By Terrance Turner
Jan. 16, 2022
Today the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Philadelphia Eagles as NFL Wild Card Weekend continued. The Buccaneers entered the playoffs without their two best running backs (Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones) and minus a valuable receiver (Chris Godwin). But in front of a cheering crowd at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs fought their way to a win. Quarterback Tom Brady shined, with help from wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Eagles were shut out in the first half and only began scoring in the fourth quarter — by which point it was already too late.
Tampa Bay got off to a strong start in the first quarter. Running back Giovanni Bernard rushed two yards for a touchdown, capping a 12-play drive for the Bucs. Tackle Tristan Wirfs suffered a leg injury during the opening series and had to be helped to the locker room. But the Bucs gained a 7-0 lead.
With the Eagles unable to convert, the Buccaneers took over. Their 10-play, 70-yard drive was once again topped by a rushing touchdown, as RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran in for the score. That drive was also marked by injury, as Bucs center Ryan Jensen got hurt on the scoring play. He refused any help, however, and walked off the field on his own. The Bucs went up 14-0, and Jensen returned for the next series without missing a snap.
The first half came and went without any points scored by Philadelphia. The stout Tampa Bay defense wouldn’t allow so much as a field goal, and it took until late in the second quarter for them to even make plays in Tampa Bay territory. But the Eagles defense did stop the Bucs from scoring just before halftime. After a tackle for loss and a sack of Brady, the Bucs settled for a 34-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop. Tampa Bay led 17-0 at the half.
The Bucs’ scoring slowed early in the second half, and they punted. Eagles wide receiver Jalon Reagor muffed the punt, dropping the ball, as he was tackled by Bucs receiver Scotty Miller. The ball came loose; The Buccaneers regained possession, and they cashed in. A major catch by Bucs WR Mike Evans took the team to first and goal. Then Tom Brady heaved a pass towards the end zone — to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski. That was the 15th playoff touchdown of Gronk’s career, the most ever by a tight end.
The Eagles’ offensive woes continued on their next drive. Quarterback Jalen Hurts was intercepted by outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. It was the Eagles’ third turnover, and it proved costly. Brady made the Eagles pay with a huge throw to receiver Mike Evans, who dashed past a defender and flipped into the end zone.
Down 31-0, the Eagles had to score — and they did. They finally reached the end zone courtesy of running back Boston Scott, whose 34-yard rush put them on the board. Then, with 4:51 remaining, Hurts lobbed a pass to RB Kenneth Gainwell, who braved bruising hits from two Tampa Bay defenders to leap over them and score the touchdown.
That 16-yard score was followed by a successful two-point conversion. Hurts threw to WR Devonta Smith — his old Alabama teammate — to add two more points. The Eagles had scored 15 unanswered points, trailing the Buccaneers 31-15. But those points came far too late. The Bucs took over, and despite squandering a scoring opportunity — going for it on fourth and 1 instead of kicking a field goal — their defense stopped the Eagles from scoring again. The Buccaneers won, 31-15.
“A lot of guys stepped up,” Brady said after the game. “A lot of guys toughed it out today, but in the end no one really cares. You gotta win and you gotta move on.” He called the game “a great team win” and added, “Defense played great.”