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 jumped out to a 34-0 lead in Detroit and poured it on to beat the Lions, 47-7, to improve to 10-5 and earn a wild card playoff spot. Led by Tom Brady’s four touchdown passes, the Bucs broke several offensive records the day after Christmas in Tampa Bay’s biggest win of the year.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. Brady, Evans Set Records In Bucs’ Bashing Of Lions
In his 300th career NFL regular season game, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady set a new single-season franchise record on Saturday with 36 touchdowns this year with one game remaining, while helping Tampa Bay improve to 10-5 and earn a wild card playoff berth with a 47-7 victory at Detroit. The 47 points was the fifth-most in team history, and the Bucs clinched a playoff spot to make the postseason for the first time since 2007, ending a 12-year playoff drought.
Brady completed 22-of-27 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns to earn a perfect 158.3 QB rating against the Lions – and only played in the first half. It’s just the third time in his 21-year history that Brady has had a perfect QB rating. Brady was 4-of-4 for 140 yards and two touchdowns on deep passes in the first quarter, which was the best deep ball showing by any NFL quarterback in any quarter so far this year.
“It was great,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “Any time you have a 158 quarterback rating and throw for over 300 yards in a half back-to-back [weeks], it’s pretty special. He’s a pretty special player.”
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs amassed 410 yards by halftime and scored 34 points – both of which were first half records – en route to a franchise-record 588 yards of total offense. Saturday marked the second time this season Tampa Bay had eclipsed 500 yards of offense, as the team produced 544 yards in a win at Carolina.
Brady’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski was Brady’s 33rd of the year, which tied Jameis Winston, who set the previous record with 33 touchdown passes last season. That TD toss gave Tampa Bay an early 6-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter, Brady broke the Bucs’ single-season record with a 27-yard strike to Mike Evans to give the team a 13-0 lead, and added scoring strikes to Chris Godwin, who made a diving, one-handed 7-yard TD catch, and Antonio Brown to give Tampa Bay a 34-0 lead at halftime.
Brady also has three rushing touchdowns on the year, so he’s accounted for 39 scores, which is the most by a quarterback in Tampa Bay history in a single season. Although Saturday was Brady’s 300th career game, it was his 298th career start, which ties Green Bay Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre for the most in NFL history. With 4,234 yards after Saturday’s big performance, Brady also moved up to second place in the team’s single-season passing charts – trailing Winston’s 5,109 yards from a year ago.
Blaine Gabbert replaced Brady after halftime, and completed 9-of-15 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Yet Brady wasn’t the only Buccaneer breaking records on Saturday. Evans finished the game with 10 catches for a season-high 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions. Evans entered the day with 779 receiving yards and needed 221 yards to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the seventh straight year, which would set an NFL record. Evans, who needs just 40 yards to set that record, is currently tied with Hall of Famer Randy Moss, who is his idol.
“We knew – especially [against] this team – Tom went against this defense for 20 years in New England [with] all the calls and everything,” Arians said. “He was very confident that we could get Mike the ball in this ballgame. It was forcing it to him in the second half. Every time Blaine had a chance, we were going to try to get Mike that record. I was hoping he’d get it today and we wouldn’t have to play him next week, but next week will take care of itself. I desperately want that to happen. Whatever he needs – 50 [yards] or whatever he has left – I’m sure Atlanta’s not going to want to give it to him, so we’ll have to find some creative ways to get it for him.”
Evans, who broke his own single-season Bucs receiving touchdown record on Saturday with 13 for the year, became one of just seven receivers in NFL history to have 8,000-plus receiving yards and 60-plus touchdowns in the first seven years in the league, joining Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Brady continued his brilliance against bad teams in the team’s 47-7 win at Detroit. Brady has now thrown 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions in nine wins against teams with losing records. Against teams with winning records, Brady has tossed just nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in five of those games this season. In the last three games since the Bucs’ bye week, Brady has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions, while Evans has had back-to-back 100-yard games over the past two weeks.
The only downside to Tampa Bay’s big win came on special teams. The Bucs’ punt coverage unit allowed a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter to blow the shutout, and normally reliable kicker Ryan Succop missed three kicks – two extra points and a field goal. Tampa Bay beat Detroit by 40 points, which was one point shy of the team’s record of 41 points in terms of margin of victory. Had Succop made all of his kicks the Bucs would have won by 45 points.
“Our special teams were a little shaky today,” Arians said. “Ryan just hates this turf and it showed today. I really wanted that [shutout] and we gave up the punt return [touchdown]. Everything can’t be perfect, but I’m always looking for perfect.”
STATEMENT 2. Bucs’ Road Warrior Mentality Will Help In Playoffs
With Saturday’s 47-7 win at Detroit, the Bucs finish their 2020 road schedule with a 6-2 mark, which is tied for the best record in team history – set in 2002 during the team’s Super Bowl season. Tampa Bay could finish the season with either a 4-4 or a 5-3 record at home this year, depending on the outcome of the season finale at Raymond James Stadium against Atlanta next Sunday.
Bucs HC Bruce Arians and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Last year, in Bruce Arians’ first season in Tampa Bay, the Bucs finished 5-3 on the road and 3-5 on the road. In his two years as the Bucs’ head coach, Arians is now 11-5 on the road and just 7-8 at home.
“I think we’ve finally gotten used to playing in empty stadiums – it took a while,” Arians said. “Today, we had a lot of energy and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re learning how to play in these empty stadiums where there’s absolutely no crowd.’ It’s different than having a partial crowd. We’ve always been a good road team – even in Arizona we were a good road team. This year without the crowd noise it’s so different. Every game is really a home game. It’s just, ‘Hey, let’s go play ball in the parking lot and let’s go.’ Anytime you go 6-2 on the road, you should be in the playoffs – that’s for sure.”
With Tampa Bay’s clinching of a wild card playoff spot on Saturday, coupled with New Orleans clinching the NFC South title on Christmas Day, the Bucs will hit the road in the first round of the postseason. Given their road record, the team’s mastery on the road should serve Tampa Bay well in the postseason.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: They Beat The Lions, But Are The Bucs Ready To Beat A Good Team?
We’ll soon find out, as Tampa Bay is now playoff-bound with a 10-5 record. The Bucs play the Falcons again next Sunday, and have already beaten them in Atlanta.
With Saturday’s win over the Lions – who were missing half of their coaching staff, including their interim head coach and both coordinators due to COVID-19 – the Bucs are now 8-0 against teams with losing records, and 1-4 against teams with winning records this year. That lone victory against a good team came against Green Bay in Week 6 when Tampa Bay came back from a 10-0 deficit in the first quarter to win 38-10. The Bucs have lost to the Saints (11-4) twice, in addition to the Rams (9-5) and Chiefs (13-1). Tampa Bay is 1-1 against teams with a .500 record, losing at Chicago (7-7) and beating Las Vegas (7-7) earlier this year.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
There is a chance that the Bucs could actually face another team with a losing record in the first round of playoffs if Washington, Dallas or the New York Giants win the NFC East with a 7-9 record and the Bucs claim the fifth seed in the NFC by beating the Falcons next Sunday and having the Rams lose one of their last two games.
Los Angeles is currently 9-5 and in control of the fifth seed in the NFC, and has the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage against Tampa Bay. Washington is currently 6-8 and has the lead with two games left, while the Cowboys and Giants are 5-9.
“When you play a half like we did last week and then a half like we did this week, you start stacking those together,” Arians said. “We’re going to be a pretty tough out. I just like the way we’re playing football right now.”
QUESTION 2: Has Tampa Bay Solved Its First Quarter Problems?
It certainly seems like it. Tampa Bay had previously been outscored 76-17 in the first quarter in the 10 previous games, and hadn’t had a lead by the end of the first quarter since a 10-0 lead at Chicago in Week 5.
But all that changed on Saturday in Detroit, as the Bucs turned a 13-0 first quarter lead into a 34-0 halftime advantage en route to a 47-7 rout over the Lions. The Bucs’ 6-0 lead to start Saturday’s game at Detroit was the team’s first since a 3-0 lead over the Giants back on November 2. Tampa Bay increased its first quarter lead to 13-0 after a 27-yard touchdown catch by Mike Evans.
The Bucs out-gained the Lions 192-38 in the first quarter, as Tom Brady completed 9-of-11 passes for 179 yards with two touchdowns, while wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combined for six catches for 141 yards and one touchdown.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
“We like to have [the ball] coming out [for] the second half, so we always defer the coin toss, try to score before the half and get the double score,” Arians said. “This week we felt like we could attack, so we took the football if we won the coin toss and our guys went out and went right down the field. It was something we need desperately just so people would quit talking about it. We were winning, but we weren’t winning nice enough. Today, hopefully it was nice enough.”
The 13 points represented the second-highest point total the Bucs have had this season in the first quarter behind only a 14-0 lead in Week 2 against Carolina. Tampa Bay’s first quarter woes have been atop the mind of players and coaches, in addition to the media and fans, but the team certainly seemed to fix the problem of its awful early starts on Saturday in Detroit.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: White Will Lead The Bucs In Sacks This Year
With four sacks in the last two games, including one Saturday against Detroit, inside linebacker Devin White has a career-high nine sacks heading into the season finale against the Falcons next Sunday. He’s now just a half-sack behind current Bucs’ sack leader Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 9.5, and very well could surpass him for the lead.
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today
White had three sacks two weeks ago at Atlanta, while Pierre-Paul hasn’t had a sack over the past two games and didn’t record a single statistic in the team’s 31-27 comeback win over the Falcons. It’s a close call for Tampa Bay’s sack lead, and even fellow outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who has eight sacks.
Tampa Bay entered the game with 43 sacks, which was tied for the fourth-most in the NFL, and recorded four sacks on Saturday at Detroit. Jeremiah Ledbetter and Anthony Nelson got their first career sacks, in addition to Will Gholston and White also recording QB captures.
The Bucs now have 47 sacks, which ties their total from last season, and is second-most in a single season in franchise history. Tampa Bay’s all-time single season sack record is 55, which was set in 2000.
PREDICTION 2: RoJo Ready To Run Towards History
With Tom Brady and Mike Evans each setting Bucs single-season records on Saturdays, it will be running back Ronald Jones II’s turn to make some history on Sunday against Atlanta. Jones, who has missed the last two games due to COVID-19 and a broken pinkie, has 900 yards rushing on the season. He needs just 100 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career, and to become the Bucs’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Doug Martin ran for 1,402 in 2015.
The Bucs have only had eight 1,000-yard rushers in team history – James Wilder (1984, ’85) Martin (2012, ’15), Warrick Dunn (1997, 2000), Errict Rhett (1994, ’95), Ricky Bell (1979), Cadillac Williams (2005), Reggie Cobb (1992) and LeGarrette Blount (2010). Jones will become the ninth when he hits 1,000 yards on Sunday.
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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