PHILADELPHIA — After hanging on to beat the Eagles 28-22 to win their third game in 12 days, Bucs players were in no mood to talk about style points as they filed out of Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night.
Tom Brady — or Tom Thumb as he may be known for the most scrutinized injured digit in the NFL — sounded pretty upbeat for being so beaten up.
“I feel great, I really do,” Brady said after passing for 297 yards and two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay had lost another defensive back, veteran Richard Sherman, whose right hamstring blew out in the first quarter. “It’s not the first time we’ve had a DB go down,” said cornerback Jamel Dean.
Receiver Antonio Brown gutted out another solid performance despite struggling with a foot injury in the first half, icing the game (and later his body) with a 27-yard catch on third down from midfield after the Bucs’ 28-7 lead had shrunk to six points late in the fourth quarter.
“It was huge. Great route and a hell of a throw,” coach Bruce Arians said of Brown. “Tom got out of the pocket, and that’s a couple times this year he got out of the pocket to the right and made big plays down the field.”
Not many people had players such as Dee Delaney, Kevin Minter or Ross Cockrell playing such huge roles for the Bucs this early. But they were the ones making plays Thursday while starters such as tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs), linebacker Lavonte David (knee) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) were left back at home.
The Bucs are on bruise control. After bone-crunching wins over the Patriots, Dolphins and Eagles since Oct. 3, Tampa Bay is 5-1 and in desperate need of the upcoming mini-break to heal up.
Bucs players are off until next Tuesday, when they begin preparing to host the Bears on Oct. 24.
“We really need this rest, and hopefully we’ll see who we can get back, if anybody,” Arians said. “But the ones that have been playing, they definitely need the time off.”
Fortunately, Tampa Bay has one of the most physical runners in the NFL in Leonard Fournette, who exacted his own measure of punishment against the Eagles on Thursday.
The Bucs’ do-it-all back gained 127 yards from scrimmage — 81 rushing and 46 receiving — as had a pair of rushing touchdowns.
“You see the defensive guys jumping up and down on the sidelines,” Arians said of Fournette’s impact. ”And Ro (Ronald Jones) ran really well, too. It’s a hell of a 1-2 punch, but yeah, Lenny is punishing people.”
Playing with tape on his injured right thumb, Brady came out firing as if it were a continuation of Sunday’s electrifying performance against the Dolphins.
He started Thursday 11-of-12 for 121 yards, throwing touchdown passes to tight end O.J. Howard (2 yards) and Brown (23).
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The Bucs defense played well. But receiver Jalen Reagor drew pass-interference penalties of 45 yards on Dean and 50 yards on safety Mike Edwards to set up a pair of Eagles touchdowns.
“Really pleased with the guys that had to step in,” Arians said. “Dee Delaney, Kevin Minter ― guys that stepped in and played really well for us. Penalties were huge in this game again. I thought we’d eliminated those, but we had a couple, just getting our head around and defending the ball better on defense.”
Dean had his second pick in as many games. Overall, the Bucs did a good job of containing Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who passed for 115 yards, with a TD, and rushed for 44 and two scores. Tampa Bay dominated in first downs (27-16), total yards (399-213) and time of possession (39:56-20:04). Even so, the Eagles hung around.
Leading by two touchdowns, Arians took a big chance that didn’t pay off, gambling on fourth and 3 near midfield. Brady’s pass to Howard was long, and the Eagles cut the Bucs lead to 28-22 when Hurts scored on a 1-yard run and Quez Watkins caught the two-point conversion pass.
“Trying to ice it and trust our offense to get it done and we didn’t get it done,’' Arians said. “You win some, you lose some.’'
That made it a six-point game with 5:54 remaining.
But Brown’s 27-yard reception from Brady on third and 7 from the Eagles 45 helped salt the game away. Arians said Brown was the third read on the play.
“A.B. made a great play,” Brady said. “He got underneath the guy and found space. That’s what he’s done his whole career. He made a huge play. It was awesome.”
Now comes the payoff, an extended rest for the Bucs, with the hope of getting some of their injured stars back.
“I’m going to enjoy it,” Dean said. “This week? It was a stretch. Legs were sore. Body sore, you know? So I’m glad I got these 10 days to get our body back right.”
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