No more Saints division titles. No more wild card playoff berths. The Bucs are back on top.
They did it by dominating the disjointed Carolina Panthers (featuring a head-scratching two QB system) in a 32-6 road win on Sunday.
Tom Brady looked comfortable, with seemingly endless amounts of time to drop back and read the defense behind a Bucs offensive line that looked more like itself. TB12’s old pal Antonio Brown and the recently activated Cyril Grayson—who had an excellent game with three catches for 81 yards—were on the other end of a lot of those passes. Throw in another signature scramble for a first down where Brady didn’t slide and scared the shit out of everyone, and you’ve got yourself a pretty complete game.
Tampa Bay ran the ball consistently and effectively, too, with Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn combining for 135 yards, plus Le’Veon Bell even getting his first action as a Buc in the 4th quarter (although his two rushes netted a one-yard loss).
Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead had a career game with seven total tackles, three passes defended and an interception, all the while flying around the field like a madman. While the Bucs’ defense has certainly been helped by playing against shitty QBs like Taysom Hill, Sam Darnold and Cam Newton the past two weeks, only giving up 15 points over 7 quarters is still incredibly impressive in the NFL.
Even the special teams got in on the fun, with Ryan Succop hitting all four of his field goal attempts and being his usual solid, dependable self. Succop is now 21-25 on field goals for the year, continuing his stellar play from last season where he went 28-31 for the year.
Now to the bad news. Bucs linebacker Shaq Barrett went down in the second quarter after friendly fire led to a leg injury; he was ruled out shortly after. His status for any future games is up in the air, and while rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka could certainly fill in for the former Bronco admirably, Barrett and his double-digit sack total would certainly be missed if he were out for an extended period of time.
Around the NFL, the Packers managed to sneak a win from the Cleveland Browns on Christmas day, further cementing the likelihood that they will end up with the first seed in the NFC, but the Arizona Cardinals fell to the Colts that night, giving the L.A. Rams a lead in the NFC West. The Cardinals’ continued collapse has been shocking, with their third straight loss and a 2-4 record over their last six games. Many had Arizona tabbed as one of the teams to beat in the NFC after its scorching hot 8-1 star—now it’s become a question of whether the Cardinals can even win their own division.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Rams and the Cowboys both hold the tiebreaker advantage if it comes to that, which could make the Bucs the 4th seed if things were to hold true in the standings. But anything can happen, especially with the Cowboys playing the Cardinals and the Eagles to finish out the year, and the Rams facing the Ravens and 49ers.
The Bucs, meanwhile, get to face the Jets and Panthers to put an exclamation point on their excellent season. While I’ve certainly been critical of Tom Brady and these Bucs, they still managed to win their division and can even potentially get the first seed. While it hasn’t been perfect, this season has certainly gone well enough for them to make another Super Bowl run as TB12 eyes his 8th ring.
Fire those cannons.
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