Tom Brady was as spectacular as ever, but this time the G.O.A.T. got a whole lot of help from the man they call "Playoff Lenny."
Brady threw touchdown passes to O.J. Howard and Antonio Brown, and Leonard Fournette scored on two short runs to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 28-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field. Meanwhile, Fournette had his most productive outing of the season with 127 yards from scrimmage to go with those two scores, including 81 very hard-fought yards on the ground. It marks the third straight game that Fournette topped 100 yards from scrimmage.
"Lenny's been really, really good, real solid," said Head Coach Bruce Arians after the game. "Run and pass, and pass protection, he's playing as a really good three-down back at a high level."
Added an appreciative Brady: "He's a great back. He's big, tough, catches it, runs, blocks, does everything for us. It's great to have him in there."
Brady saw his team-record streak of consecutives passes without an interception end at 227 near the end of the first half when his deep throw down the middle on third-and-15 was hauled in by Eagles safety Anthony Harris. That did nothing to sully another masterful night for the 44-year-old quarterback, who completed 34 of 42 passes for 297 yards and a passer rating of 102.1. Playing with tape on his throwing hand after banging it on a helmet last Sunday, Brady was not sacked and he brought time with a scramble on the critical 27-yard third-down completion to Brown that allowed the Bucs to run out the clock.
"Oh, it was huge," said Arians of the play," noting that Brown was probably Brady's third read on the play. "Great route and a hell of a throw. Tom got out of the pocket – that's a couple times this year he's gotten out of the pocket and made big plays down the field."
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week six matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The victory was the Buccaneers' third in a row and it improved their overall record to 5-1, matching the Arizona Cardinals for the most wins in the NFL. Obviously, the Cardinals and the rest of the league have Sunday and Monday to improve their records, as well, but the road win over an NFC team was an important accomplishment in the battle for conference supremacy, particularly with only one first-round bye available. In addition, it marked just the fifth time in franchise history that the Bucs have won five of their first six games; in each of the other four – including the 2002 Super Bowl campaign – they went on to make the playoffs.
"It was a good win," said Brady. "It's tough to win on the road. Obviously, we didn't play our best so we've got to get back to work. We've got a good little break here to use it and get back to work, see if we can get better."
Tampa Bay held on for the win in part because an injury-riddled defense had a strong night against mobile quarterback Jalen Hurts and Philly's group of speedy receivers. Hurts completed just 12 of 26 passes for 115 yards, one touchdown and one interception, briefly tying the game at 7-7 in first quarter with a two-yard scoring strike to TE Zach Ertz. Overall, the Buccaneers gained 399 net yards to 213 for the Eagles. By the end of the third quarter, the Eagles had more yards gained on penalties (110) than on offense (99). Each of the Eagles first two touchdown drives were aided by very long pass interference penalties. The third came after a failed fourth-down attempt by the Buccaneers near midfield.
"Penalties were huge in this game again," said Arians. "We had a couple, just get our head around and play the ball a little bit better of defense, and then the holding penalty [on offense] took a lot of steam out of us in the fourth quarter. But I liked the drive at the end to win the ballgame."
The two pass interference calls went against Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards, but Dean also recorded an interception that set up a second-quarter touchdown drive and finished the game with four passes defensed. Dean's outstanding game was critical for a secondary that began the game without starters Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield, Jr. and then lost Richard Sherman very early in the game.
"Good road win," said Arians. "I'm really pleased with the guys that had to step in – Dee Delaney, Kevin Minter, guys that stepped in and played really well for us."
Tampa Bay's pass rush also continued its recent resurgence, even if it only finished the game with two sacks. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett spent the night chasing Hurts around the backfield and helping force him into hurried incompletions and short scrambles. He split a second with defensive lineman Vita Vea, who also split one with outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Buccaneers did have to sweat it out at the end after Philadelphia scored two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, along with a missed field goal, on their last three possessions. The Bucs scored on their first possession of the second half but went nowhere on the next two. There were six minutes remaining after Hurts' touchdown run closed the Bucs' lead to six points but Brady was able to keep the chains moving in order to burn those six minutes and Philadelphia's three timeouts. The key play was the rolling third-down strike to Brown, as noted above.
"They played tough," said Brady. "They've got a good front. They really clogged up the run game in there and we just didn't complete as many passes as we needed to. I thought they did a great job. They really made us earn it and we just came up short a few times."
The Buccaneers will now enjoy a 'mini-bye' as they watch the rest of the NFL's Week Six unfold over the weekend. Arians will not require the players to come back to work until next Tuesday, when they will begin preparing for a visit from the Chicago Bears. The Buccaneers will attempt to improve to 6-1 for the first time in franchise history, and may get some reinforcements back over the next 10 days.
"We will really need this rest," said Arians. "Hopefully we'll see who we can get back, if anybody, but the ones who have been playing definitely need the time off."
The Buccaneers got the ball first and smoothly glided 75 yards for a touchdown and the game's first lead. Fournette ran four times for 16 yards helping to keep second and third down manageable and Brady took advantage with five completions for 59 yards, including a 22-yarder down the middle to Evans to get the ball into Eagles turf. Two passes to Godwin over the middle, including one that converted a third-and-eight, made it first-and-goal at the six and two plays later Brady rolled right then threw back across the field to Howard for the two-yard score.
The Eagles answered immediately with a touchdown of their own, also on a 75-yard drive. The Buccaneers' defense stopped two early attempts by Hurts to run the ball on designed plays but still got burned by the second-year quarterback's speed. On the first, Hurts erased a third-and-seven by scrambling for 11 yards, and on the second he escaped the pocket to the right and threw downfield to Quez Watkins for 23 more. Watkins made a great catch of a ball that was tipped by Jordan Whitehead. After a pass-interference penalty on Jamel Dean put the ball at the two, Hurts got the ball in the end zone on the next play with a misdirection pass to TE Zach Ertz.
The scoring barrage continued on the game's third possession, which was yet another 75-yard touchdown march. Running backs did most of the work to get the ball into scoring range, with Founette and Jones combining for 44 yards on seven touchdowns. With a first down at the Eagles' 23, Brady rolled back and to his right and eventually found Antonio Brown wide open in the middle of the field at the five. Brown did the rest for the go-ahead score.
Tampa Bay's defense then got the game's first stop, leading to a punt that gave it back to Brady and company at their own 33, a minute into the second quarter. That drive only lasted three plays, however, as S Rodney McLeod managed to grab Brown's foot on a catch down the left numbers and hold on to keep him a yard short on third-and-11. Bradley Pinion punted it down to the Eagles' 17.
Another exchange of punts moved the Eagles back to tehir 10 with nine minutes left in the half. The Bucs were able to punt from closs to midfield after a play originally ruled a Marcus Epps interception was reviewed and overturned. Three plays later, Hurts tried to go deep down the left sideline to Watkins but it was intercepted by Dean, who was touched down at the Bucs' 28.
Brady turned that takeway into another seven points before halftime. A well-designed tunnel screen to Brown turned into 14 yards and a first down in Eagles territory and Fournette turned a short pass into 18 yards by breaking a tackle at the point of the catch. A tight end screen to Howard got it down to the 13 and Fournette powered for a first down on third-and-one to make it first-and-goal at the two. He was rewarded with a handoff on the next play, powering in behind a powerful block from Tristan Wirfs.
After another three-and-out, the Bucs got it back at their 35 but weren't able to tack on any points after Brady's very deep pass on third-and-15 was intercepted by Harris. The Bucs' defense held one more time and the half came to an end after one more Eagles punt.
Philadelphia got the ball to start the second half but failed to move the sticks as Dean knocked down a third-and-six pass on the left sideline intended for DeVonta Smith. A long punt by Arryn Siposs forced the Bucs to start at their own 21 but a nifty 20-yard run by Fournette put the ball exactly on the midfield stripe. Howard caught two passes for 24 yards and a pass interference penalty drawn by Mike Evans in the end zone made it first-and-goal at the one. Two plays later, the Bucs' blockers opened up a seam between center and right guard and Fournette easily slipped into the end zone for a 21-point Bucs lead.
The Eagles quickly got into scoring range on their next possession when Hurts threw very deep down the right sideline for Jalen Reagor, in the process drawing a 50-yard pass interference penalty on Mike Edwards. That put the ball at the Bucs' 25 and seven plays later Hurts ran for a six-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-three scramble. The visitors' lead was trimmed back to 14 points with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
Philadelphia threatened to score again on their next possession, after a Bucs three-and-out, with catches of 25 yards by Watkins and 25 by Smith getting the ball inside Tampa Bay's 30-yard line. However, a sack by Vea and an unsuccessful scrambling third-down throw by Hurts, who was being chased by Ndamukong Suh, stalled the drive. The Eagles sent Jake Elliott out to try a field goal but Elliott pushed it wide right.
On the ensuing drive, two Jones runs picked up a quick first down but a holding call then put the offense in a hole. After Howard was tripped up at the Eagles' 45, three yards short of the sticks, the Bucs went for it on fourth down. The attempt failed as Brady's long pass to Howard on the right sideline was out of reach.
That gave the ball back to Philadelphia with nine minutes to go. On the second play of the drive, Sanders found a seam up the middle and rambled for 23 yards to the Bucs' 25. The same play worked on the next snap for 13 more and then Hurts kept it around right end for seven down to the Bucs' four. Hurts eventually ran it in from two yards out. Philadephia went for two after the touchdown to make it a six-point game with six minutes to play.
A taunting penalty on Eagles linebacker Genard Avery helped the Bucs get their drive off to a good start with a 15-yard gift after a two-yard Fournette run. A 10-yard catch-and-run by Brown moved the sticks again, and Brady went to Brown again on a critical third-and-seven moments later, scrambling out to his right and hitting the receiver in stride for 27 yards down to the 18. A nice catch by Cam Brate on a crossing route made it third-and-one at the nine and Brady took it himself on a sneak to the six-yard line.