Bucs show their potential in win over Lions

by Gary Shelton on December 27, 2020

in general

Evans had 181 yards in receptions./CARMEN MANDATO

Sunday, 4 am.

There are far-off lands, filled with magic and wonder. They are the lands of imagination, and we have heard about them since we were children.




And, around here, the NFL playoffs.

For years, we have heard rumors of the post-season, a place of myth and lore. But around here, it is as fictional as Camelot. A Tampa Bay Buc has not reached the playoffs for 13 years -- when safety Antoine Winfield was nine years old .

Until now.

The Bucs pummeled the Detroit Lions Saturday, 47-7, to clinch the playoffs for the first time since 2007. It was the Bucs' most complete game of the year, the first one where they didn't spend a large part of the game struggling to find their rhythm.

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And, yeah, the easy responses is to point out how utterly miserable the Lions are. On the other hand, Detroit has beaten Washington and Arizona this season, and the Bucs have been wading in their own problems.

“It’s just the beginning," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians."Our goal when we started out – especially in this year – was just to get in the dance. Now it’s to win 11 games, see where we stand, where we’re going and know who we’re playing. I’m really, really proud of our guys. Our guys did a great job of preparing this week. You could feel this was a playoff practice week – even with the holidays they handled their business well.”

In the NFL, they all count. Sure, it would have been more impressive to have beaten the Saints or the Chiefs, but for all of their problems, it was the 10th win of the year for the Bucs. That's the most since 2005.

Besides, this team was always going to be judged by the playoffs. Now, it can be.

“It was a good win," Arians said. "It was exactly what we talked about – you want to go out and get a good start. We’ve deferred the kickoff most of this year – we just decided to put our offense out there [first today] and they delivered. It was exactly what we needed. Our special teams were a little shaky today. Ryan [Succop] 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.”

The Bucs cut through the Lions with little problem Saturday. Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, but he played just a half. He hit 22 of 27 passes for 348 yards and earned the first perfect rating (158.3) of his career. Think about that; Brady has 150 games with a 100 or more rating (plus 15 in the playoffs), but he's never been sharper than he was Sunday.

“(Brady) was great," Arians said. "Any time you have a 158[.3] 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.”

Said Brady: "We played pretty good in the first half today. [We] played really good the whole game. Blaine [Gabbert] went in and did a great job – it was great to see. A lot of guys made plays. Mike [Evans] made a bunch, Chris [Godwin] made a bunch, A.B. (Antonio Brown) made a bunch, Tyler [Johnson] made one, Ke’Shawn [Vaughn] made some, Leonard [Fournette] did. It’s just a great effort by the whole team. Just happy for all of us to win the game and it’s great to be 10-5. We were 7-5 at the Bye Week and then won three straight. It’s been really important and we’ve got another big one next week against Atlanta. Whatever happens after that is bonus for all of us.”

How bad was Detroit? Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert had a 131.4 rating.

Mike Evans had a huge day with 10 catches for 181 yards and two scores. He now has a franchise record of 13 touchdowns this season. Chris Godwin caught passes for 84 more yards.

“I think that’s what we’re capable of," Arians said. "If you can get first downs and chunk plays on first and second down, you can score faster and score more often. We went with no huddle without fast break. We’ve been working on it for a few weeks just to get it in the game. It was a really nice drive that we handled extremely well. I was really happy to see that because we might use it in the playoffs.

"I think we’ve finally gotten used to playing in empty stadiums – it took a while. Today, we had a lot of energy and it was like, ‘OK, 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.”

A lot of Bucs' players -- Brady, Gronkowski, Jason Pierre-Paul, Antonio Brown, Shady McCoy -- have made the playoffs elsewhere. But for others -- Lavante David, Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, -- this is the first time.

Arians is glad to be included.

“It means the world,' Arians said. "This is why you coach – you want to get a chance to win a championship. What a great group of guys we have to coach. [They are] very resilient [and] a fun group. They know their business and they do a great job. Ever since I’ve gotten to Tampa, we’ve never had to ask our guys to work hard. We’ve gotten smarter [and] we’ve gotten more disciplined and it’s starting to show.”

For David, it marked his first trip to the post-season.

"It’s amazing," David said. "Great feeling – everybody knows what it took. Coach made an emphasis on it throughout the year [that] nothing is going to be given – we have to go out and take what we want. We’re here, man. We did it. We clinched a playoff berth, but that’s not it. We’re going to enjoy this moment – I’m going to enjoy this moment for sure. It’s definitely a great feeling to be a part of something like this. I’m definitely grateful.”

Said Evans: “It was a great moment [and] a great experience. We’ve been scratching and clawing every single year to try to make the tournament. It’s been seven years for me, nine for Lavonte [David] and eight for Will Gholston. It’s been a journey, but we are happy we finally accomplished it and that’s just where it starts. We want to go as far as we can.”

The Bucs finish their regular season Sunday at home against Atlanta.

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