It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay won its fourth straight game since the bye week, beating Atlanta, 44-27, to sweep the Falcons and improve to 11-5. The Bucs clinched the fifth seed in the playoffs behind four touchdown passes from Tom Brady and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, who each went over 100 yards and caught two touchdown passes.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1. Disaster Almost Strikes For Evans After Record-Breaking Catch
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans made history when he caught a 20-yard pass in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s 44-27 win over Atlanta to give him 1,006 yards for the season. Evans became the first receiver in NFL history to record seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career. He was tied with Hall of Famer Randy Moss, who is Evans’ idol, with six straight seasons coming into the 2020 season.
Then it seemed like disaster struck on the next play as Evans suffered a left knee injury as his knee buckled after sliding on the turf in the end zone while dropping a potential touchdown pass.
Quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Chris Godwin came over to check on Evans, who was barely able to walk off the field as his knee buckled. Evans didn’t return to the game after catching three passes for 46 yards in the first quarter.
“It meant the world for him to get that record and then to have an easy touchdown,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “The turf was really slick in the end zones and it was just a freaky thing. Knock on wood – we don’t think there’s any serious damage. We’ll know more in the next 24 hours.”
On Sunday night, PewterReport.com learned that the team is cautiously optimistic about Evans’ diagnosis, which is a hyperextension, and that he has not been ruled out for Saturday’s playoff game at Washington.
Brady was disappointed to see Evans get injured right after his milestone catch.
“It’s always tough when you see guys go out,” Brady said. “Mike – proud of him for everything he’s gone through this year and what he’s fought through. It’s an incredible record to have. Toughness, dependability, not obviously [only] skill, but attitude plays a big factor into those things. I just love playing with the guy, so when he went out, other guys really stepped up and made a bunch of plays.”
While it was an unfortunate injury, it came in a non-contact situation. It’s for reasons like this as to why Bucs general manager Jason Licht signed free agent Antonio Brown at midseason – in case something happened to Evans or Godwin, who scored Tampa Bay’s first touchdown and finished the game with five catches for 133 yards and two TDs.
“It’s definitely a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Godwin, seeing Evans set the record and then get hurt. “He breaks the record and that’s something that – a guy being here for four years and watching him close in on that – I was so proud of just the man that Mike is and the way he works, so I think that is really awesome. Then, next play he goes down. It hurts – I feel for my brother – but I’m hoping he makes a speedy recovery.”
With Tampa Bay leading 30-27 late in the fourth quarter, Godwin had a huge, 47-yard catch down to the Atlanta 7-yard line on third-12. That set up his 4-yard score two plays later to give the Bucs a 37-27 lead to essentially put the Falcons away.
Brown scored the Bucs’ second touchdown of the day, a 25-yard strike from Brady to help Tampa Bay build a 23-10 lead at halftime and finished with a season-high 11 catches for 138 yards and two scores, including a 30-yard catch-and-run that put the Bucs over the 40-point mark for back-to-back weeks and the fourth time this season.
STATEMENT 2. Brady Leads Best Bucs’ Offense In Franchise History
The 2020 season has been the most prolific year in Tampa Bay history in terms of points, as the team finished the year averaging 30.8 points per game. Last week in Detroit, Brady set a new Bucs’ single-season passing touchdown record with 36, passing Jameis Winston, who had 33 last year. Brady, who passed for 399 yards against the Falcons, added to that record on Sunday against the Falcons, throwing four touchdowns to give him 40 for the year.
“I think he broke Peyton Manning’s record for [touchdown passes] being [in the first season] with a team [by] throwing 40 touchdowns. I think Peyton had 37, so I know he’ll like that [and] Peyton will be pissed. When we first met, that’s really what we talked about – the guys that we have and what he could do with the players that we have. Adding Rob Gronkowski to the mix just helped. I envisioned 40 [touchdowns]. When he first signed I said, ‘Okay, we’ll be a 40 [touchdown] and 10 [interception] team.’ I was expecting practice, I was expecting OTAs and those things. What he’s done with none of that – especially this last half of the season – is incredible.”
Brady, who threw his first interception since the Chiefs game before the bye week, had his third straight 300-yard game and the seventh 300-yard game of the season. Since the bye week, Brady has been on fire, completing 94-of-136 passes (69.1 percent) for 1,333 yards with 12 TDs and one interception, which came on a fluky play in which the ball squirted out of Scotty Miller’s hands and into the arms of opportunistic Falcons safety Ricardo Allen.
“It’s [bothering me] that [Brady] got an interception, but he played fantastic,” Arians said. “He’s been on fire since the [bye] and we scored on every possession except that one and the kneel down. We kicked too many field goals, but that wasn’t him. He’s been fantastic.”
Brady smiled when informed he broke Manning’s record for passing touchdowns in the first year on a new team, but he shrugged off his record-setting 40-touchdown season and gave his teammates the credit for helping him get that mark.
“Whatever happens for me as a quarterback is reflective of what our group does on offense,” Brady said. “I love playing with the guys I play with. We’ve got a great group of receivers, great group of tight ends – very selfless – the backs have done an incredible job. The way the offensive line is playing and protecting gives any quarterback a great opportunity. It’s a team sport – those are great team accomplishments. Just proud of all the guys [for] what they put in this year. Now we’re moving into the playoffs. We have a great opportunity ahead of us and we’ve got to go try and take advantage of it.”
Prior to recording his NFL-record seventh straight 1,000-yard season, Evans set a new franchise single-season record for receiving touchdowns last week in Detroit with two scores, which gave him 13 for the season, breaking his previous record of 12, which was set in 2014 and tied in 2016. Tampa Bay’s offense wasn’t done breaking records on Sunday.
The Bucs scored 458 points last year in the first season under Arians, and entered Sunday’s game with 448 points. Tampa Bay set a new franchise record by halftime with 471 points due to the team’s 23-10 lead. The Bucs finished the 2020 season with 492 points – the most ever in franchise history – in addition to a team-record 59 touchdowns.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop has accounted for a good deal of those points, breaking Matt Bryant’s franchise record of 131 points (set in 2008) in a single season with 136 points. Succop rebounded from a rough outing in Detroit in which he missed two extra points and a field goal by connecting on all of his kicks on Sunday against Atlanta. The 34-year old Succop, who is in his first season in Tampa Bay, has made 28-of-31 field goals (90.3) and 52-of-57 (91.2) extra points this season.
Between record seasons for Brady, Evans and Succop, Arians’ offense was on fire in Tampa Bay in 2020.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Is Tampa Bay’s Defense Good Enough To Win In The Playoffs?
No. The Bucs defense we saw against the Falcons isn’t aggressive enough in coverage or good enough rushing the passer to win in the postseason. Thankfully for Tampa Bay, its offense is good enough to prevail, as the offense is averaging 37 points per game since the bye week – nearly a touchdown over its season average of 30.8 points per game, which ranks third in the NFL in scoring.
The Bucs defense should receive a boost in the first round of the playoffs at Washington when top cover cornerback Carlton Davis III returns from a groin injury. Davis has missed the last two games. Tampa Bay is also expecting outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett to return from the COVID-19 list in time for next Saturday night’s playoff game. Barrett, who is the team’s third-leading sacker with eight QB captures, missed Sunday’s game against the Falcons.
Tampa Bay was hoping that inside linebacker Devin White could return for the first round of the playoffs after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, but since the game at Washington will be on Saturday night he will be ineligible to return per the mandatory 10-day quarantine period. Had the NFL scheduled the Tampa Bay vs. Washington game on Sunday night White, who is second on the team with a career-high nine sacks, could have played had he tested negative this week.
Kevin Minter is expected to start in place of White for a second straight game. Minter, the Bucs’ special teams captain, had a team-high nine tackles against the Falcons on Sunday, and while he’s not the flashy splash play guy that White is, he is a steady veteran.
With or without White in Washington, Tampa Bay will go as far as Brady and the Bucs’ high-powered offense will take it.
QUESTION 2: Why Didn’t The Bucs Get Jones 1,000 Yards Rushing?
The Bucs decided to feed Brown down the stretch instead. With time winding down in the fourth quarter it looked as if Bucs running back Ronald Jones II might be in position to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the season, as he entered the game with 900 yards. Needing 100 yards against Atlanta to reach the century mark, Jones had 78 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, but his last carry – an 8-yard run – came with 3:09 left in the game. On the next play, Brady his Brown with a short pass that he took 30 yards for a touchdown to increase Tampa Bay’s lead to 44-27.
After the Bucs stopped the Falcons on fourth down at the Atlanta 29, the Bucs ran six more plays to run out the clock but didn’t give Jones the ball despite him falling 22 yards shy of 1,000 yards. Instead, Brady completed three passes to Brown for 11 yards before kneeling the ball three times to end the game.
Why did Brady feed the ball to Brown rather than RoJo? Brown needed just three more catches to reach a $250,000 bonus if he finished the season with 45 receptions and Tampa Bay made the playoffs. He entered the game with 34 catches and finished with 11 receptions for 138 yards. Brown had eight catches prior to that final drive and Brady got him the final three receptions so Brown could cash in.
Brown had two other $250,000 performance bonuses that he didn’t reach. Brown would have gotten additional $250,000 bonuses had he reached 600 receiving yards or scored six touchdowns. Brown finished the year with 483 yards and four TD catches. While it came at Jones’ expense, the Bucs’ decision to get Brown his pay day on Sunday was justified as the mercurial Brown has stayed out of trouble and not been a problem since joining the team in November.
PREDICTION 1: Evans Won’t Play At Washington
The Bucs are holding out hope that Evans can play in the first round of the playoffs against Washington, believing he’s going to be day-to-day with a hyper-extended left knee. The team hasn’t ruled him out and Evans will undergo further testing this week to determine the severity of his injury.
Evans is as tough as they come and battled through a hamstring injury to play at New Orleans in Week 1, and fought through a nasty ankle sprain in Week 4 to play on a short week on Thursday Night Football in Chicago. But Evans’ knee injury is more severe than either of his previous injuries. Evans has missed a significant amount of practice this year due to those previous injuries, and could play even if he doesn’t practice this week – as long as he is cleared medically by the team’s trainers.
However, with the Buccaneers’ playoff game scheduled for Saturday instead Sunday, so that gives Evans one less to recover. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa Bay’s training staff keeps Evans out of the first round of the playoffs so he could be healthier for the second round of the postseason, assuming that the Bucs advance to the divisional playoff round.
PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay Beats Washington On Saturday Night
The good news for the Bucs is that they are 10-0 against teams with losing records this season, and despite finishing as the NFC East division winner, Washington posted a 7-9 record in 2020. Saturday night’s wild card playoff game will feature Washington’s stingy defense versus Tampa Bay’s high-powered offense, as Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard pointed out on Twitter.
Washington hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points in 6 straight games.
Tampa Bay has scored 24 or more in 7 straight games. 31+ in the past 3 games.
Something’s got to give. As long as Tampa Bay’s offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs can keep Washington’s defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat off Brady and give him time to throw the Bucs should be able to outscore Washington as Tampa Bay has much more firepower on offense.
Look for Brady and the Bucs to make it 11-0 against teams with losing records with a big postseason win on Saturday night. Tampa Bay finished the season with a 5-3 record at home and a 6-2 mark on the road, which should help come Saturday night.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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