The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent a message to the rest of the NFL in their Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles that they are in the postseason, not just to be there, but to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
The NFC South Champions took the opening kickoff down the field 75 yards in the first quarter and scored a touchdown to go up 7-0 on a Giovani Bernard two-yard run and never relinquished the lead.
The Bucs advance to the Divisional Round next week after taking down Philadelphia 31-15.
The game was far from perfect for the Bucs, however, as the injury bug came calling again. The offensive line was the area hit most this time. Early game injuries to both right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who tried to keep playing but couldn’t, and center Ryan Jensen, who did keep playing, led to Tom Brady not having his usual protection and being sacked four times.
The most pleasant surprise had to be the production the Bucs received in the run game.
They didn’t have their top two running backs, Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, and to advance someone had to step up. Enter Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard to step up and be the productive depth that every championship team needs.
Vaughn had 17 totes for 53 yards and a one-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter to put the Bucs up 14-0. Bernard chipped in with 44 yards on 13 carries as well as catching 5 balls for 39 yards. Throw in receiver Scotty Miller’s nine-yard run late in the 4th quarter to run some clock and Tampa Bay put up a welcome 106 yards on the ground, preventing the offense from being one-dimensional all day.
Brady put up another great performance throwing for 271 yards and two touchdowns and no turnovers.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski increased his NFL record for postseason touchdowns at his position with a two-yarder from Brady in the 3rd quarter to put the Bucs up 24-0. Wide receiver Mike Evans also stood out as he set a club playoff record with nine catches for a total of 117 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown reception that put Tampa Bay up 31-0 and capped the Bucs scoring with 5:18 left in the 3rd quarter.
Overall, the Buccaneers did what they had to do, including winning the turnover battle 3-0 Sunday which was a big help in allowing them to beat the Eagles and advance. They will now wait to see how the rest of the NFC playoffs shake out to determine what day they will play and who their opponent will be when they play host next weekend.