he’s capable of having, he could have finished the year with 149 stops instead.
Arians noted that White’s production has dipped mightily over the last three games, which happens to coincide with David’s absence.
“It’s part of the way the game is being played with all that perimeter stuff,” Arians said. “He’s a sideline-to-sideline guy, but he’s getting blocked sometimes. They are accounting for him a little bit more. And he can play better. I think he’d be the first one to tell you that. He might be pressing with Lavonte out. We’ll see.”
STATEMENT 2: Evans, Gronkowski, Brady Deliver For Bucs Offense
In Friday’s SR’s Fab 5, I wrote about how the Bucs offense has struggled without three of the team’s “Big Four” weapons – Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. Well, that wasn’t the case against the lesser Panthers, who finished the year losing seven straight games. With Godwin out for the year and Brown off the roster, it will be up to Evans, Gronkowski and Tom Brady to carry Tampa Bay’s offense.
All three are future Hall of Famers and were up to the task for the Bucs. Tom Brady set a new franchise record with 5,316 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. Both of those numbers led the NFL. And Brady finished the season with 485 completions, which was also an NFL record. Brady’s 5,316 passing yards were third most in NFL history.
Bucs WR Mike Evans and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Evans made NFL history with his eighth straight 1,000-yard season to start his career. There is a good chance that record might stand for quite awhile. Evans had six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Those scores gave him 14 for the season, which broke the record of 13 he set last year.
Evans’ 37-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter ignited Tampa Bay’s offense, which was sluggish until the final two minutes of the first half.
Gronkowski led the way with seven catches for 137 yards. It was Gronkowski’s third 100-yard game this season He broke Tony Gonzalez’s all-time record for most 100-yard games by a tight end. Gronkowski’s big day also earned him some big money. He had a pair of $500,000 incentives for catches and yards on the season, and hit both of those marks in Sunday’s win. Gronkowski finished with 55 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns, which were the second-most on the team.
The Bucs are four more wins away from repeating as Super Bowl champions. There is no doubt that Tampa Bay needs some additional playmakers to step up in the postseason. Perhaps it’s the return of running back Leonard Fournette, who can help the Bucs on the ground or in the air.
But one thing is for certain, Tampa Bay will need Brady, Evans and Gronkowski to continue to have big games throughout the playoffs for the Bucs to win and advance in the postseason.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: How Much Will Home Field Advantage Matter In The Playoffs?
A lot. The Bucs finished with a franchise-best 7-1 record at home this season thanks to outscoring their opponents by an average of 33-17. That number is dramatically different on the road, where the Bucs’ margin of victory is 27-24. Tampa Bay finished the year 6-3 away from Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs have scored 30 points or more in every home game except for the team’s 9-0 loss to the Saints in Week 15. Tampa Bay has scored at least three of those games, including Sunday’s 41-17 victory over Carolina. If the Bucs beat the Eagles on Sunday, they’ll host the Cowboys if Dallas defeats San Francisco.
Tampa Bay beat Dallas, 31-29, in the 2021 season opener on Thursday Night Football. The Cowboys (12-5) have a 7-2 road record. Dallas is a formidable foe – even in Tampa Bay. But first, Tampa Bay must take care of the upstart Eagles in the Wild Card round.
QUESTION 2: Can Miller Step Up Again In The Postseason?
He’ll need to. The Bucs have received some big plays from unheralded receivers down the stretch since losing Chris Godwin for the season with a knee injury. Breshad Perriman had the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime against Buffalo. Cyril Grayson, Jr. stepped up with back-to-back 81-yard games at Carolina and New York, including the game-winning TD against the Jets.
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: USA Today
Perriman came up with another clutch catch, this time it was a 24-yarder in the red zone right before halftime against the Panthers on Sunday. That reception led to a key touchdown that gave the Bucs a 10-7 halftime lead and changed momentum in Tampa Bay’s favor.
On Sunday we also saw the re-emergence of Scotty Miller, who had one catch for nine yards, and led the Bucs with 42 yards rushing on two end arounds. His first one went 33 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Perhaps that big play will earn him more playing time and opportunities, especially with Antonio Brown gone and Grayson pulling a hamstring in the first quarter.
“It just wasn’t his opportunities,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “Other guys were in there, and it’s tough [because] we have a great [wide receiver] room. That room is tough. You earn your snaps by performing and he did a hell of a job today.”
The perception is that Miller was a huge factor in last year’s postseason, but in reality, he had just four catches for 80 yards in four games. Miller had one catch for 15 yards and an 8-yard run on an end around at Washington. Then he had a clutch, 29-yard catch at New Orleans.
He was targeted three times at Green Bay and caught two passes for 38 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown right before halftime. In Super Bowl LV, Miller wasn’t even targeted and had minus-3 yards on an end around.
Yet despite just a handful of opportunities those two big plays – at New Orleans and at Green Bay – were impactful. Miller only had six postseason targets and two carries. It’s not necessarily about getting Miller more involved as much as it is what he does with the ball when it’s in his hands. Sunday’s big fourth quarter was an example of that.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Beat The Eagles Again
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs beat the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 6, 28-22, but play so much better at home. The Eagles are 6-2 over their last eight games and are improved over the team the Bucs faced back in October. Stopping the run and making Jalen Hurts beat Tampa Bay with his arm will be the goal of the defense.
Tom Brady, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski will need to have a similar type of performance to Sunday’s game against the Panthers to ensure a Bucs victory. Philly is averaging 27 points per game, so scoring 30 points or more is a must for Tampa Bay’s offense. The good news is that the Bucs are averaged 29.4 points per game in 2021, including 33.3 points per game at Raymond James Stadium. This feels like a high-scoring shootout that Tampa Bay wins at home.
PREDICTION 2: Las Vegas “Bucs” Lose To Bengals
Congrats to Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia for a thrilling overtime win against the Chargers to make the playoffs. Bisaccia, who coached special teams in Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden in the 2000s, replaced Gruden as the Las Vegas head coach on October 11 and went 7-5. Las Vegas beat Dallas on Thanksgiving in overtime, and the Raiders won their last four games to make the playoffs.
Bisaccia is one of six former Bucs coaches, including offensive coordinator Greg Olson, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, running backs coach Tim Berbenich, assistant special teams coach Byron Storer, on the Raiders staff. I’m pulling for the 10-7 Raiders for sentimental reasons, but they’re playing at Cincinnati. The 10-7 Bengals just beat Baltimore and Kansas City a few weeks ago. They also beat the Raiders in Las Vegas, 32-13, in Week 11. I think the Bengals win the rematch, too.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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