IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Buccaneers’ Balance Earns Playoff Win Over Eagles

Ken Cross

January 17, 2022 at 1:53 pm.

TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a team on a mission to win the first back-to-back Super Bowls since the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots in 2004 and 2005.

While the offense was a picture of efficiency in Tampa Bay’s 31-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and for three quarters the Buccaneers’ defense was equally as dominant. It held the Eagles to 179 total yards through three quarters and kept dynamic quarterback Jalen Hurts in check.

Hurts came into the game orchestrating the NFL’s top running game as Philadelphia averaged 159.7 yards per game on the ground. Sunday, the Eagles finished with only 95 rushing yards as the Tampa Bay rush defense was the antithesis the Eagles did not want to see. It finished third in the NFL, allowing only 92.5 yards per game.

“They’re an explosive offense,” said Bucs’ linebacker Lavonte David, back in action after missing the last three games of the season with an injury. “For us to be able to take away those explosive plays is really big. I feel like the coaches had a great game plan coming into the week and we were going to go out there and execute.”

The Buccaneers had three takeaways including Mike Edwards’ interception of a Hurts pass on the goal line with 43 seconds left in the first half. Hurts rolled against his arm to the left and was looking for DeVonta Smith who was in the end zone.

Edwards was moved into the starting lineup at safety when it was ruled that Sean Murphy-Bunting was out on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

“He’s always that turnover machine that we need and every time we need to make a big play on defense or a play on the football, he makes it and that’s expected,” said David. “Just call him ‘Playmaker Mike’ from here on out.”

Shaq Barrett, another Buccaneer coming back off IR, had the second interception (in the third quarter) as he tipped Hurts’ pass and picked it off on the Tampa Bay 47 and returned it 17 yards to the Eagles’ 36-yard line.  It set up the Buccaneers’ last score which was a 36-yard TD pass from Brady to Evans.

“Shaq’s interception basically gave us the momentum and gave us that spark that we needed,” said cornerback Jamel Dean. “Even though we were playing good, but that was that extra momentum that we needed.”

On offense: The Buccaneers had a pair of first quarter rushing touchdowns from Giovani Bernard and Keyshawn Vaughn, while Brady threw touchdown tosses to Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski.

Tampa Bay dominated the game for three quarters as the Buccaneers rolled up a 31-0 lead through 45 minutes before letting the foot off the gas pedal in the fourth quarter.

Brady passed for 297 yards completing 29 of 37 passes. Mike Evans set a Buccaneers playoff record with nine catches and fell short of his own yardage record by two yards as he finished with 117.

“That was a dime that he threw to Mike for that long touchdown,” said head coach Bruce Arians. “He’s a surgeon. Once he figures you out and we can put him in a position to protect him, he’s going to eat you up.”

Evans set the record of 119 yards last season in the opening playoff win in Washington.

“Dependable, tough, made some huge catches for us. He’s just an amazing player, and he’s just doing great stuff for us,” said Brady. “Always comes through, great red-area target, great on third down.”

Bernard and Vaughn came up big in the Tampa Bay rushing offense that churned out 106 yards on 31 carries. Vaughn led with 17 carries for 53 yards an a 1-yard TD run which gave the Buccaneers a 14-0 lead last in the first quarter.

Bernard was a big factor in the Buccaneers opening touchdown drive and opened the scoring on a two-yard TD run. He also caught two passes for 15 yards on the drive.

Bernard had been out since the 33-27 win over Buffalo in Week 14 with MCL and hip issues.

“Gio Bernard we’ve had in there at different times; he’s been injured,” said Brady. “He had a huge game today for us. Ke’Shawn has taken advantage of his opportunity and done a great job.”

Bernard and Vaughn stepped up in a big way as Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones were still on the injured list.