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 Eagles, 31-15, to advance to the NFC Divisional playoffs, which will be at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay will play the winner of the Arizona at Los Angeles Wild Card playoff game on Monday night next Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET. The Bucs jumped out to a 31-0 lead thanks to winning the turnover margin 3-0. Tampa Bay was great in all three phases of the game and played one of its most complete games of the year.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1. Bucs Need Legendary Playoff Run From Evans

The Bucs didn’t need Mike Evans to play great every game of the playoffs last year en route to the Super Bowl.

That won’t be the case this year.

Evans will have to be great in every playoff game without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.

At least a touchdown – maybe two. And 100 yards receiving.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Mike Evans

Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today

He accomplished both in Sunday’s 31-15 win over Philadelphia. Evans had nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in the Wild Card playoffs.

That touchdown, a 36-yarder, was capped off by a dramatic somersault into the end zone.

“I did decent,” the humble Evans said. “There’s a couple of other plays I could have been better at. Perimeter blocking, that [expletive] touchdown I could have had in the first half. But I did a solid job. I was waiting for this moment. Whenever the ball comes my way, I try to make a play.”

Last year, with tight end Rob Gronkowski and Brown and Godwin, the Bucs didn’t need Evans to be great in every game.

He shook off a knee injury to catch six passes for 119 yards at Washington in the Wild Card round. Then he had just one catch for three yards at New Orleans – granted it was a touchdown. Evans had three catches for 51 yards and a TD at Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. But had just one catch for 31 yards in Super Bowl LV, although he drew five flags as well.

This year without Godwin and Brown, Evans and Gronkowski will have to carry the Bucs’ passing game. That’s one down, and hopefully three more games to go.

“Mike played great, just a great effort by him,” Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said. “Always can count on him. Dependable, tough, made some huge catches for us. He’s just an amazing player, and he’s just doing great stuff for us. Always comes through, great red-area target, great on third down. Used him a lot of different ways today, so I’m glad he had such a productive day. He’s an amazing player.”

Evans is used to being the primary weapon in the passing game. While Vincent Jackson’s career was winding down in 2014-16 and before Godwin’s arrival in 2017, Evans’ career was ramping up.

After his 1,000-yard rookie season in which he caught a franchise-record 12 touchdowns, Evans was targeted 148 times in 2015 and a career-high 173 targets in 2016. He responded with a career-high 96 catches for 1,321 yards and 12 more TDs in 2016.

Evans was the Bucs’ passing game in 2016, so he can draw from that experience. The next closest receivers were tight end Cameron Brate (57-660-8) and wide receiver Adam Humphries (55-622-2)

Bucs WR Mike Evans

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today

Gronkowski has played with several good receivers in New England, but has really come to appreciate Evans’ greatness since playing with him over the last two years.

“Mike is definitely up there and what makes him so impressive is his consistency,” Gronkowski said. “Obviously, you can tell from eight 1,000 yards seasons in a row, a record that he holds, just the way that he plays is consistent week in and week out. Through practice, through games. It’s just unbelievable. He is super selfless and just wants to win.

“Even if he doesn’t get the ball but we win, he is a happy guy. He just wants to win. That’s all he says, ‘Let’s just win, whatever it takes.’ And he steps up in the biggest moments. He is one of the best teammates out there, steps up to the plate when his number is called. It is an honor to be his teammate. He is a Buccaneers legend. It is great to be on his side.”

STATEMENT 2. Bucs Need To Keep The Secondary The Same

Sean Murphy-Bunting missed the Bucs vs. Eagles game on Sunday, but he wasn’t missed. Without Murphy-Bunting, who tweaked his hamstring, Tampa Bay’s secondary consisted of starting outside cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III and safeties Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Mike Edwards.

Winfield dominated snaps in the slot, replacing Murphy-Bunting for 49 snaps at nickel. He also played 13 snaps at free safety. Winfield got a sack and a pressure on blitzes from the slot, and Edwards had a clutch second quarter interception in the end zone. Davis nearly had three interceptions versus Philadelphia, and Dean had one the best games of his career.

Davis and Dean combined for 12 tackles. Winfield had five tackles, Whitehead had seven stops and Edwards had a team-high nine tackles to go along with his pick.

Bucs S Mike Edwards

Bucs S Mike Edwards – Photo by: USA Today

Davis, Dean, Whitehead and Winfield are entrenched as starters. They played all 66 defensive snaps on Sunday. Murphy-Bunting’s injury paved the way for Edwards to play 52 snaps, which is 79 percent of the defensive plays.

Edwards was the Bucs’ leading interceptor in the regular season with three picks, including two pick-sixes. He also forced a fumble and had seven pass breakups. Murphy-Bunting had three pass breakups in nine games with a forced fumble and no interceptions.

Pro Football Focus grades are not the end-all, be-all player comparison, but Edwards was the eighth-highest graded Bucs defender (72.1) in the regular season, while Murphy-Bunting was the 16th (61.7). A lot will depend on the matchups in the next round. Will Tampa Bay face Arizona’s Christian Kirk or L.A.’s Cooper Kupp?

Who does Todd Bowles have more confidence in? Is it the play-making Edwards with a shoulder injury? Or is it Murphy-Bunting, who has given up three touchdowns in nine games, with a hamstring strain?

I know what my answer would be.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1. How Worried Should The Bucs Be About Tristan Wirfs’ Injury?

Very worried. It’s not just Tristan Wirfs’ sprained right ankle that is a concern. It is also the fact that Josh Wells got injured in the game (quad) and had to play the rest of the game with that injury. You can bet that seldom-used Nick Leverett, who was inactive on Sunday, will dress for Sunday’s playoff game. Alex Cappa could move from right guard to right tackle if Wirfs and Wells can’t go.

The reason for the concern is that whether it’s the Rams or the Cardinals, either team can bring the heat from that side of the line. Wirfs and Wells gave up 1.5 of the four sacks that Tampa Bay surrendered to Philadelphia’s front four, which isn’t as good as either Los Angeles’ or Arizona’s defensive front.

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

While Bucs fans might be rooting for Arizona to pull off the upset in Los Angeles, the Cardinals have a pair of double-digit sackers in linebackers Chandler Jones (10.5) and Markus Golden (11). Jones primarily rushes from the right side, so he would face Donovan Smith. Jones rushes from the left side of the defense, so he would face either Wirfs or Wells. Throw in the fact that left defensive end J.J. Watt is expected to return from injured reserve this week, and that could mean double trouble when facing the Cardinals’ 3-4 front if they beat the Rams.

Los Angeles actually presents an even bigger challenge because defensive coordinator Raheem Morris likes to move All-Pro Aaron Donald around. Donald, who has 12.5 sacks this year, usually plays on the right side. But he could be moved to the left side to test Wirfs’ sore ankle if he plays – or torment Wells. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd also plays on the left side of the defense and rushes against right tackles. He has 9.5 sacks on the season.

The Bucs might have to use tight end Rob Gronkowski to block and help whoever plays right tackle. That’s one less weapon for Tom Brady to throw to, which hurts Tampa Bay’s offense.

At least the Bucs get the benefit of having the 49ers beat the Cowboys. That means not facing Dallas rookie sensation Micah Parsons (13 sacks), but more importantly, playing on Sunday rather than Saturday. Because San Francisco beat Dallas, the 49ers have to travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers on Saturday. Had the Cowboys won, they would have traveled to Tampa Bay to play on Saturday. That’s one less day of rest for Wirfs and Wells.

The winner of the Rams-Cardinals Monday night playoff game has to play on a short week as it is. There is no way the league would make the Bucs game on a Saturday to make it even shorter.

2. Who Were The Unsung Heroes In Sunday’s Win?

Tampa Bay’s special teams units – nearly all of them. The Bucs special teams have been less than special at times this season. But that wasn’t the case against the Eagles. Let’s start with the most obvious – the kicking game.

Despite gusty, swirling winds, kicker Ryan Succop was perfect on the afternoon, drilling a 34-yard field goal and connecting on all four of his extra points. Punter Bradley Pinion also shined with a 48.7-yard average, including a 43.7-yard net average. Pinion also downed three punts inside the 20-yard line with no touchbacks. And he had the benefit of great special teams coverage on the rest of his punts and his kickoffs.

The Bucs allowed just 19 yards on kickoff returns with the longest being a 24-yard kick return by Kenneth Gainwell. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Dee Delaney, who was a gunner, had tackles, as did rookie linebackers Grant Stuard and K.J. Britt, and veteran linebacker Kevin Minter, who is the team’s special teams captain. Stuard, who is the leading tackler on special teams this season, had a tackle and an assist.

Bucs WR Scotty Miller

Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Although he wasn’t credited with a special teams tackle or a forced fumble, Scotty Miller’s hit on Eagles returner Jalen Reagor forced a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Ross Cockrell. That turnover led to a 36-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans on the next play.

“That’s two for Scotty now,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said, referring to a similar play by Miller at Indianapolis. “I was very apprehensive about him being a gunner with his size. But, man, he’s turned out to be a heck of a gunner. That’s two fumbles causes and recoveries. He’s playing his ass off.”

Speaking of recoveries, veteran running back Giovani Bernard recovered the Eagles’ onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter to seal the Bucs’ victory. Another key special teams play by Tampa Bay.

The only downside was that the Bucs’ return game is still struggling with rookie Jaelon Darden. He averaged just 3.3 yards per punt return on four attempts and had one kickoff return for 16 yards.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1. Bucs Win, But …

I can’t bet against the Bucs at home, where Tampa Bay is 8-1. And I can’t bet against Tom Brady. But make no mistake – whether it’s the Rams or the Cardinals, the Bucs are mortal with their rash of injuries, especially along the offensive line. Brady is the best postseason quarterback of all time, but he can’t complete passes on his back.

The Eagles got to Brady four times on Sunday. The pass rush that either Los Angeles or Arizona can bring is much more formidable. Having an ailing Pro Bowl center and an ailing All-Pro right tackle is far from ideal. If the Bucs lose in the Divisional Playoffs or further down the line, it will be because they just had too many injuries to overcome.

PREDICTION 2. Leftwich Gets A Head-Coaching Job

The guess here is that Bucs offensive coordinator and play-caller Byron Leftwich gets a head-coaching job – likely in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have a young, first-round quarterback to groom in Trevor Lawrence. With Leftwich being a former first-round QB with the Jaguars and having a lot of success as a play-caller the last three years, he seems like an ideal fit. Leftwich is a good communicator with a Super Bowl ring.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Who knows? Maybe defensive coordinator Todd Bowles also gets a job, too. Yet the trend seems to be offensive play-callers. Bowles will interview with Vikings and Bears. But Minnesota may be after Green Bay’s Nathaniel Hackett and Chicago may be after Buffalo’s Brian Daboll. We’ll see.

As I wrote about in Friday’s SR’s Fab 5, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has some in-house replacements lined up in wide receivers coach Kevin Garver or possibly assistant receivers coach Thad Lewis to take over for Leftwich. Larry Foote should be in line for the defensive coordinator job if Bowles leaves. The biggest question is how many Bucs assistants would leave Tampa Bay with Leftwich and/or Bowles? Could be a busy offseason for Arians replenishing his coaching staff. Stay tuned.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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The Freeman
The Freeman
4 months ago

not just assistants, how many players follow Leftwich and Bowles?
Godwin, Cappa and Jensen may receive big offer from the Jags… same for Whitehead and Gholston if Bowles leave.

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  The Freeman
4 months ago

Make no mistake about it, I like all the players you mentioned but all of them have question marks.
Jensen is over 30 and he loves centering and protecting Brady. How many teams want an aged safety. He is at the age where Belichek would start looking for a suitor for him.
Godwin is a very good, but not game changing great receiver coming off knee surgery. Ouch.
Cappa is sound playing between two Pro Bowl lineman but what would be the result if he was put in between players of his similar calibre.

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

So now Whitehead is an “aged safety” at the ripe old age of 25? And no idea wtf Belichick has to do with any of this but the Patriots best two safeties are 29 and 34 so ya, your wrong about that too.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

His point is how would the lose of these pending FA affect the Bucs? And I think it’s obvious! The loss of Godwin has left a huge hole in this offense and just look at the impact that Whitehead’s making since returning to this defense.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

Uhh, no, losing Godwin did not leave a huge hole in the offense. During the 14 games that Godwin played in 2021, Tom Brady averaged 310 yards per game of passing. During the 3 games that Godwin was on IR, Brady averaged 323 yards per game of passing. No dropoff. Others pick up the load on the Bucs. When Chris Godwin was balling, typically that was at the expense of Mike Evans, and/or Gronk. Other backups who rarely saw a snap on anything but special teams also stepped up with big plays at key moments of games after Godwin was… Read more »

BigSombrero
BigSombrero
4 months ago

Regarding Statement 2: Keeping secondary the same: The Bucs will most likely face a passing juggernaut next week vs LA. The Bucs will not face a poor QB who can’t pass to anyone other than a TE. SMB will absolutely be needed for the next game (and others if they advance).

drdneast
drdneast
4 months ago

If Jensen and Wirts can’t play this week, poor Brady is going to find out how Patrick Mahomes felt in the SB. Bet here is that at least Jensen will play. If he can finish on Sunday there is a more than good chance he will start this week.

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

U have two big TEs in Gronk and OJ! Use them. They both should be able to chip shot before going out or just be a body on a body. Could OJ finally earn his pay this Sunday?

Horse
Horse
Reply to  bucballer
4 months ago

Agree with you.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  bucballer
4 months ago

Also, if Leonard Fournette returns for this game, that will help a lot too as he has been our best blocking back this season. And Brady also adjusted in the second half by getting the ball out faster – I read somewhere that he had the shortest time to release of any quarterback in the Wild Card round during the second half – an incredible 2.17 seconds. That limits the number of long down the field throws, but the wind also made those difficult on Sunday. Ideally, then, next Sunday will be another windy day which could affect Stafford more… Read more »

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Stafford has been known to take chances and try to squeeze the ball into a tight window! Can’t have missed opportunities at this stage! If DB touches the ball they have to come down with the INT!

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

I’m not so sure, only because of the speed with which Brady has been getting the ball out lately. Whether Wirfs and Jensen are playing or not, my guess is that the intent is for Brady to seek to continue that trend. The question will be how effective the Rams are at disrupting routes and plans early after the snap to force Brady to hold the ball and give LA’s great pass rush the opportunity to get home to our guy. It blew my mind last year that none of Reid, Bieniemy, nor Mahomes ever seemed to think that they… Read more »

scubog
scubog
Reply to  toofamiliar17
4 months ago

Had the Bucs drafted an OT he would have been languishing on the sideline with Robert Hainsey all season……..just like that other “wasted” pick. If only Licht could have foreseen the injuries hitting each position group. He could have chosen a CB, a RB, a WR, another DE/OLB, and now an OT. Guess it could have been far worse had that injury bug hit the QB room. That said, I was hoping to come out of the last Draft with an OT who could be an upgrade over Josh Wells.

fredster
fredster
Reply to  scubog
4 months ago

Yes Bucs still have zero depth at tackle. We are Win now mode with Brady’s age and Trask pick was stupid lol. A CB to replace SMB would been nice too.

bucballer
bucballer
4 months ago

Which coaches get new jobs and leave r part of the game and a result of winning. As for players that may or may not leave, it is what it is. Tampa is a favorite destination for free agents. The tax situation here in Tampa and if Brady comes back one more year ( he may not) will only make Tampa even more attractive to free agents. The weather is outstanding! For those that leave, remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Rhett, Cobb come to mind. There’s nothing we can do about it anyways.… Read more »

scubog
scubog
Reply to  bucballer
4 months ago

You’re right about how Rhett’s and Cobb’s departure resulted in a quick end to their respective careers.

bucballer
bucballer
4 months ago

Evans is a beast! Consistent and has the unique ability to produce even when banged up! Year after year he produces! Hats off to u Mike Evans! This fan is glad ur a Buccaneer!

Buc76
Buc76
4 months ago

get ready for the Rams.

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
4 months ago

“If the Bucs lose in the Divisional Playoffs or further down the line, it will be because they just had too many injuries to overcome.”
Everyone has players hurt in the playoffs. Making a blanket excuse for whenever and however the Bucs lose is just weak.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly
4 months ago

It’s called a Bold Prediction. He also prefaced his comments by saying “I wouldn’t bet against Brady”. Furthermore it’s really not a bold prediction, it’s just a true statement. Hard to overcome losses to Godwin, Wirfs, Fournette, RoJo, AB.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

Tom Brady has made a very long career from making lesser players look great because they played with him. We’ve seen it already this season AFTER losing Godwin and Fournette. RoJo is a non-factor, and AB was out most of the season with injury and suspension, along with all our starting DBs at one time or another, and half of our D line and LBs … yet the Brady led Bucs still managed to produce a 13-4 season, a division championship, and the no. 2 seed in the playoff. Not bad atoll for Brady playing with a bunch of so-called… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
4 months ago

It’s not that injuries don’t matter .. but they don’t matter that much with a Brady led team. TB-12 has made a long career of making scrubs look like heroes, including here at the Bucs. Why all the long faces and dreary attitude prior to the divisional round when we’ve got a team that has already suffered more injuries than any other team in the league, yet still produced a 13-4 season, a divisional championship for the first time in 14 seasons, and the no. 2 seed in the playoffs? O Ye of Little Faith! Buc up – these are… Read more »

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Injuries on the OL do matter! In fact, they matter the most!

scubog
scubog
Reply to  bucballer
4 months ago

Totally agree. Some have this mistaken idea that players are interchangeable and all Arians has to do is yell “Next man up” and the the play will remain the same. Replacing an All Pro with a borderline journeyman has to impact the offense just a tad.

WVBuc
WVBuc
4 months ago

If the Bucs win the Super Bowl again, a big if just on probabilities alone, and Leftwich gets the Jacksonville job, how likely is it that both Coordinator positions need a replacement? My guess is about 95%. Even if Bowles doesn’t earn an offer from a current opening, Arians will retire instead of replacing his assistant coaches. Arians has said he wouldn’t have returned to coaching if it weren’t for how many of his former staff members were available. If Leftwich leaves, I hope there is enough communication in house between Bowles and Licht/Arians so that Bowles doesn’t also accept… Read more »