Bucs’ offense takes over in big victory

by Gary Shelton on January 4, 2021

in general

Monday, 4 a.m.

Celebrate, if you want. You've been waiting long enough.

The Tampa Bay Bucs -- the woebegone Tampa Bay Bucs, the haven of lost coaches and wayward game plans -- are finally in the playoffs again. They picked up their 11th win of the season Sunday, besting the Atlanta Falcons 44-27, to advance to the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons. Tom Brady was excellent, and his receivers were terrific, and the Falcons couldn't hang with them.

Or worry, if you prefer. The Bucs are running out of players, to be honest Wide receiver Mike Evans hurt his left knee Sunday, and the Bucs were already without linebackers Devin White and Shaq Barrett, nose tackle Steve McClendon and corner Carlton Davis III. Evans was injured shortly after setting an NFL record with his seventh straight 1,000-yard season. Reports said that Evans had no structural damage to the knee, but his health for the playoffs is in question.

Cheer? Vex?

Or, if you are a fan, you can do both.

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"It meant the world for (Evans) to get that record and then to have an easy touchdown," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians. "The turf was really slick in the ed zones and it was just a freaky thing. Knock on wood -- we don't think there is any serious damage. We'll know more in the next 24 hours.

"He's a big part of the leadership. It was just 'Hey, you you guys step up. Scotty (Miller), Tyler (Johnson) step up. A.B. (Antonio Bryant) go play 'X; (receiver) and let's go. There's nothing we could do about it at the time. It sounds cold at times, but you have to go on. We've done a good job of that all the time and I think we'll reflect on that when we see them tomorrow."

As a team, the Bucs kicked in the door of the post-season. They won their fourth straight game, scoring 148 points in their wins, as the Bucs seemed like a team finally gaining its rhythm. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns.

For the season, Brady had 40 touchdowns and 4,533 yards. He had six 300-yard games and 10 with a rating of more than 100 points.

"It was going to be one of those games," Arians said. "It's bothering me that Brady got an interception, but he played fantastic. He's been on fire since the bye week. and we scored on every possesion except that one and the kneel down. We've kicked too many field goals, but it wasn't him. He's been fantastic."

In the four games since the bye week, Brady has hit 94 of 136 passes for 1,333 yards. He has 12 touchdowns to one interception and a a rating of 126.9.

“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.”

Ah, but fans always have something to concern them, don't they? Barely into the second quarter, Evans hurt his knee as he failed to make a catch in the end zone.

"It’s always tough when you see guys go out," Brady said. "Mike [Evans] – 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. Chris [Godwin] keeps making plays, Scotty [Miller] did a good job, Tyler [Johnson] made some plays, Gronk (Rob Gronkowski), Cam [Brate], everyone – A.B. (Antonio Brown), obviously [as well]. Just got to keep it going. We’ve got a big one next week – it all comes down to one game. Now that the regular season’s over, it’s about one football game. Who plays well [and] who executes when the pressure is on?”

Brady is an admitted fan of Evans.

“Consistent, dependable, tough, great playmaker, great attitude, great teammate, he’s selfless [and] never talks about his own accomplishments," Brady said. "Great for him to be a part of what we’ve got going. I love everything I see from him from a quarterback standpoint – just his attitude and what he brings to our team.”

In Evans absence, Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 138 yards and Chris Godwin caught five for 133.

Still, Evans has been the best receiver on the Bucs. Just before his injury, Evans became the first receiver in NFL history with 1,000 yards or more in seven consecutive seasons.

Defensively, the Bucs struggled with so many starters out, but the Bucs were able to pull away when Atlanta closed to within three points twice in the second half.

"It's kind of what we do, right?" said linebacker Kevin Minter, who played instead of White. "Coach always talks about 'next man up.' That's something we try to live by in this locker room. Regardless of who is down, no excuses. We are all Bucs and we all have a goal in mind. We're all trying to get to a championship. I'll be damned if I'm going to be the one to let my team down."

"The guys are doing a great job making plays," Brady said. "Like I said, it's about what we're doing on offense. I've got to try to give those guys a chance and they're coming down with them. Chris (Godwin) comes down with them. A.B. does. Mike does. Scotty does. We're just going to keep challenging different parts of the field and our guys are making a lot of great plays. We've got to keep it going."

Godwin had his first 100-yard game of the season, but part of his attention was on Evans.

"It’s definitely a rollercoaster of emotions," Godwin said. "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.

“I don’t necessarily know if words can really describe (how Evans has helped him). Mike – he’s been such a great teammate to me from the day I got here. He has helped instill confidence in me and helped guide me in the early part of my career. Like I said, he’s been a great teammate – he is a brother of mine. Watching him go to work and watching him be so dominant, I have been able to take things from his game and apply them to mine. I tip my hat off to Mike [Evans], he knows how I feel about him, but I’m glad he’s getting the recognition he deserves.”

The Bucs open their playoffs Saturday night with a trip to NFC East winner Washington, which was only 7-9 this season. The Bucs, however, have fared poorly in prime time games this year, going 1-3 (the losses coming to the Bears, Saints and Rams).

The game is scheduled for 8:15 p.m.

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