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The Bucs ended their 12-season playoff drought in convincing fashion Saturday in Detroit, thumping the overmatched Lions 47-7 at Ford Field.
The game concluded shortly after 4 p.m., but it was over after Tampa Bay’s first two possessions, at which point it led 13-0 and Detroit starting quarterback Matthew Stafford was watching from the sideline.
The Bucs (10-5) amassed 410 yards in the first half — most in a half by an NFL team this season — and outgained the Lions (5-10) in total yards, 588-186.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers and was out of the game by halftime, finishing 22-of-27 for 348 yards.
With 36 touchdown passes this season, Brady broke the Bucs’ single-season record of 33 set last season by Jameis Winston.
Wide receiver Mike Evans re-set his franchise single-season record for touchdown receptions with two, giving him 13 for the season.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes and wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown had one apiece.
Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert also got into the act, throwing two scoring passes, including a 25-yard touchdown to Gronkowski on his first attempt.
Running back Leonard Fournette, sharing the rushing load with rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn, added a touchdown on the ground.
Inside linebacker Devin White, with 10 tackles and a sack, led a Bucs defense that didn’t surrender a point.
The Lions’ lone touchdown came on Jamal Agnew’s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Lavonte David forced a fumble that was recovered by Jordan Whitehead. Ex-Lion Jeremiah Ledbetter, William Gholston and Anthony Nelson each added a sack apiece.
If there was cause for concern, it was the performance of usually reliable kicker Ryan Succop, who missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt and two extra-point tries.
Stafford left the game after spraining his right ankle on the Lions’ opening drive.
Mike Evans sets Bucs receiving record
Mike Evans set a Bucs’ single-season record with his 13th touchdown catch of the season, a 22-yard reception from Blaine Gabbert midway through the third quarter.
Evans, who worked himself wide open deep down the left side of the field, gave Tampa Bay a 47-7 lead with 7:07 to play in the quarter.
The touchdown was the second of the game for both Evans and Gabbert, who replaced starter Tom Brady at the beginning of the second half.
Gabbert set up the touchdown with a 16-yard scramble and 35-yard pass to Tyler Johnson.
Lions score, but not against Bucs’ defense
The Lions finally got on the scoreboard about 5-1/2 minutes into the second half But it wasn’t against the Bucs defense, which has been suffocating.
Jamal Agnew returned a Bradley Pinion punt 74 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Bucs’ lead to 40-7 with 9:20 remaining in the third quarter.
One pass, one touchdown for Gabbert
As if the Bucs weren’t having an easy enough time with the Lions, Detroit made things even easier for them at the start of the second half.
On the Lions’ first play from scrimmage, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David forced a D’Andre Swift fumble and safety Jordan Whitehead recovered at the Detroit 25.
On the very next play, Bucs quarterback Blaine Gabbert — that’s right, Blaine Gabbert — threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Ryan Succop missed his second extra-point try of the game, leaving Tampa Bay’s lead at 40-0.
The Bucs have scored touchdowns on six of their first seven drives in the game.
Brady was rested after throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, staking the Bucs to a 34-0 lead.
Halftime: Bucs 34, Lions 0
Is it possible to invoke the mercy rule?
Already up four touchdowns, the Bucs continued to attack the Lions’ secondary late in the second quarter, driving 66 yards for yet another score.
Tom Brady hit Antonio Brown for a 12-yard touchdown on a skinny post, putting the Bucs ahead 34-0 with 1:14 to play in the first half.
The touchdown was Brady’s fourth of the half, to four different receivers.
Brady had a 23-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin nullified earlier in the drive when tackle Donovan Smith was penalized for being illegally downfield.
The Bucs amassed 410 yards in the half, most of them through the air. Brady was 22-of-27 for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Mike Evans had six receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. Godwin made five catches for 84 yards and a score. Brown and Rob Gronkowski gathered in the other touchdown receptions.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn (35 yards) and Leonard Fournette (34) combined for 69 yards on the ground, Fournette scoring on a 4-yard run.
Tampa Bay’s defense limited Detroit to 87 total yards. Jason Pierre-Paul led the way with four tackles and a sack. Ex-Lion Jeremiah Ledbetter also recorded a sack.
Bucs storm to four-touchdown lead
The Bucs continued to have their way with the Lions’ defense, driving 91 yards for their fourth touchdown with just under five minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Tom Brady’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, Brady’s third of the half to a third different receiver, gave the Bucs a 27-0 lead.
Brady got the drive started, throwing passes of 20 yards to Tanner Hudson and 22 to Mike Evans, before handing the reigns to rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who rushed three times for 35 yards to set up Godwin’s touchdown reception.
Brady has already thrown for 272 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-18 passing.
Fournette gets involved
The Bucs started the second quarter in the same place they spent much of the first.
The end zone.
Leonard Fournette’s 4-yard run less than 3 minutes into the quarter extended the Bucs’ lead over the overmatched Lions to 20-0.
The run capped a six-play, 51-yard scoring drive.
Fournette accounted for all but 12 yards on the drive, catching two passes for 25 yards and rushing three times for 14.
Chris Godwin’s 13-yard reception accounted for the other yards.
Stafford out, Daniel in
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford left the game with a right ankle sprain and was replaced by Chase Daniel for Detroit’s second drive.
Former Lion Jeremiah Ledbetter gave Daniel a rude welcome on his third dropback, sacking him for an 11-yard loss and forcing a punt.
It marked the third straight game in which Daniel has come in to replace Stafford.
Bucs beating Lions deep
What was that about slow starts?
The Bucs showed they can score early as well as late, jumping out to a 13-0 lead over the Lions little more than halfway through the first quarter.
They also showed that the Lions have no answer for their deep passing game, as Tom Brady’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans with 7:39 left in the first quarter was the Bucs’ fourth completion of 25 yards or more.
Brady had 33 yard completions to Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski on Tampa Bay’s opening drive.
The touchdown pass was Brady’s 34th of the season, breaking the franchise single-season record set last season by Jameis Winston.
Two plays earlier, Brady hit Godwin down the middle of the field for 47 yards to the Lions 25.
Bucs stymie Lions’ opening drive
The Bucs’ defense limited the Lions to four plays on their first drive of the game.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford found Danny Amendola for 15 yards and a first down on Detroit’s first play from scrimmage, but Tampa Bay allowed only nine yards on the next three plays, setting up fourth-and-1 from the Lions 49.
Detroit lined up in an attempt to lure the Bucs offside, but tackle Taylor Decker was penalized for a false start, pushing the Lions back 5 yards and forcing a punt.
Brady hits Gronkowski for early score
The Bucs didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard Saturday in Detroit, as Tom Brady threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski to give the Bucs a 6-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
It appeared the Bucs would go three-and-out when Brady was sacked on 3rd-and-9 from the Tampa Bay 19. But Lions defensive end Everson Griffen was offside on the play.
Brady found Chris Godwin over the middle for 8 yards and a first down on the next play.
A 33-yard pass to Mike Evans moved the ball to the Detroit 35.
Two plays later, Brady hit Gronkowski deep down the right sideline for a touchdown.
Ryan Succop missed the extra-point try.
The score gave the Bucs their first first-quarter lead since Week 8 against the Giants.
A chance to clinch
This is the day, right?
The day the Bucs (9-5) end more than a decade of futility and finally secure a spot in the playoffs.
A Christmas present a day late and 12 seasons overdue.
All it will take is a win over the 5-9 Lions this afternoon at Ford Field in Detroit. Or a victory next week over the 4-10 Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Even a Bears loss either of the next two weeks will do the trick.
Win, and memories of Jameis Winston throwing pick-sixes, Greg Schiano calling blitzes on kneel-down plays, MRSA outbreaks and Josh Freeman’s wasted potential will be replaced by recollections of Derrick Brooks patrolling sideline to sideline, Mike Alstott carrying defenders on his back, John Lynch punishing receivers and Ronde Barber returning interceptions for touchdowns.
Of course, it will be business as usual for quarterback Tom Brady, who made the playoffs in 18 of his 20 seasons with the Patriots.
But you know doing it for the first time without New England coach Bill Belichick has to mean something to the six-time Super Bowl champion.
And it will mean the world to Bucs veterans such as linebacker Lavonte David (nine seasons), defensive lineman William Gholston (eight) and wide receiver Mike Evans (seven), lifetime Buccaneers who have never been to the postseason.
And the Bucs can’t possibly become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium if they don’t first make the field.
Cornerback Carlton Davis, who leads the Bucs in interceptions and the league in pass breakups, is inactive with a groin injury. Running Ronald Jones, who remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list, is expected to miss a second straight game.
Detroit has problems of its own. Due to COVID-19 issues, the Lions will be without five coaches for today’s game, including interim head coach Darrell Bevell.
So, will today be the day the Bucs shed their recent past?
Follow along, starting at 1 p.m., as Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and the new-look Bucs have the chance to deliver on the hope they promised when they were signed amid much acclaim this offseason.
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A little light reading
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game: