TAMPA – It was more of a tune-up rather than an earnest test to gauge the readiness of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the playoff run that will determine whether they will successfully defend their Super Bowl crown.
Tune-up survived. The Bucs blasted the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-15, in an NFC wild card playoff on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to advance to the divisional round.
And reminiscent of last year’s playoff trek, the Bucs’ defense was ready to rumble. It took advantage of a pedestrian Eagles offense to ensure that the outcome was never in doubt. Tampa Bay (14-4) limited the Eagles to 17 yards in the first quarter – the lowest output by Philadelphia in any quarter all season – and it was just the beginning.
The Bucs gave up two late TDs and a two-point conversion to chip into the margin after it was 31-zip, but by and large they made life miserable for young Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts. The running threat that makes Hurts so dangerous was largely contained. He threw two interceptions. The Eagles converted just five of 14 third downs.
No, there was no coming back from all of that.
Both of the picks came on outstanding individual efforts. Late in the second quarter, safety Mike Edwards dashed to pick off a pass in the end zone just beyond a pylon. In the third quarter, Shaq Barrett leapt to bat a Hurts pass – only to haul in the deflection himself — in the open field that set up a TD.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Eagles on Sunday in Tampa.
That defensive performance is just what Tom Brady and Bucs offense needed while entering the playoffs with their top two running backs – Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones – out with injuries and the wide receiver corps trying to pick up the slack after losing playmakers Chris Godwin (torn ACL) and Antonio Brown (ankle, drama) last month to season-ending setbacks.
Brady threw TD strikes to Mike Evans (9 catches, 117 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 31 yards), proving that there…