Countdown to the NFC Championship Game

Here we stand, about 48 hours from the NFC Championship game between the Buccaneers and the Packers in Green Bay.  Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers.  Around 6:30 Sunday night, we should know whether the Bucs will be playing in Super Bowl XV, in their home stadium.

The Bucs got some good news and bad news on Friday.  First, the good news: nose tackle Vita Vea, who was thought to be out for the season, has been activated for the game.  This will give a big (literally) boost to Tampa Bay’s defense as they face a potent Green Bay offense.

On the downside, Antonio Brown has been ruled out.  Fortunately, the Bucs still have plenty of weapons in the passing game to make up for his absence.

This is only the fourth time ever that Tampa Bay has made it to the NFC title game.  The Bucs are 1-2 all time, with the last one being the victory over the Eagles in the 2002 season that sent the Buccaneers on their way to becoming Super Bowl champs.  They lost their other two appearances – in 1979 and 1999.

These two teams have only met one other time in the postseason.  In January 1998, the Bucs went to Lambeau Field and lost, 21-7, in the divisional round.

Never before has there been a ‘Battle of the Bays’ with so much at stake.  These two teams used play each other twice a year, back in the old NFC Central days.  I expect a terrific ballgame in Green Bay on Sunday.

ONE WIN FROM THE SUPER BOWL!

Bucs fans: our team is one win away from playing in the Super Bowl.  One more win.

The only thing standing in the way is a victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.  Of course, that means a trip to frigid Lambeau Field.  But it can be done.

On Sunday, the Bucs knocked off the Saints in the divisional round, 30-20.  This is the same New Orleans team that humiliated the Bucs on national TV in week 9.  But the same unit that got shredded in that game – the secondary – was the difference in Sunday’s victory.  Tampa Bay forced four turnovers, and the offense turned those miscues into 21 points.  The Buccaneers, on the other hand, played turnover-free football, and ran the ball effectively.  The offensive line also turned in another solid performance.

This will be Tom Brady’s 14th trip to a conference championship game, and his first in a pewter uniform.  This will be the Bucs’ fourth appearance in the NFC title game.  The last time was in January of 2003, when they shut down Veterans Stadium in Philly by beating the Eagles.  They would go on to beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl.

Never before has a “Battle of the Bays” meant so much.  Tampa Bay beat Green Bay handily during the regular season, but the Saints also did that to the Bucs.  Brady and a few others are used to playing in the cold, so I expect them to be ready.  Buckle up: this ride isn’t over just yet.

Photo courtesy: @jwhite_333 (Jordan Whitehead’s twitter)

ON TO THE DIVISIONAL ROUND!

The Buccaneers aren’t ready to go home just yet.  And they keep ending long droughts.  First, they made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.  And now, they have their first postseason win since the Super Bowl season of 2002.

Tampa Bay beat Washington, 31-23, in the wild card round Saturday night.  The Bucs will either travel to New Orleans or host the Rams in the divisional round.

Tom Brady was his usual awesome self.  The offensive line was terrific against a fierce Washington defensive front.  It’s a shame that RG Alex Cappa got hurt and may not play next week.  Mike Evans – who didn’t look like he would play again this season after that injury in the Atlanta game – was spectacular.

On the flip side, the secondary was also its usual self, but I don’t mean that in a good way.  If they let Taylor Heinicke tear them apart like he did, imagine what Drew Brees will do to them.  Oh, wait – we already know the answer to that one.  Chris Godwin dropped a bunch of passes.  I’ll give him a pass for now, because he’s usually one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league.

As I write this post, the Saints are leading the Bears at the half, 7-3.  So, we won’t know for another hour and a half who the Bucs will be playing next.  But after tonight, there will be eight teams left standing, and Tampa Bay is one of them.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Go 11-5; Wild Card Game Up Next

If you had told me last winter that the Buccaneers would win eleven games in 2020, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Even after they picked up Tom Brady, I had the question: does he still have it at age 43?

Oh, yes, he does.  And the Bucs’ offense is on fire heading into next weekend’s wild card game in Washington.

Brady finished the regular season with 40 touchdown passes, including four more against the Falcons.  Chris Godwin is amazing.  Antonio Brown is heating up.  RoJo scored again.  But there is concern about Mike Evans, who injured his knee shortly after clinching his 7th straight 1,000-yard season.  He’s the first player in NFL history to begin a career like that.  But will the Bucs have him when they take on the Washington Saturday night?

Tampa Bay will be favored in the wild card round.  But even though the Bucs are playing a 7-9 team, don’t think for a moment that this will be a cakewalk.  Washington’s bread and butter is on defense, especially up front.  They are very, very good.  The Bucs’ offensive line needs to be stellar.

Tampa Bay has already snapped a 13-year playoff drought.  Now they’ll try to win a playoff game for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

PLAYOFF BOUND!

You can stop rubbing your eyes.  Believe it.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

The Bucs trounced the Lions on Saturday, 47-7.  That clinches Tampa Bay’s first postseason berth since the Jon Gruden days.

The Buccaneers were clicking on all cylinders in this one.  So much for those ridiculously slow starts.  The Bucs came out swinging, and buried Detroit early and often.  The Lions were undermanned – and were missing several coaches due to COVID – but that was an impressive performance by TB nonetheless.

This has been a long time coming for the entire franchise.  Mike Evans, Lavonte David and William Gholston, among others, will be getting their first taste of the postseason.

And what about us, the diehard fans?  You know, the ones who’ve been on board all along, long before some guy named Brady joined the party.  We’ve suffered mightily for more than a decade.  The Cleveland Browns have the longest playoff drought in the NFL.  The Bucs had the second-longest, until now.

So, what’s next?  Well, there’s one more regular-season game to go, against Atlanta at Ray-Jay.  If the Bucs win, they would wrap up the #5 seed, and would play the NFC East Champion.  If the Bucs end up with the #6 seed, who knows who they’ll play.  There’s still a lot to be determined in the NFC, including the #1 seed, who gets a bye.

But fans, our boys are in.  This season is already a success, in my opinion.  Let’s see if the Bucs can stay hot, and go all the way.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For the Bucs: Win and You’re In

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the brink of their first playoff berth in 13 years.  Let that sink in for a moment.

We are 14 games into the season.  They’ve won nine of them.  Sometimes you wonder how they win.  But ‘how’ doesn’t matter in the NFL.

You wonder how they can look absolutely dreadful – as they did for 30 minutes in Atlanta on Sunday – then suddenly turn on the jets in the second half.  That victory yesterday was arguably the most thrilling of the entire season given what’s on the line right now.  Imagine how dangerous the Bucs would be if they played EVERY game like they played the final 30 minutes in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

If the Bucs beat the Lions on Saturday, they’re in.  It’s as simple as that.  Knowing the Bucs, Detroit will probably be leading at halftime.  But as long as the Buccaneers end up with the W, it doesn’t matter what happens to the other teams that are chasing them.

One more win.  That’s all.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

At 8-5, Bucs Closing in on Playoff Berth

Hello all.  I’m back to blogging after a few weeks off – a break that had nothing to do with the rough stretch the Buccaneers went through in November.  Sometimes, you just need to pause what you’re doing, and that’s just what I did.

Now, back to the matter at hand.  The Bucs are now 8-5.  They beat the Vikings yesterday in a game they absolutely couldn’t afford to lose.  Tampa Bay now owns the tiebreaker over Minnesota if it comes down to that.

As I reflect on this game, did the Bucs win, or did the Vikings self-destruct.  I think it was a little of both.  The biggest headline was Minnesota kicker Dan Bailey missing four kicks that cost his team ten points.  The Bucs were fortunate to avoid being penalized twice for personal fouls, and they were lucky to benefit from a pass interference penalty on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half (how often do you see a flag thrown on one of those?)  Anyway, Tampa Bay got a bonus three points as a result.

Tom Brady had an average day.  He hit Scotty Miller on a beautiful deep ball for a touchdown, but he also missed at least two other wide-open receivers downfield.  And I don’t want to hear any more about “they haven’t had enough time together to build chemistry.”  We’re 13 games into the season!

Defensively, they sacked Kirk Cousins six times.  All of them were huge, because they had no answer for Dalvin Cook, especially in the first half.  It was yet another slow start where it looked like the Bucs might be in for a long afternoon.  But they were fortunate that Bailey left points on the field with those missed kicks.  But never complain about a win in the NFL.  Whether it’s beautiful or ugly, you take it.

So now, the Bucs have three games left, all of them against teams with losing records: two against Atlanta and a trip to Detroit.  Keep winning, and we’ll be celebrating a playoff spot for the first time in 13 years.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Giving Thanks for the Bucs

Before I dive into the Buccaneers, I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving.  Hang in there – we can’t get back to normal soon enough.

I am thankful for my health, my family and the Bucs being in the playoff hunt this time of year.  And while Tampa Bay has lost 2 of its last 3, and some fans are ready to throw Tom Brady and Bruce Arians under the bus, let’s pause for a moment.  When was the last time the Buccaneers were in serious playoff contention on Thanksgiving Day?

The Bucs are 7-4, heading into Sunday’s game against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.  After that, they have their bye.  Then, their last four games are against teams with losing records: Minnesota, Detroit and Atlanta twice.  If they can get their act together, they can finish 10-6 or 11-5 and break a 13-year playoff drought.

But the key phrase here is “get their act together.”  The offensive line desperately needs Ali Marpet back.  A.Q. Shipley – who was inserted to the line due to injuries – may have a career-ending one himself.  The running backs need to catch the ball when Brady throws it their way.  Brady needs to stop throwing deep balls that land right in the arms of a defender.  The secondary needs to stop playing 8-10 yards off the opposing receivers.  The defensive line needs to stop jumping offside and giving the other team a free first down.  Finally – and this can account for some of my previous points – the coaching needs to improve.  If you’ve watched any of the past two losses, you know what I mean.

Obviously, Sunday’s game against Kansas City is the toughest test yet.  But Bucs fans should at least be thankful that we’re at the very least talking about a possible playoff berth as we near the end of November.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Run, RoJo, Run! Bucs Bounce Back in Carolina

See?  All the Buccaneers had to do was beat Carolina, and the bad taste (much of it, anyway) would be out of our mouths.

And the Bucs did just that, using a big second half to turn a close game into a blowout.  Tampa Bay swept the season series against the Panthers.

The biggest headline from a team standpoint was the Bucs’ ability to bounce back from a humiliating defeat against the Saints in front of a national TV audience.  And I’m going to focus on Ronald Jones.  He was involved in the worst – and best – plays of the game for the Bucs.  His latest fumble – coming on the opening drive – led to the Panthers first touchdown.

But the buzz is about how he redeemed himself.  In the third quarter, with the Bucs pinned back at their 2 and up by 3, RoJo finally broke a big one, taking it 98 yards to the house.  It was the longest run in team history, and just the fourth run of 98+ yards in the history of the NFL.  Jones finished with 192 yards rushing.  We’ve been waiting for him to have that breakout game, and on Sunday he had it.

This wasn’t a perfect performance.  The defense continued to look like a sieve in the first half before tightening up considerably.  The receivers had several dropped passes.  The tackling needs to be better.  Special teams gave up a 98-yard kickoff return and had an extra point blocked (though they were not fooled on a fake punt.)

But the bottom line is this: the Bucs bounced back in a big way.  They have another big game next Monday night against the Rams – a game with major playoff implications.  Tampa Bay has struggled in prime-time this season.  The Bucs can’t afford another subpar performance under the lights.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Catching Up With the Bucs

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted an update here, so consider this an opportunity to get all caught up.

Flash back to October 25.  The Bucs came up with a big win against the Las Vegas Raiders.  I was out in Vegas watching the game with a group of fans called the Buccaholics.  I had never hung out with them until then, and I can tell you, they are fantastic.  I went in there as a solo traveler from the Boston area, not knowing anyone else, and I felt like I had been a member of the Buccaholics family for 30 years.

Next week, it was Monday night football against the Giants.  The Buccaneers did not play well in the Meadowlands, but eked out a win by foiling a game-tying 2-point conversion.  Tampa Bay was sitting pretty at 6-2.

And then, last night happened.  The mother of all disasters, in a huge game against the division rival Saints.  Only one team showed up, and it wasn’t the Bucs.  Who deserves the blame for that debacle at Ray-Jay?  I say, the entire team: the players, the coaches, everyone.  And just like that, even with a positive 6-3 record, a lot of Bucs fans are ready to jump ship, just as they were after the opening game in the Superdome.

But I’m not walking the plank.  While winning the NFC South will be tougher, now that the Saints own the tiebreaker, it’s not out of the question.  That said, Tampa Bay’s cannot afford another repeat of what happened last night when they play in Carolina.  The play-calling needs to better.  The execution needs to be better.  The secondary has to, well, cover people.  And if they ever get to 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, they’d better come away with seven points inside of zero.

Look – last night was as bad as it gets.  We diehard fans hope the Bucs got it all out of their system last night, and bounce back against the Panthers.  I hope Ali Marpet comes out of concussion protocol, too.  We need him to make Donovan Smith look like less of a sieve.

Until next week, go Bucs, and stay safe.  And to the Buccaholics: I hope I get to see you again very, very soon.

Photo courtesy: Associated Press