The Buccaneers 'control their own destiny' when it comes to the postseason this year. That's a feat in itself and one that isn't going overlooked by the team. With a win in Detroit, Tampa Bay would clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2007. Not even inside linebacker Lavonte David was on the team then. It would be a first for many and will be a big game for a couple players as they return to their old stomping grounds in some form or another.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on during Saturday's game in Detroit.
1. CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
A rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting had his breakout game in his hometown last season, picking off quarterback David Blough and taking it in for a touchdown – his first career pick-six and third of the season (Murphy-Bunting led all rookies in interceptions in 2019). He did it in front of over two dozen family members in attendance to watch the Central Michigan alum. After the game, Murphy-Bunting was all smiles as he described the play. And it meant that much more to do it in front of his family.
You have to think he'll be playing with a little extra juice on his return to Detroit.
2. DL Will Gholston
Another Detroit son, Gholston also had a great game against the Lions last season, even if it was a little bit more under the radar. That's the nature of a lineman's position, after all. Gholston had multiple tackles for loss in 2019 against the Lions and a quarterback hit. Detroit is a place Gholston remains connected to. He continues to focus some of his charitable efforts in his hometown and this holiday season was no exception.
"At the end of the day, that's where I grew up," said Gholston, talking about why it's important to him to give back in his hometown. "When I say [it took a village to raise me], I mean a village. There were so many different families that had a part in the success I have now. Even from the little league I played in, there were so many different things and aspects about it that created and molded me and I don't ever want to lose touch to the roots."
Because of the pandemic, it won't be quite the homecoming Gholston or Murphy-Bunting are used to – no families in the stands or dinners the night before. But still, there's something about going back to where you're from in any capacity and especially with the success Gholston is having this season, keep an eye on him as he and the rest of the defense take on Detroit.
3. WRs Chris Godwin & Mike Evans
Godwin did… well the last time the Bucs were in Detroit, despite suffering an in-game injury the last time around. In the game, he had five catches for 121 yards, giving him a whopping 24.2 yards per reception average and 15.1 yards per target. He was all over the place and only played 61% of the team's offensive snaps. Imagine if he plays the entire game like that…
Evans on the other hand was already injured and missed the game. But this season, Evans has 779 yards and 11 touchdowns. As he attempts to get to 1,000 yards for his seventh-straight season in what would be an NFL record, he'll need to have big games these last two weeks of the season. He had over 100 yards against Atlanta… can he do it three straight times? Say it with me: "So you're saying there's a chance?"
4. QB Tom Brady
Brady is becoming a regular on this list but there are good reasons each time outside of him just being the quarterback. For instance, this game will mark his 300th regular season game in his career. It ties him for 10th-most in NFL history with John Kasay. Brady ranks third among nonspecialists, trailing only Jerry Rice (303) and Brett Favre (302). Brady said he doesn't get caught up in stats and milestones but he still thought it was "pretty cool" to reach that number.
He's kind of having a full circle moment for it, too. He made his NFL debut against the Lions two decades ago.
"Yeah, I was active for that game," said Brady about the Week 13 contest in the Silverdome on November 23, 2000. "It was Thanksgiving Day, and we got our butts beat pretty bad by the Lions. I got in at the end of the game [and] I think I threw three passes. It was kind of an insignificant start to the career because I wouldn't say many people were expecting me ever to have the kind of career that I've had. For me, it was great being out on the field and learning. Then I got more opportunities as that season went on in practice and put myself in a position that next offseason to compete for the backup role, which I ended up winning. Then when Drew [Bledsoe] got hurt, I was able to become the starter. I tried to play as well as I could. I treated everything like it was very important. Year round it was very for me important to compete against myself to see how good I could be, and I learned a lot of those lessons at Michigan. Michigan was a great training ground for me because nothing was gifted. I think you had to go out there and earn it. You had to earn the respect of your teammates and your coaches. For me, that's what I had to do in order to play in college. I didn't expect much difference when I went to the pros. Then I got my opportunity and always felt like when I got my opportunity I was never going to look back. I still haven't really looked back that much, even 20-plus years later."
5. ILB Lavonte David
Just because he was snubbed by the Pro Bowl doesn't mean I'm going to stop giving him recognition here. Plus, David has had some pretty great performances against Detroit. In four career games against Detroit, David has 39 tackles, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception.
I want him to go off this game just to show the NFC Pro Bowl team what it's missing. Plus, if the Bucs do clinch a playoff spot this game, that is one post-game press conference I am tuning into.