A win’s a win, amirite?

The Bucs eked one out and can still win their way into the NFC’s top wild card spot.

click to enlarge A win’s a win, amirite?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A slow start leads to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get smacked in the first half. The team comes back after halftime and looks like the best team in the NFL for the final two quarters.

It’s like clockwork; the Bucs have been outscored in the first quarter 59-7 in their last six games—and yet, they are .500 in that span. 

The first half against Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was awful, terrible—all of the things you want to say about a poor performance. Tampa Bay got outscored 17-0. The Bucs looked lost on both sides of the ball, with Falcons wideout Calvin Ridley coming up with 30 receptions for 400 yards (OK, not really, he ended up with 10 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown for the game, but it felt like that). Tom Brady, once again, failed to lead the Buccaneer offense to the red zone. At times the Bucs’ defense looked like a college team, getting absolutely no pass rush, and letting Ridley run all over the field.

But in the second half the pass rush came alive, sacking Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan three times (all by linebacker Devin White) and forcing some errant “Matty Ice” throws. 

The Bucs must have read my Twitter rant about how they should donate half of their game checks to charity since they seemed willing to give away the game to the Falcons as an early Christmas present, because Tampa Bay came out after halftime and scored four TDs and a field goal on five straight possessions, including three touchdowns in the third quarter. Now that may sound impressive, and it is, but the Bucs were also facing the Falcons and Atlanta’s 30th-ranked pass defense. Tampa Bay absolutely should be scoring almost every possession when it has Mike Evans, Gronk, Antonio Brown (who got his first TD as a Buc today) and Chris Godwin in the receiver lineup. The Falcons are a horrible team defensively, and they looked as such in the second half. 

So the Bucs still fail to come out playing like a competent NFL team to begin games. They cannot continue this trend into the playoffs. They are getting away with it against teams like the Panthers, Vikings and Falcons, but when the playoffs come around and they have to go to L.A. or Seattle, Tampa Bay will be disappointed to find out that not every team blows 17-0 leads. 

In other news around the league, the Seahawks eked out a win over Washington to further its own playoff hopes, but the Rams lost to the Jets in an incredibly strange game that gives the Seahawks sole possession of the NFC West. The Saints fell to the Chiefs, as their quest to clinch the NFC South continued, and the Cardinals defeated the Eagles in a surprisingly close game, decreasing the Bucs’ margin for error.

Thanks to the outcomes above, the Bucs need to keep winning if they even want to make the playoffs, much less clinch the top seed in the Wild Card race. Tampa Bay has even less room for error heading into next week, as the Bears defeated the Vikings today—if the Bucs end up with the same record as Chicago at the end of the season (the Bears are 7-7), Chicago holds the tiebreaker, as the Bears defeated Tampa in a Week five matchup.

There is good news though.

Now that the Rams have lost, the Bucs, who control their destiny in a way, can win out and grab that coveted no. 5 seed, AKA the top wild card spot.

The Bucs take on the Lions next week, and Detroit certainly has its own laundry list of problems this season, with a 5-9 record and an interim head coach (sounds a lot like Atlanta, no?). But the Lions are an NFL team. The Bucs cannot afford to come out with the same blasé attitude that they have had in the first halves of their past six games, and that starts with TB12. The G.O.A.T. has come out looking sleepy, like he missed his mid-afternoon nap, and that really needs to change. Otherwise, the Bucs may fall short at Ford Field next Saturday. 

Hopefully the Bucs need to get some good sleep the night of Christmas. They’ll need it. 

@CTBrantley12

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