The Buccaneers knew they were in the dance after their win in Detroit – but they could still control their place in the postseason by getting a win at home against Atlanta. The Falcons, despite being 4-11, weren't going quietly, either.
But faced with an opportunity, Tampa Bay prevailed again, locking up the NFC's fifth seed and finishing the regular season on a four-game win streak to get to their best record since 2005 and tying their second-best record ever.
If that's not the right way to go into the playoffs, I don't know what is. Here are a few things that stood out from Sunday.
1. Mike Evans.
That's it. That's the takeaway.
No, just kidding. There is so much to be said about Evans, especially given the roller coaster of emotions he took us as a collective on during Sunday's game. The stage was set for Evans to accomplish a feat no one else in NFL history has done: start a career with seven-consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Despite needing over 200 more yards going into Week 16, Evans went off in Detroit and came into the Bucs' regular season finale at home needing just 40 more yards to eclipse the mark for the year.
The first pass of the game went to Evans, of course – a 12-yard dart from 12 himself. Ok, 28 more yards to go. Then, a 14-yard catch, cutting that total in half. Finally, with the Bucs facing second down and 10 from the Atlanta 31, Brady hit Evans for a 20-yard pass, thereby giving him 1,006 yards in the regular season, all by the second offensive drive of the game.
Evans and Randy Moss were the only players to ever start their careers with six such seasons. Evans now stands alone, surpassing his idol, and it could not happen to a better guy than the one nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year. Not only does he hold NFL records now, but he already has plenty of Bucs' records. He has the most career receiving touchdowns of any Buccaneer with 61. He has the most career receiving yards of any Buccaneer with 8,266. His career-high 13 touchdowns this year set the Bucs' single-season record. Yep, 13 for 13.
When Evans broke the 1,000-yard mark, there was an in-stadium announcement, his teammates were going crazy on the sidelines and Evans got lined back up right away.
Brady wanted to give Evans the cherry on top of a score and had Evans in the end zone but Evans inexplicably dropped the ball. Everyone's stomachs did the same when Evans didn't get up and clutched at his knee, instead. The crowd and his teammates alike realized something was wrong as the trainers dashed over to Evans in the end zone and everyone feared the absolute worst.
Luckily, the worst was not realized and the Bucs instead got the best-possible news. Head Coach Bruce Arians said Monday afternoon that Evans would be day to day and still has a chance to make his postseason debut come Saturday night.
"The MRI showed no structural damage," Arians said to everyone's relief. "It was a hyperextension. I saw him in the training room a little while ago – there's very, very little swelling and he'll be day-to-day."
Now, Evans has the opportunity to play in his very first postseason game on Saturday night in Washington. Arians even threw out somewhat of a threshold, saying, "If he's 80 percent, we'd have to fight to keep him off the field. Him at 80 percent is better than a lot of guys at 100, so we'll see what he is and how he feels. His leadership and his toughness – when Chris [Godwin] was down, there was no way [Evans] was going to stay out. He went out there on one leg and played about three games on one leg and still performed well."
2. Offense is full on blazing.
Though Evans is an absolutely crucial part of the offense, as a whole the unit has seemingly caught fire in the last quarter of the season. After the Bucs' Week 13 bye, the Bucs have won four straight and the offense has put up some incredible numbers, led first and foremost by its quarterback: Tom Brady.
Brady had another stunning performance inside Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, completing 26 of 41 pass attempts for 399 yards and four touchdowns, thereby posting back-to-back four-touchdown games. It was the seventh-straight game Brady threw for multiple touchdowns, in fact, setting a new franchise record for the most-consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes in team history. Among many others, Brady also extended his single season passing touchdown franchise record to 40, Brady's most since he threw for 50 in 2007.
Oh yeah, and those 40 passing touchdowns are good for an NFL record for most by a quarterback in his first year with a team, including rookies.
"I think he broke Peyton Manning's record for [touchdown passes] being [in the first season] with a team [by] throwing 40 touchdowns," said Arians after the game. "I think Peyton had 37, so I know he'll like that [and] Peyton will be pissed. When we first met, that's really what we talked about – the guys that we have and what he could do with the players that we have. Adding Rob Gronkowski to the mix just helped. I envisioned 40 [touchdowns]. When he first signed I said, 'OK, we'll be a 40 [touchdown] and 10 [interception] team.' I was expecting practice, I was expecting OTAs and those things. What he's done with none of that – especially this last half of the season – is incredible."
And perhaps that's why it sort of took until the last four games of the season to really see any consistent output from the offense. The good news is, they're getting hot at the right time as they head into the postseason, thanks to an offensive arsenal that is just plain showing off its firepower at this point.
The Bucs had not one but two 100-yard receivers in Sunday's game. Antonio Brown had his best game as a Buccaneer with 138 yards and two touchdowns. Brown now has seven career games with at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and multiple receiving touchdowns – the most such games in NFL history. Chris Godwin was also into triple digits, recording 133 yards and two touchdowns of his own. On just five catches. It gave him an astounding 26.6 yards per reception average and was Godwin's fifth game with multiple touchdowns of his career, tying him for second-most ever by a Bucs receiver. Oh and it was his 11th game with over 100 receiving yards, tying for fifth-most in franchise history, and his now-six touchdowns on the year bring his career total with the Bucs to 23, which already ties him for eighth-most in Bucs' history after just four seasons with the team *takes breath.* His 3,540 career receiving yards tie him for ninth-most in team history.
And though the passing game took up most of the spotlight on Sunday, Ronald Jones returned and had a 6.5 yard-per-carry average on the day. He fell just short of 1,000 yards for the season but set a new career-high for yards with 978 on the year, and rushing touchdowns, with seven.
And hey, one more note. Speaking of rushing touchdowns, Brady had three in the regular season, which matches his second-highest single-season total. Added to Brady's passing touchdowns and the 43-year-old quarterback accounted for 43 touchdowns this year.
View some of the best pictures from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 regular season.