Bucs pull away late to end regular season

by Gary Shelton on January 10, 2022

in general

Gronk had a big game for the Bucs./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

Here is the reason they can't survive long in the post-season.

Tom Brady is out of weapons. For three drives Sunday afternoon, he and his Bucs' offense were miserably. For 18 minutes. Brady hit just five of his first 10 passes for 34 yards, and the Bucs trailed 7-3 to a hopeless Carolina team. At the time, it looked like the Bucs were trying to sleepwalk their way to the playoffs.

And here is the reason they might yet win.

Content beyond this point is for members only.

Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the GarySheltonSports.com blog (it's at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!

Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on GarySheltonSports.com.

Brady woke up. Starting with 1:48 to play in the first half, Brady was as frisky as he has ever been. He hit 24 of his last 27 passes for 292 yards, leading the Bucs to a 41-17 victory and the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

So can the Bucs do damage in the playoffs? The Bucs left that question open for discussion Sunday with an uneven performance. Tampa Bay pulled away late to win, but not before again playing down to the level of their opponents for a long stretch.

The Bucs open next week at home against the Eagles. Provided the Bucs can get some players back from injury, they should be favored. But after that, the roads lead to Green Bay again.

Bucs' coach Bruce Arians was certain his team would overcome its slow start.

"There was never any doubt," Arians said. "It was just a matter of let’s get going and normally when we go in no-huddle, we get going pretty good. We didn’t do it early in the game, but the two-minute drive kind of convinced us that’s the way we need to play the second half. Defensively, just gave up too many RPOs (run-pass options). They did a nice job with them, but we’ll correct it and get better.”

Brady had a 100-plus quarterback rating for the 10th time this season. He surpassed 300 yards for the ninth time.

It was a day of records for the Bucs. Brady finished with 5,219 yards, a new personal record. His 43 touchdowns were the second best of his career.

Mike Evans surpassed 1,000 yards for the eighth straight seasons. Rob Gronkowski caught seven passes for 127 yards, allowing him finish with 55 catches for 802 yards, his best year since 2017. As a team, the Bucs won a franchise record 13th game.

None of it began early, however. The Bucs got off to a sluggish start -- gaining only three yards in the first period -- that brought memories of how poorly the team had played against the Jets the week before.

“The first couple drives were pretty crappy, no doubt about that," Gronkowski said. "We can’t have that going forward, every game from here on out is do-or-die, it’s going to be the playoffs. That’s going to hurt us big time if we go out there and we have three drives for 20 yards in the playoffs. We got to clean that up, big time, and I would say we just woke up as an offense and started firing, hitting open guys, getting the run game going. We were just flat in the first three possessions and we can’t have that happen if we’re going to win in the playoffs.”

The Bucs' defense was holding on for much of the game. The Panthers went 70 yards with their first drive and 68 with their third (being stopped on downs on fourth-and-one at the 2).

Still, Brady took over with 108 second to play in the half.

“Thirteen wins and it hasn’t been easy," Arians said. "We had a lot of guys down all season. Different guys have stepped up. Jason [Licht] and [John] Spytek and all those guys put together a hell of a roster and we kept adding to it with veteran players as the season went along. They all came in - Le’Veon [Bell], Breshad Perriman, all of those guys had a big hand in it today. I can’t say enough about our front office having a great roster.”

Brady was happy with the win.

"It just felt good to win today," Brady said. "Whatever happened with the other teams, you can never control any of those things and even for the next game – I don’t know, you’re worried about two games from now, I’m not worried about two games from now, I’m worried about one game from now which is the Eagles. I don’t care if the Rams would’ve won, that’s alright, we still have the Eagles, that’s going to be the biggest game of our season. And if we win, whoever we play, wherever we play, we’re still going and that’s what we want to do.”

The Bucs open their playoffs against the Eagles Sunday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.


Previous post:

Next post: