The Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched a long-awaited playoff spot - their first since the 2007 season - in a dominating 47-7 win over the hapless Detroit Lions on Saturday in Detroit.
The Lions were without a great deal of both players and coaches, missing head coach Darrell Bevell, all three coordinators and three top position coaches after one coordinator was fired this week, and the remaining coaches were forced to isolate because of Covid-19 exposure.
But that didn't matter, as Tom Brady set a new Buccaneers record for touchdowns in a season with his 34th on a 27-yard pass to Mike Evans with 7:39 remaining in the first quarter to give the Bucs an early 13-0 lead.
And then it just got worse for the Lions, as their quarterback Matthew Stafford had to leave the game early after Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White stepped on Stafford's foot during the first series. Chase Daniel replaced Stafford, and the Lions, for all intents and purposes, were finished.
The Buccaneers' problem of starting off slow seemed to come to an end -- for one game, at least -- as they quickly jumped to a 13-0 lead over the Lions after only seven-plus minutes of game time.
The Bucs started strong, driving the ball down field seemingly easily against the injury-riddled Lions' D; Rob Gronkowski hauled in a 33-yard TD down the right sideline to give the Bucs an early 6-0 lead; Ryan Succop missed the extra point attempt. That touchdown tied Jameis Winston's team record for TD passes thrown in a siungle season with 33, set just last season.
On the Bucs second drive, a long 47-yard completion to Chris Godwin led to the Bucs second touchdown of the first quarter, a 27-yard pass from Brady to Mike Evans. For Evans, his 12th TD of the season, and for Brady, a new Buccaneers record with his 34th of the year.
Leonard Fournette, starting again in place of Ronald Jones, was a major part of the Bucs' fourth drive, slashing his way on multiple runs and catches out of the backfield, ending that drive in a four-yard TD run to extend the Bucs' lead to 20-0 with 11:51 remaining in the first half.
The Bucs added another score with 4:52 left in the half, as Chris Godwin made a beautiful one-handed diving catch of a Brady throw, making the score 27-0. Rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn spearheaded this drive, carrying the ball three times with authority for 35 yards.
The Lions were forced to pass with such a large deficit, and the Tampa Bay defense was up to the task. They had an easy day shutting down the Lions reconfigured offense with Daniel at the helm. Detroit coludn't get anything going in the first half as the Bucs built their lead.
The Bucs were able to pile on another score before the end of the first half, as Godwin Antonio Brown got in on the action with his second touchdown in as many weeks, a 12-yard reception from Brady.
With such a large lead, the second half was basically garbage time, except for this note: adding insult to injury, Blaine Gabbert, in the game for Brady, completed his very first pass for a 24-yard touchdown to Gronkowski. The Bucs' Jordan Whitehead recovered a K'Andre Swift fumble on the play prior, giving the Bucs the ball deep in Detroit territory. All that awaited both teams at this point was the final score.
Tampa Bay set a team record with 410 yards of offense in first half, and 588 yards of offense overall. Since Brady sat out the second half, he finished the game 22-of-27 for 348 yards and four touchdown passes, extending his now team record to 35 touchdowns on the season. Evans had 10 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and with his second touchdown, he set a team record with his 13th touchdown of the season.
Evans now has 60 career receiving TDs, joining Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Sterling Sharpe, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald as the only players with 8,000 receiving yards and 60 receiving touchdowns in their first seven seasons.
The Bucs will close out the season next Sunday as they host the Atlanta Falcons. Time will tell whether Tampa Bay decides to play their starters in this game. Once again, you can catch Countdown to Kickoff with Tom Krasniqi and Michael Clayton on Sunday, Janyuary 3, 2021 at 11 a.m., with kickoff set for 1 p.m. on our sister station 98ROCK.
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