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The Bucs stormed to a 31-point lead en route to a 31-15 victory over the Eagles in their playoff opener Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, and Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn added scoring runs as Tampa Bay advanced to the divisional round with a victory in the NFC wild-card game.
Bernard and Vaughn had touchdown runs of 2 and 1 yards, respectively, as the Bucs scored on their first two possessions of the game. Ryan Succop added a 34-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 17-0 lead at halftime.
Brady threw touchdown passes of 2 yards to tight end Rob Gronkowski and 36 to wide receiver Mike Evans in the third quarter to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 31-0.
Boston Scott finally put the Eagles on the scoreboard with a 34-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia added a second score on Jalen Hurts’ 16-yard pass to Kenneth Gainwell.
Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception. Evans caught nine passes for 117 yards and the one score.
In the absence of injured Leonard Fournette, Vaughn and Bernard combined to rush for 97 yards and two touchdowns. They caught seven passes for another 48 yards.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Tristan Wirfs both left the game in the first quarter with apparent ankle injuries. Jensen returned for the following possession. Wirfs returned briefly late in the second quarter before being ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Mike Edwards and Shaquil Barrett each intercepted passes, and Ross Cockrell recovered a fumble on special teams. Antoine Winfield Jr. and Steve McLendon recorded sacks. Edwards had a team-leading nine tackles, all unassisted.
Here’s how it happened:
Making it look easy
To watch the Eagles on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, you’d think they’d had their way with the Bucs defense throughout the afternoon.
DeVonta Smith took a short Jalen Hurts pass 31 yards to the Tampa Bay 34-yard line. One play later, Boston Scott burst through a huge hole over left guard for a 34-yard touchdown.
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Two plays, 65 yards, touchdown.
On its next possession, Philadelphia drove 93 yards on 10 plays, culminating with Hurts’ 16-yard scoring pass to Kenneth Gainwell. Hurts’ two-point conversion pass to DeVonta Smith narrowed the Eagles’ deficit to 31-15.
Of course, the Eagles’ inability to move the ball against that same defense for the 48 minutes preceding those two drives were the reason they still trailed by two scores (and two two-point conversions) as time ticked down in the fourth quarter.
From bad to worse
The Eagles continued to dig themselves a bigger hole late in the third quarter, as Jalen Hurts’ throw on fourth and 3 from the Philadelphia 46 was tipped and intercepted by Shaquil Barrett at the Tampa Bay 47 and returned 18 yards to the Eagles’ 36.
It was Philadelphia’s third turnover of the game.
As he often does, Brady went straight for the jugular, throwing a 36-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans on the very next play.
Reversal of fortune
The Eagles had their best chance to cut into their deficit when they forced a three-and-out deep in Bucs territory early in the third quarter.
But they gave Tampa Bay the ball right back when Jalen Reagor muffed Bradley Pinion’s punt and Ross Cockrell recoved at the Philadelphia 48.
The Bucs immediately took advantage, as Giovani Bernard took a Tom Brady pass 22 yards to the 26. Three plays later, Brady found Mike Evans for 17 yards to the 2.
With the Eagles expecting a run, Brady fired a pass over top of the defense to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the end zone. The touchdown extended the Bucs’ lead to 24-0 with 7:38 left in the quarter.
Going the wrong way
The Eagles were their own worst enemy during a late second-quarter drive that they hoped might help them get back into the game.
A holding penalty against center Jason Kelce negated a 30-yard catch and run by Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert just before the two-minute warning.
Philadelphia further hurt itself when an offensive pass interference penalty against wide receiver Quez Watkins resulted in a 10-yard loss, putting it into a second-and-20 situation from its 29.
Things briefly looked better when Jalen Hurts connected with a leaping Watkins for a 35-yard gain — easily Philadelphia’s longest of the day — giving the Eagles a first down at the Bucs 27.
But two plays later, Mike Edwards intercepted Hurts in the end zone, returning possession to Tampa Bay.
Down 17 points with just over six minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Eagles were forced to try for a first down on fourth and 4 from the Bucs 47, their first time past midfield.
Jalen Hurts found tight end Dallas Goedert on an out pattern for 10 yards and a first down at the 37.
But a Goedert drop, Miles Sanders 1-yard loss and 1-yard Sanders reception quickly put the Eagles back into a fourth-down situation.
Hurts’ pass for Jalen Reagor on fourth and 10 was incomplete, giving the Bucs’ possession. Cornerback Carlton Davis, who was in coverage on the play, was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for taking helmet off, pushing Tampa Bay back to its 22.
The Bucs were unable to take advantage, punting the ball back to the Eagles after Tom Brady was sacked on third down.
Sharing the wealth
Tom Brady doesn’t worry about which receivers he doesn’t have available. He makes the most of the ones he does have.
Despite being without 49 percent of the Bucs’ offense in Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown and Ronald Jones, Brady completed passes to four different receivers on an early second-quarter field-goal drive.
Brady connected with Mike Evans twice for 27 yards, hit Scotty Miller for 8, found Ke’Shawn Vaughn for 5 and Tyler Johnson for 13 to give the Bucs a first down at the Eagles 5.
Unfortunately, that was as far as they got. A push pass for Giovani Bernard resulted in a 4-yard loss, and Tampa Bay lost 7 more yards when Brady was sacked by Derek Barnett and Javon Hargrave.
The Bucs had to settle for Ryan Succop’s 34-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.
Wirfs exits with ankle injury
The Bucs’ 14-0 first-quarter lead against the Eagles came at a steep price.
Two Pro Bowl offensive linemen, right tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen, limped off the field.
Jensen, however, returned early in the second quarter. Wirfs briefly returned late in the second quarter before being ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Read Joey Knight’s full story here.
With his timing with some of his receivers a bit off on the first two drives, Tom Brady looked to his most-trusted targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans, during the Bucs’ third chance with the ball.
Completions of 13 and 8 yards to Gronkowski moved the ball from the Tampa Bay 32 to the Philadelphia 47.
After a 17-yard pass to Tyler Johnson, Brady connected with Evans twice for 24 yards to move the ball to the Eagles 6.
From there, the Bucs turned things over to running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who carried three times, including a 1-yard touchdown run over left guard, to give the Bucs a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Center Ryan Jensen sustained what appeared to be an ankle injury on the play. He insisted on walking off under his own power and returned for the Bucs’ next possession.
The Bucs defense forced the Eagles to go three-and-out on their opening possession.
After Miles Sanders’ 7-yard run around right end set up second and 3, the Philadelphia offense went backwards.
Linebacker Devin White stopped running back Boston Scott after a 1-yard reception, and White and Jordan Whitehead dropped Jalen Hurts for a 3-yard loss around left end.
Things got worse for the Eagles when Arryn Siposs shanked a 27-yard punt, giving the Bucs the ball back at Tampa Bay’s 43-yard line.
Drawing first blood
Tom Brady moved the ball methodically down the field on the Bucs’ opening possession, which culminated with Giovani Bernard’s 2-yard touchdown run over right guard.
Breshad Perriman and Rob Gronkowski made key blocks to help Bernard into the end zone.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn got things started with a 17-yard run up the middle on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Bucs a first down at their 42-yard line. Tristan Wirfs pulled from his right tackle spot to open the hole.
The Bucs got a break when Derek Barnett was penalized 15 yards for roughing the passer, giving Tampa Bay a first down at the Philadelphia 43.
Wirfs sustained an ankle injury two plays later, on an incomplete pass for Breshad Perriman, and needed help to limp to the locker room. Josh Wells replaced him.
Brady kept the driving with third-down completions of 8 yards to Mike Evans and 9 to Giovani Bernard.
Which Bucs squad will we see?
It was a rout, until it wasn’t.
Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to O.J. Howard and Antonio Brown on the Bucs’ first two possessions, and Tampa Bay moved out to a 21-point lead on Leonard Fournette’s third-quarter scoring run Oct. 14 in Philadelphia.
Game over, right?
Not so fast.
Jalen Hurts brought the Eagles back with two scoring runs and a two-point conversion pass to cut their deficit to six points with just under six minutes to play. The Bucs needed a 27-yard pass from Brady to Brown on third and 7 in the final minutes to hold on for a 28-22 victory.
So, how does that make you feel about today’s NFC wild-card game? Are you expecting to see the Bucs squad that stormed to a three-touchdown lead? Or the one that nearly gave the game away in the final quarter?
Two of Tampa Bay’s biggest playmakers in that game, Brown (released) and Fournette (injured), won’t play today. Fournette’s backup, Ronald Jones (ankle), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (hamstring) and wide receiver Cyril Grayson (hamstring) also are out.
But as Brady and — to be fair — the Bucs defense have shown throughout the season, they can can make do with pretty much any supporting cast you leave them, with successful results.
Linebacker Kevin Minter and defensive backs Dee Delaney and Ross Cockrell played big roles in the regular-season win over the Eagles, while receivers Grayson, Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson were among those who helped to provide the offense in late-season victories.
The Bucs won in Philadelphia without tight end Rob Gronkowski (maybe their most clutch receiver), linebacker Lavonte David (their second-leading tackler) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr., all who will be active today. Running back Giovani Bernard and linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, who missed recent games with injuries, also are back.
A Bucs defense that has struggled against the run in recent weeks can use the reinforcements against a run-centric Eagles offense that runs through quarterback Jalen Hurts but spreads the ball among as many as a half-dozen different ballcarriers, including speedy Miles Sanders.
Can the Bucs avoid a first-round playoff scare like they got last season against Washington? Will they take their game to another level as they did later in their run to Super Bowl 55? What might it mean for Brady’s future in Tampa Bay?
We’ll find out, starting today.
Murphy-Bunting inactive for playoff opener
Injured Bucs starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting has been deemed inactive for today’s playoff opener against the Eagles, the latest blow to an injury-besieged lineup entering the postseason.
Read Joey Knight’s full story here.
Who’s in/who’s out
What it’s like for Fox Sports camera crews
Organized chaos. That’s how NFL on Fox director Rich Russo likes to describe all the work that goes into executing a live event television broadcast.
Led by Russo and NFL on Fox producer Richie Zyontz, hundreds of people will be helping deliver the Bucs-Eagles wild-card game to millions of homes throughout the country. This includes Fox employees working onsite in Tampa and back in the studios in Los Angeles.
Read Rachel West’s full story here.
Game day scene
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A read on the game
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