*Knocks gently on door and slowly peeks head inside*
Are we ready to talk about it yet?
The answer is probably no but we're going to have to, anyway. That game deserves to be, and will be, talked about for years to come. The only bad part is that the Bucs are on the wrong side of it and it now serves as a reminder of what almost was.
But the sun will shine again… I think. It's actually been uncharacteristically cool and cloudy these last few days in the Tampa Bay area, as if the entire region is pouty, moody and walking around in a sort of haze due to the abrupt end to the season. I find myself answering most people with the Ricky Bobby gif of him doing an interview and saying, "I'm not sure what to do with my hands." And if I feel like that, I can't imagine what this team feels like.
Inside linebacker Lavonte David saw it in the eyes of his teammates as he was the last off the field and into the locker room after the game. We all saw it in center Ryan Jensen's press conference the day after, where a guy "tougher than boiled owl," according to his great grandmother, had to hold back his emotions as he spoke about what this team meant to him and what they were able to accomplish. It's loss and feeling lost.
But these guys went down swinging.
How lucky are all of us to witness yet another Tom Brady comeback? The definition of down but never out, reminding us all that everything is impossible until you simply… do it. And that goes both ways. The comeback that should have never happened and then the completion by the opposing team that followed suit. To tie up the game only to lose it on one play also seems like it should be impossible. But it wasn't. And I don't know if it was better or worse to have it happen like that than to have never come back at all.
A couple days removed and I think I'd take the comeback, after all. It was a perfect encapsulation of the fight these guys have had all season. The Bucs set a franchise record number of wins in a season that came with more ups and downs than the rollercoasters at Disney World just down the road. There were injuries. There were distractions. And for a team that brought back all 22 of their Super Bowl starters from the previous season, they weren't actually able to field all those guys in the same game ever. This game against the Rams was the first time the entire starting defense was on the field together. The offense was down two key pieces in Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs. Yet, other guys stepped in, just as they had all season, and showed that they could weather the storm.
The result was yet another successful season. Yes, by all measures this was a successful season. Making a playoff run the year after winning a Super Bowl is no easy task – and they did it in record-breaking fashion.
So let's dive into those, shall?
Say what you want about the last play of the game – the defense was a large reason the Bucs came back at all.
Tampa Bay's defense generated four takeaways in the game – tied for the third-most in a single game in Buccaneers playoff history. Dating back to last season, the Buccaneers have recorded multiple takeaways in each of their last five postseason games. Over the last two postseasons, Tampa Bay has notched 16 turnovers over the six-game stretch.
And it was David who led the team with 11 tackles, one of which for loss, which set a new career high for the 10-year veteran.
And as the offense picked up steam, so did their records. Brady's 329 passing yards were the second-most in a single game in Buccaneers playoff history. I think you can already gather that Brady leads the league in all-time passing yards and touchdowns in the postseason and it's not close. Wide receiver Mike Evans led the team with a franchise-playoff-record-tying 119 yards and one touchdown on eight receptions. Evans' three 100-yard receiving games are the most in franchise history. He also surpassed Keyshawn Johnson (375) for the most postseason receiving yards in franchise history.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski did Rob Gronkowski things, too. With his four receptions for 85 yards on Sunday, Gronkowski surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin (1,304) for the third-most receiving yards in NFL postseason history. Brady and Gronk have the most touchdown connections of any duo in the postseason, too. Because of course they do.
And then we saw the return of 'Playoff Lenny' as an added bonus. Leonard Fournette ran in the tying touchdown on a fourth-and-one play at the nine-yard line. Fournette surpassed Mike Alstott for the most career scrimmage yards in the postseason in franchise history. Fournette led the team in rushing, taking 13 carries for 51 yards and two touchdowns. He also tied a franchise record with his nine receptions, with which he gained 56 yards.
The difference was one play but it didn't take away a season's worth of hard work and dedication. Like Brady said in his Instagram post, "I always want to win, I think that's pretty apparent by now, but that doesn't mean I equate losing to failure, especially when you go out fighting the way we did," Brady wrote. "There's so much to appreciate in a season like this when you're surrounded by a team that believes in each other, and plays for the people standing on either side of them. I'll spare you the Man in the Arena quote, but that feeling is something that I promise I'll never take for granted. To everyone that was a part of it this year, thank you. I love you all!"
Love you, Bucs fans. Thanks for a great season.