You couldn't have asked for a better game from either side of the ball on Saturday in Detroit. The Buccaneer offense had over 500 yards. The Buccaneer defense let up just 186 and didn't allow a single score. There were some uncharacteristic mistakes on special teams, which Head Coach Bruce Arians pointed out, but for all intents and purposes the Bucs won 'with style' as they clinched their first postseason berth since 2007.
It led to some special moments in the locker room postgame. Arians said on Monday that after he was done with his speech, it was the Bucs' longest-tenured player that took over. Then Mike Evans was the cherry on top… literally.
"It was very touching," Arians recalled with a big smile on his face. "I did my little two sense and then Lavonte [David] was going off. It was awesome. And then Mike Evans just dove over the top and said, 'We're in!' and 'We love you, Lavonte!' It was really cool. The joy on their faces, especially those guys that have been here… makes coming back to coaching well, well worth it."
Could you possibly love these guys more?
The answer is no. Let's take a look at the game that got them so excited with a couple major takeaways.
1. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PLAYOFFS.
The Buccaneers not only clinched a postseason berth for the first time in over a decade, but they did it with style. Going into Detroit to face a Lions team and coaching staff that was in absolute disarray, it's exactly what the Bucs needed to do. They needed style points to not only convince others that they're the real deal, but more importantly, themselves. Despite winning their last two games, the Bucs hadn't made it easy on themselves. Winning in Atlanta took a 17-point comeback basically in the fourth quarter. They hadn't scored on their first drive of the game since Week Eight against the Giants. Everyone was asking what the Bucs needed to do to 'start fast' and there was no easy answer.
Until there was.
Head Coach Bruce Arians decided to switch things up and after winning the coin toss, instead of deferring, they took the ball in hopes of getting the offense going immediately.
"We like to have [the ball] coming out [for] the second half, so we always defer the coin toss, try to score before the half and get the double score," Arians explained. "This week we felt like we could attack, so we took the football if we won the coin toss and our guys went out and went right down the field. It was something we need desperately just so people would quit talking about it. We were winning, but we weren't winning nice enough. Today, hopefully it was nice enough."
It was certainly nice enough to get the Bucs into the playoffs. And look, with a dilapidated staff on the other sideline due to COVID-19 issues, this was a game the Buccaneers should have won. Quarterback Matthew Stafford exited the game early with an ankle injury. There was no other option than domination to dismiss any doubts about this team. And they made a statement when they needed to.
Now, the Buccaneers will enter the postseason for the first time in 13 years. Guys like Lavonte David, Will Gholston and Mike Evans, the longest-tenured Buccaneers, will play in a playoff game for the first time in their careers.
"Bittersweet – it's amazing," said David. "Great feeling – everybody knows what it took. Coach made an emphasis on it throughout the year [that] nothing is going to be given – we have to go out and take what we want. We're here, man. We did it. We clinched a playoff berth, but that's not it. We're going to enjoy this moment – I'm going to enjoy this moment for sure. It's definitely a great feeling to be a part of something like this. I'm definitely grateful."
There is still a question mark as to what seed the Buccaneers will capture but they were helped by a Rams loss that helps clear the way to the fifth seed, which would play the winner of the NFC East in the first round.
2. We need to talk about the defensive shutout more.
It wasn't a complete shutout thanks to a crazy punt return that went for a touchdown in the third quarter by the Lions' Jamal Agnew, but the Detroit offense was held to just 186 yards and zero scores on the day by Tampa Bay's defense and that is IMPRESSIVE. Not even a field goal. It took the Lions until the fourth quarter to even get in Buccaneer territory for the first time. That was the least amount of yards allowed by a Tampa Bay defense since 2010 vs. Seattle and the seven points were the fewest allowed by the Buccaneers as a whole since 2017 against Chicago.
I know Detroit was vulnerable but that is still an absolutely ridiculous feat for a defense facing guys like Danny Amendola, DeAndre Swift, Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson and a somehow-still-productive Adrian Peterson, who was teammates with Antoine Winfield Jr.'s dad in Minnesota for six seasons. Peterson posted to his Instagram story after the game talking about how the younger Winfield, who Peterson used to play catch with in the backyard, tackled him in the second quarter. That is absolutely mind-blowing.
But it was Devin White who led the way yet again, with another double-digit tackle game, two for loss, a sack and two quarterback hits. White now has 9.0 sacks on the season. His 140 tackles currently lead the NFL.
White wasn't the only one who got in on the sack game, either. Two players got their first career sacks on Saturday: Jeremiah Ledbetter and Anthony Nelson. Detroit-native Will Gholston had one, too. It brought the Bucs' sack total for the season to 47.0, which is now tied for the most in the league.
How's that for a pass rush?
On top of that, Tampa Bay also forced two turnovers. David forced another fumble off a running back because of course he did and WHY IS THIS MAN NOT IN THE PRO BOWL? He better get an All-Pro nod, that's all I'm saying. It was recovered by safety Jordan Whitehead – his first fumble recovery of the season and second of his career. Cornerback Herb Miller, who was brought up this past week from the practice squad due to the injury to Carlton Davis, got his first career interception in the fourth quarter, too.
View some of the most crucial moments from the Buccaneers-Lions Week 16 matchup in picture form.
3. Offense can move at-will.
Obviously, we know this offense has potential but what we saw on Saturday was the offense doing pretty much whatever they wanted. The best evidence of this was how much Mike Evans got the ball in an effort to push him toward his seventh-straight 1,000-yard season to start his career, which would be an NFL record.
Arians had made no secret about it leading up to the game, either.
"It's something in my mind," he said on Thursday before the game. "I have not talked to the quarterback – I don't want the quarterbacks forcing things but yeah, it's in my mind."
I knew the Bucs were going to try to get Evans the ball. You knew the Bucs were going to try to get Evans the ball. Detroit knew the Bucs were going to try to get Evans the ball. And yet – the Bucs were still able to do it. Evans ended the day with a season-high 181 yards on 10 receptions. He recorded his 13th receiving touchdown of the season, which sets a new single-season Buccaneer record, which was previously held by Evans. The game also pushed him into legendary territory by becoming one of just seven players in NFL history with 8,000+ receiving yards and 60+ receiving touchdowns in their first seven seasons. He joins Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe in that category.
Evans has now had 10 games of over 150 yards receiving in his career – that's the fourth-most of any player since Evans entered the league in 2014. There were a host of other records but now, Evans needs just 40 yards to eclipse 1,000 and hold the NFL record for most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start a career on his own, surpassing his idol Randy Moss, who he is currently tied with at six. Agtain, to reiterate, Evans needed 221 yards coming into Detroit to get to 1,000. With two games left on the schedule and a quarterback who spreads the ball out as much as Brady does, that seemed like a tall order.
Now, not so much. And it's because the Bucs' offense was able to dictate completely what they wanted to do on the field. It's a sign of how much more the offense is clicking and putting it all together. And it's just in time for the postseason.