It was not the way that Tampa bay Buccaneers fans envisioned it, but after an up-and-down season, the Buccaneers are back in the playoffs. A win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon clinched the NFC South for the Buccaneers, locking them into the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs and setting them up for a home game on Wild Card Weekend.
All it took on Sunday was another second half comeback, and vintage performances from Tom Brady and Mike Evans, for the Buccaneers to pull out the win.
By almost any metric, it was the best game of Brady’s season. The veteran quarterback completed 34 of 45 passes for 432 yards (a season high) and three touchdowns, posting an NFL Passer Rating of 127.3 (another season high) and an Adjusted Yards per Attempt of 10.93 (a third season high). But it was also the most productive game of Evans’s season, as he caught 10 passes for 207 yards and 3 touchdowns, all of which were season-high numbers.
The first touchdown connection came in the second quarter, with the Buccaneers already trailing 14-0. Evans runs a straight go route along the right sideline against Quarters coverage, and just runs by the cornerback. Brady drops in a perfect throw, and the Buccaneers are on the board:
Still, the Buccaneers trailed into the fourth quarter, setting the stage for another late-game comeback from Tampa Bay. Early in the fourth, the Buccaneers faced a 3rd and 4 on their 43-yard line. Here is the route concept that offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich dials up:
This looks to be a variation of the Fish concept, and Brady opens to the left side of the field to read out the three-receiver concept. But every option to that side of the field is taken away from him. He shows a quick pump fake to try and get the defense to bite on wheel route from Chris Godwin before he breaks vertically, but the curl/flat defender, along with the cornerback, carry that route. Brady then looks to Russell Gage underneath, but linebacker Shaq Thompson drives on that route. Finally, Brady looks at the dig from tight end Cade Otton, but both safeties take that away.
So Brady gets to the backside, where Evans is running a go route:
Brady gets to the route late in the down, but has time thanks to the protection up front. With the Panthers in Quarter-Quarter-Half, there is a soft spot in the coverage for Evans, and Brady hits him in stride for their second touchdown of the afternoon.
After the Tampa Bay defense forced a punt from the Panthers, it was time for Tampa Bay to take the lead. The Buccaneers started a drive on their own eight-yard line, but eight plays later they were on the Panthers’ 30-yard line.
Cue touchdown number three from this pair:
The Buccaneers run a go/out combination to the right side, with Evans running the go route and Godwin running the out route from the slot. Brady flashes a quick pump fake on the out route, perhaps trying to influence the cornerback to peel off Evans and “trap” the out route. The Panthers are in Quarters, which can play out like man coverage depending on how the routes distribute. Cornerback C.J. Henderson does not bite on the pump fake, as he is responsible for Evans if he goes vertical, but the receiver gets a step on him as he releases downfield. That is all Brady and Evans need, as the QB drops in another well-placed throw for the go-ahead score.
Is this performance enough to instill confidence in the Buccaneers as the playoffs loom? Perhaps not. After all, the Buccaneers will host the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs, which could be the Philadelphia Eagles or the Dallas Cowboys.
But the Buccaneers at least have a shot, something that seemed almost unlikely a few weeks ago. And having the connection between Brady and Evans heating up going into the postseason gives that shot even more of a chance come playoff time.