TAMPA — Twenty-four players on the Bucs’ active roster either sipped champagne or picked confetti out of their hair in the winning locker room following their 31-9 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl 55 two years ago.
That doesn’t include four who currently are on injured reserve, so there’s a significant amount of playoff experience heading into Monday Night’s NFC wild-card game against the Cowboys.
Players from the past two teams shared their experiences this week with rookies and even some veterans who are new to the postseason.
“I remember telling my receivers coach this was my first time in the postseason,” said Bucs receiver Russell Gage, who never reached the playoffs in four seasons with the Falcons. “By this time, I think I told you guys, I was shipping cars home and everything, so it’s just exciting. There’s a lot of things that are going on. A potential Super Bowl, all of those things are in effect now, so I’m excited.”
Gage has received plenty of advice from his teammates, some who will be playing in their seventh playoff game since 2020.
“Honestly, they’ve been telling me all year,” Gage said. “‘Wait until we get into the playoffs, wait until we get into the playoffs. It’s so much more exciting, (there’s) so much more energy.’ ... So to finally be here, I feel like the little brother to all of them. ...
“I don’t want to oversell it or anything, but I’m excited.”
The temptation, of course, for players experiencing the postseason for the first time is to try and do too much. But more than ever, it’s about managing your pulse rate and focusing on the keys and fundamentals.
“For sure, and I kind of tell that to myself, too,” Gage said. “You know, go out there and take it play by play. Don’t try to be the hero or do the most on certain downs or anything like that. And I guess I can see where that could be a thing.”
Bucs tackle Tristan Wirfs, who was a rookie from Iowa when the Bucs won Super Bowl 55, said players have to understand the urgency.
“As much as I think everyone says it’s just another game, you’ve got to go out there and play like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t,” Wirfs said. “I think try your best to treat it like another game. I try not to get too high or too low throughout the whole season, so I try not to treat this week any differently.”
Bucs co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said giving up a first down almost feels like yielding a score because the stakes are so big and every play is magnified.
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“That makes sense; that’s a good way to put it,” Wirfs said. “I just think every yard matters. Every minute you have the ball matters.”
The Bucs are 5-1 in the playoffs with Tom Brady while the Cowboys have gone 4-11 in the postseason since winning their last Super Bowl in the 1995 season.
Of course, nobody has more playoff experience than Brady, who is 35-12 overall in the postseason. That blows away the other NFC quarterbacks like the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (1-3), Vikings’ Kirk Cousins (1-3) and Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (0-1). The 49ers’ Brock Purdy, Giants’ Daniel Jones and Seahawks’ Geno Smith are making their first playoff starts.
“I feel there’s a lot urgency naturally this week,” Brady said. “Everyone knows what we’re playing for. You’re playing for a chance to move on. There’s no, ‘Oh, we were close,’ or, ‘It was almost there. Two more plays.’ Look at two seasons ago. We ended up winning it all (and) there was a lot of really close plays.
“Last year, it came down to plays at the end of the game that (the Rams) made and we didn’t. You’re going to have make the plays at the end. It’s tough because there’s good teams and there’s little margin of error.”
Hot take: Bucs are playing with house money
ESPN’s First Take will broadcast two live shows at the Tampa Convention Center on Monday morning as part of the network’s lead-up to the Bucs-Cowboys game on Monday Night Football.
Stephen A. Smith is a noted Cowboys antagonist but absolutely loves the interaction with their fans. Performing the show live gets his juices flowing, and his blender is always on the highest speed anyway.
“Cowboys fans, they boo the hell out of me,” Smith said. “I do not care. I’m very sincere when I say their misery over the Cowboys losing is something that makes me feel very, very good. They’re always champions in their eyes no matter how many times they lose and come up short. ... But I also emphasize to a lot of people that it’s all in fun. When you root for a team, there’s always a team you hate. A team you love to hate.
“It’s just sports fandom. It doesn’t stop me from talking to Cowboys fans or taking pictures with them and all this stuff.”
While the Cowboys are 12-5. Smith says they face a lot more pressure going into this game than Brady and the Bucs.
“I think the Bucs are playing with house money,” Smith said. “They’re 8-9, they’re universally recognized as an average team or subpar team. A lot of people have been disappointed with what we’ve seen. There might be pressure with Todd Bowles. But there’s no pressure on Tom Brady. His legacy is etched in stone and we know it.
“But there’s no way the pressure comes remotely close to what’s on the shoulders of the Dallas Cowboys. With all the talking Cowboys Nation has done, with Jerry Jones knowing his clock is ticking. He’s spoken about his own mortality on several occasions. When Mike McCarthy knows if he loses this game, it’s quite possible Jerry Jones could decide to go in another direction.
“The fact of the matter is, there’s an immense amount of pressure, more pressure, on the Dallas Cowboys. They know it, no matter what they say.”
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