The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gritted out a 31-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in their Wild-Card playoff matchup on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, playing perhaps their most complete game of the season.
We say gritted out, even for the lopsided score, because the Bucs face some adversity on their offensive line as the team prepares for its divisional-round matchup next weekend.
All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs injured his ankle on the team's opening drive, and center Ryan Jensen also injured his ankle on the team's second touchdown, but the latter continued to play.
The Buccaneers took advantage of three Philadelphia turnovers, converting two of them for 14 points in the third quarter, where Tampa Bay broke open the game.
With the instability on the offensive line, the Buccaneers' offense struggled for four straight possessions spanning the second and start of the third quarter, but the team received a break on a muffed punt by Philadelphia's Jaelon Raegor, recovered by Ross Cockrell on the Eagles' 48, after the Bucs went three-and-out on their first second-half possession.
Tampa Bay did not let that turnover go to waste, converting it to 6 on a two-yard touchdown reception by Rob Gronkowski, the 15th playoff touchdown of his career, making it 24-0, with 7:38 to go in the third.
Being down by so much, the Eagles basically had to go on every fourth down they faced, and late in the third, they did just that on a 4th-and-3 from their own 46, but Shaq Barrett closed the door on any chance of a Philly comeback, intercepting Hurts, and returning the pick to the Eagles 36.
That door was effectively locked on the very next play, as Tom Brady hit Mike Evans for a 36-yard touchdown pass, making it 31-0, with 5:18 to go in the third.
The Tampa Bay defense was active all game, taking advantage of the Eagles deficit and Jalen Hurts' inaccuracy, contesting many poorly thrown balls and hitting receivers hard after the catch. Jordan Whitehead set the tone early, sacking Hurts, and stifling runs in the Philly backfield.
Philadelphia scored some garbage-time points on a 34-yard touchdown run by Boston Scott and a 16-yard touchdown reception by Kenneth Gainwell in the fourth quarter.
Things didn't look good for the Buccaneers on their opening drive as All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs went down with an ankle injury, missing his first snap since he turned pro, and causing a huge void in the Tampa Bay offensive line for the remainder of the game.
The drive continued, as Josh Wells replaced Wirfs, with the Bucs driving for the opening score on a two-yard run by Giovanni Bernard.
Tampa Bay dominated the first quarter, forcing the Eagles to punt three times, and scoring two touchdowns, the second coming on a one-yard Ke'Shawn Vaughn plunge, but on that play, Pro-Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered an injury, leaving the Buccaneers down two of their starting offensive linemen.
After a 34-yard field goal by Ryan Succop to extend the Tampa Bay lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter, Philly finally started to get something going offensively, getting past midfield for the first time in the game midway through the quarter. Facing a fourth-and-four, the Eagles converted to continue their attempt to get back in the game. Then the Eagles faced a 4th-and-10, but a pass fell incomplete, ending Philly's first good drive of the game.
On the ensuing drive, Wirfs tried to make a go of it, but a sack of Tom Brady on third down ended Wirfs' day, as the Eagles defense started stepping up.
The Eagles followed with a drive deep into Tampa Bay territory with under two minutes to go, but Tampa Bay safety Mike Edwards picked off Jalen Hurts in the end zone, effectively ending the first half.
Pending the outcome of the remaining NFC Wild Card games, the Bucs will play again next weekend in the divisional round. The opponents and game times will be determined in the coming days, and either way, we will have our pregame show at least two hours prior to kickoff as Tom Krasniqi and Michael Clayton bring you Countdown to Kickoff here on 95.3 WDAE.
Cover Photo: Getty Images