It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ post-game 2-Point Conversion column, which makes two big statements, two probing questions, and two bold predictions. The Bucs rallied from a 14–0 deficit to beat the Panthers 30–24 to win the NFC South division title for the second straight season. Tampa Bay improved to 8-8 this season thanks to monster games from quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans, who combined for three deep touchdowns.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT #1: Brady, Bucs offense comes to life to win NFC South title
Tom Brady picked a great week to play his best game of the year. After three straight games with two interceptions each, some began to question whether the 45-year-old quarterback could still play at a high level, especially since the faltering offense was the main culprit in the team’s 7-8 record.
But Brady delivered a masterpiece in a 30-24 victory over the Panthers that gave the Bucs their second straight division title. He completed 34 of 45 passes (75.6%) for 432 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers. Brady also ran for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. Perhaps more importantly, Brady’s deep ball was back as he connected with Mike Evans on 63, 57, and 30-yard touchdowns.
from Brady 432 passing yards tied for the most runs he has thrown for since joining the Bucs in 2020, and the first time he has thrown for three touchdowns in a game this season.
“Everything clicked this week. It wasn’t just those two [it was] as a team — all the way around,” said Bucs head coach Todd Bowles. “Everything seemed to click in training this week – we had three good days of training. Again, [Brady] had more time to throw the ball down. People were not at his feet, [Brady] got it down there and Mike does what he always does when he gets a single cover.
While the Bucs officially qualified for the playoffs as NFC South champions, Sunday’s game against the Panthers was essentially a playoff game. And it proved once again that it is wise to bet on Brady when everything is on the line.
Evans finished the day with 10 catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns – all season highs. And Brady also connected nine times with Chris Godwin for a season-high 120 yards, including a 24-year-old.
“It felt good to make a lot of plays that we know we can make,” said Godwin. “I still don’t think we’ve lived up to our expectations, so I’m scared if we do. Again, this is a big step in the right direction. It’s something that we’ve been missing, and we really need to lean into this and build on that to have a nice playoff run.
“It’s hard to win in this league and it’s even harder to win your division, especially when you play twice in a row. It is a blessing, but we still have work to do.”
Don’t bet against Brady, especially in the playoffs.
STATEMENT #2: It was only appropriate. The Bucs scored 30 points for Arians
Tampa Bay took on former head coach Bruce Arians in the Bucs Ring of Honor on Sunday, and it was only fitting that the team scored 30 points in their 30-24 victory over Carolina. That victory clinched the NFC South division for the second straight year. And for the second time this year, the Bucs managed to score 30 points, which is a lot.
The Bucs were 28-2 when they scored 30 points or more under Arians in 2019-21, including an impressive 23-0 in 2020-21 when Tom Brady arrived to play quarterback. Tampa Bay’s offense averaged 30 points per game from 2020-21 with Brady under center and Arians on the sidelines. But this year, the Bucs average just 18.5 points per game due to a bunch of factors, one of which might be Arians’ departure.
Trailing 14-10 at half-time, Arians begged the Bucs for victory and their fans to cheer them on during his opening speech at half-time. Tampa Bay missed a two-point conversion, missed a 53-yard field goal attempt, missed an extra point, and had a field goal blocked, otherwise the Bucs could have scored over 30 points against the Panthers.
Ironically, the only other game the Bucs scored 30 points this season was a Week 4 loss to Kansas City, 41-31. It is rare for Tampa Bay to lose when it scores 30 points or more in the past four seasons. Even more ironic is the fact that Arians was supposed to be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor for that match, but Hurricane Ian prompted the team to move the induction ceremony to Week 17 against Carolina.
2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Why did Brady and Evans finally get together on The Deep Ball?
Tom Brady decided to take some hits on Sunday and stay in the pocket more. That was the difference between him and Mike Evans on deep balls against Carolina. The offensive line did quite a bit of protection on those three deep touchdowns, covering 63, 57, and 30 yards, and Brady let it go.
His throws were accurate and Evans took advantage of single coverage and beat Carolina’s defenders on the ball. Evans now has a career-high 10 touchdowns against the Panthers, tying the Falcons for most TDs he’s had against a single team.
“Those two teams play me with a lot of one high,” said Evans. “The Saints play me with a lot of two high. But the Panthers and the Falcons, since I’ve been in the league, have played me with more man coverage.
But the key ingredient to the Bucs’ deep-ball success was Brady’s willingness to stay in the pocket and let the deeper routes develop on Sunday. Brady is off the ball quicker than ever this season as he didn’t rely on his protection up front. At times Brady has played the ball off too early earlier in the season and that has forced Evans and others to make some underthrows and some overthrows. And Evans has also dropped a few on-target deep balls this season.
But despite taking some sacks and some hits, Brady bought Evans enough time to go deep and that patience in the sack paid off big time for Tampa Bay on Sunday.
QUESTION 2: Do the Bucs want to take on the Cowboys or the Eagles in the playoffs?
This one is easy. Bring on the cowboys.
Yes, the Eagles have had two weeks to take the NFC East division, but two losses with Gardner Minshew at the helm instead of the injured Jalen Hurts have jeopardized that quest. Philadelphia has lost twice in a row, including a game in Dallas, keeping Cowboys division title hopes alive in Week 18.
The Bucs have beaten the Cowboys twice to start the 2021 season and the 2022 season, and last year they beat the Eagles at Raymond James Stadium in the first round of the playoffs. But it’s not just a recent 2-0 win against the Cowboys that makes them the favorite opponent. It’s the fact that the Eagles defense can go after the quarterback like no other team this year. Philadelphia already has 68 sacks this season to lead the NFL. That’s 16 more than the closest team, New England (52), and 17 more than Dallas (51).
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was sacked three times and hit another eight times against Carolina. The Tampa Bay offensive line is in disarray with a left tackle from Donovan Smith dealing with a foot injury that forced him to miss the game in Arizona. While tackling right Tristan Wirfs battles through an ankle sprain that forced him to miss three weeks.
Philadelphia has four double digit sackers led by linebacker Haasan Reddick (16), defensive end Brandon Graham (11), defensive end Josh Sweat (11) and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (11). Fletcher Cox, another starting defensive tackle, also has seven sacks, which is more than any Bucs player this season. Since pass protection is a concern all season in Tampa Bay, the Bucs would rather face the Cowboys and worry about only one double-digit sag, Micah Parsons (13), in the game plan.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTIONS 1: Nelson is going to make a big payday in Free Agency
Outside linebacker Anthony Nelson finished strong again this season. Nelson, who has back-to-back strip sacks in consecutive weeks, is now tied with Devin White for second on the team with 5.5 sacks behind Vita Vea’s 6.5. His three forced fumbles led the Bucs, and Sunday’s strip sack late in the fourth quarter led to a Tampa Bay touchdown that put the win over Carolina out of reach.
Nelson, who is on a contract year, now has 3.5 sacks and all three are forced fumbles in the past six games. He has had to play every moment for the past three weeks with Carl Nassib out, Shaquil Barrett injured most of the year as reserve and backup Genard Avery who was recently placed on IR. Nelson had five sacks last, three of them in the last three games of the year, while getting more time with Jason Pierre-Paul injured. At 6-foot-7, 270 pounds with his production as a rotary player, Nelson will cash in on free duty in March – either in Tampa Bay or elsewhere.
PREDICTIONS 2: Bowles returns as head coach
This is an easy prediction to make, so I’ll take it. To all the anti-Todd Bowles crowd, I hate to break it to you, but he will be back as Tampa Bay’s head coach in 2022. Bowles would likely return anyway even if the Bucs failed to win the division. The Glazers have always given their trainers two years to prove they can win and handle the job. Remember even Lovie Smith got a second season in 2014 after going 2-14 after Greg Schiano’s 4-12 season in 2013. The Bucs didn’t even win a home game under Smith and yet he returned for the campaign of 2015.
Bowles will return as head coach in 2023 and will not be in the hot seat for winning the division in his freshman year and earning the automatic home game that comes with it. The organization has determined that the offense is the problem and that will be corrected next year – likely with a new offensive coordinator replacing Byron Leftwich and perhaps some assistants. Bowles inherited Bruce Arians’ coaching staff when he took over as head coach late in the offseason on March 30. He will have a chance to make his mark on the coaching staff this off-season, with more points hopefully to follow in 2023.
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