TAMPA — The Bucs offensive line is hurting.
All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs is in a walking boot. His backup, Josh Wells, has a quad injury. Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen gutted out Sunday’s 31-15 win over the Eagles with a severely sprained ankle but finished the game because “that thing was going to have to be broken for him not to go back in,” Bruce Arians said.
All in time for a Rams defense that has added Von Miller to a lineup that already included Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd and notched 50 sacks during the regular season, third-most in the league.
Good luck in Sunday’s NFC division playoff game, fellas.
You’ve got 2.17 seconds to get to Tom Brady.
That’s how long Brady held the football before passes in the NFC wild-card game, the quickest of any quarterback this season, according to NextGen Stats.
Brady was sacked four times Sunday, including twice by Eagles defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. But on one of those plays, Wirfs attempted to return to the game, discovered his sprained ankle he injured on the opening possession wouldn’t hold up and was done for the day.
“I thought Josh Wells — other than the one bull rush — I thought he played really (well) because he was playing on a bad leg, too,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Our inside guys got beat on a couple of twists. That shouldn’t have happened. We misread what we thought they were going to do and we turned the guy loose. Easy things to correct.”
Meanwhile, Brady offers the best protection for Brady.
Quite simply, there’s no defense that can fool him, and he demonstrated that he’s patient enough to surgically carve up an Eagles unit bent on preventing the big play.
Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against Philadelphia.
The Bucs had not won a playoff game since 2002 before Brady showed up last year and are 5-0 in the postseason since.
Arians said Brady determines where the football is going before the snap but can also identify the rotation of the defense post-snap.
“He’s extremely good at that,” Arians said. “It might not be to the guy, but he knows the combination. As soon as the ball is snapped, that combination, he deciphers right now which one’s getting it. That’s as simple as you can make the game for the quarterback, but a lot of them can’t process that information, brother.”
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Late in Sunday’s game, Brady adjusted Mike Evans’ route at the line of scrimmage and the play resulted in a 36-yard touchdown pass.
“Good thing he did,” Evans said of Brady’s adjustment. “Because it led to a touchdown.”
With Chris Godwin out for the season with a torn ACL and Antonio Brown released, Brady has had to rely more heavily on Evans. Not surprisingly, Evans has responded with 15 receptions for 206 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games.
Arians is fond of saying that once Brady figures a team out, they’re in trouble. What does he mean by that?
“Everybody has something new each and every week, how they’re going to try and defend us,” Arians said. “We had two gameplans — one if the weather (rainy, gusty) didn’t change and then one if the weather did. Obviously, we went with the one we liked the most and that’s the no-huddle.
“Just doing a really good job with short intermediate passes, getting it out of his hands, knowing they were going to play soft. I thought (offensive coordinator) Byron (Leftwich) did a great job of running the ball and making them stop the run, which opened up a couple of guys one-on-one.”
The Bucs started the last two games with an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. That’s as much to infuse some energy and urgency in the way they start games as it is to prevent the opposing defense from substituting.
“A little bit of both — tire out that defensive line quick, as much as we can,” Arians said. “But when you look back and do the self-scout, that’s when we’ve been at our best this year. So why not do it more?”
Brady hasn’t blinked despite watching the talent on offense evaporate. While relying heavily on Evans and Rob Gronkowski, lots of other players have stepped up, including Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller and running backs Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard.
“I think everybody is seeing what I’ve always known about Ke’Shawn Vaughn, that he’s a legit player,” Arians said. “The receivers have all stepped in and done their job.”
But the answer to nearly every problem has been Brady. The Rams sacked him three times in a 34-24 win over the Bucs in Week 3 at SoFi Stadium in a game that saw Gronkowski go down with fractured ribs and a punctured lung.
The health of the offensive line is a concern, sure. Brady has a few days to figure it out.
“I don’t ever take it for granted,” Evans said of playing with Brady. “When he came to this team, I knew he was going to change the franchise. He’s done that and then some.”
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.