Bucs and Brady school Eagles in a clinic, 31-15

It was fun while it lasted.  But the reality of post-season competition brought the Eagles and their coaching staff to their collective knees.

The Tampa Bay Bucs apparently knew the Birds better than the Eagles knew themselves. Evidently every single indicator the Eagles gave on offense was hacked by the Bucs’ defense.  Suh and Vea in particular just routinely blew up the Eagles’ offensive line and their collective game plan.  And the Tampa linebackers were right where they needed to be to clean up the mess.

Our esteemed chairman GK Brizer predicted the carnage two days ago:

“FIRST,..a curiosity: Why the interest in Gannon as HC? Baffling,..until ya tink about it! Iffen he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and somehow “beats” Brady and Rodgers,..welp teams will be fightin’ for him! That said,..it won’t be ez but Hurts will have to dink and dunk like Tom, along wiff some “special’ innovative plays. That said, our DL is mediocre at best these days,..disappointing. So we must blitz,..in unusual ways. Avery might be big,..along with safeties and DBs. Gotta surprise and take chances. Moreover,..tight man to man Has to happen. Otherwise,…a repeat of the the last game. COX must rule. Ya,..JB99 we’ll see what he gots,..for real. I expect a Jason Peters like “injury”. So,..I do expect an interesting game for 1.5 quarters,…but,..alas,..it was a nice run 30-13. The NFL wants Brady vs Rodgers,..bottomline,… in the NFC championship game. C’mon man!!!”

Welp, that turned out to be prophetic in a strangely accurate way.

As the game clock expired, Tom Brady raised his arms in triumph along the sideline, whirled and tossed a football into the stands.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their jubilant 44-year-old quarterback took the first step on what they hope will be a journey back to the Super Bowl, dominating the Philadelphia Eagles 31-15 in a NFC wild-card playoff victory Sunday.

Tampa Bay (14-4) set the tempo from the start, with Brady leading a pair of long TD drives in the opening quarter and building the lead to 17-0 by halftime.

The three-time league MVP finished off the Eagles with TD passes of 2 yards to Rob Gronkowski and 36 yards to Mike Evans, improving his dazzling playoff record to 35-11 in a record 46 postseason starts.

The Bucs defense did its part, too, intercepting Jalen Hurts twice in the Philadelphia quarterback’s playoff debut.

“We did some good things,” Brady said. “I think we’re just going to have to keep doing what we did today. Everyone’s got to touch it, make some explosive plays. Did a good job possessing it, the defense played great, so it was a great team win. Special teams played awesome — one of the best days we had on special teams all year.”

Brady completed 29 of 37 attempts without an interception while extending his postseason record for TD passes to 85.

But the Bucs had matters well in hand before the reigning Super Bowl MVP found Gronkowski wide open in the middle of the end zone to make it 24-0 midway through the third quarter. The 6-foot-5 Evans punctuated his TD catch for a 31-0 lead with a front flip over the goal line.

Brady targeted Evans 10 times, completing nine of the throws for 117 yards. He’s 5-0 in postseason games since joining the Bucs in 2020 after 20 seasons with the Patriots.

“I don’t ever take it for granted,” Evans said of Brady’s leadership. “When he came to this team I knew he was going to change the franchise. He’s done that and then some. He makes sure we’re always ready to play. He makes sure that we know what we’re doing and he makes sure that we give it our all. That’s all you can ask for from a leader.”

The Eagles (9-9) scored on Boston Scott‘s 34-yard run and Hurts’ 16-yard TD pass to Kenneth Gainwell both in the fourth quarter. A 2-point conversion trimmed Philadelphia’s deficit to 16 with 4:45 remaining, but that was as close as it would get.

“We didn’t play good enough today, I didn’t play good enough today,” said Hurts, who was wearing a protective boot on his left foot after the game.

“This game does not define us, does not define who we are. We know all the different things that we’ve overcome. I know as a football team we’ll be back,” added Hurts, who at 23 is the youngest QB to start a playoff game for the Eagles. “We’ll be back. This is a feeling that will kind of simmer in our hearts, simmer for us all.”

Giovani Bernard scored on a 2-yard run and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a second-year pro filling in for injured running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, covered the final yard of a 70-yard drive that put the Bucs up 14-0.

Brady led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, attempts and completions this season, but Tampa Bay gained the upper hand in this one by running the ball and keeping it away from Hurts and the league’s leading rushing attack.

The Bucs ran 25 plays to Philadelphia’s eight in the first quarter, outgaining the Eagles 137 yards to 17 and compiling an 11-1 edge in first downs.

It didn’t get much better after that, with a Tampa Bay defense fortified by the return of injured linebackers Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul turning away Hurts’ most promising drive of the opening half with Mike Edwards’ end zone interception.

The Eagles won four of their last five games to earn the No. 7 playoff seeding in the NFC, however the turning point in their season came when running the ball became a focal point of the offense during the second half of a 28-22 home loss to the Bucs.

The Eagles ran for at least 130 yards in their next nine games, including seven in a row with more than 175. Hurt led the team with 784 yards and 10 yards rushing, becoming the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 750.

Hurts finished his playoff debut 23 of 43 passing for 258 yards. He ran for a team-high 39 yards on eight attempts, with the Eagles finishing with 95 yards rushing overall — well below their season average of 159.7 per game.

“I didn’t sense for a moment that the moment was too big for them. I just think we made some mistakes,” first-year Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “We just didn’t make some plays. We didn’t coach good enough at the end of the day.”

INJURIES—

Eagles: LB T.J. Edwards (elbow) left in the second half and did not return.

Patrick Johnson got banged up in the second quarter.

  • Lane Johnson (knee) was replaced by Le’Raven Clark in the second half.
  • Greg Ward (back) was ruled out late in the third quarter.

Bucs: . All-Pro RT Tristan Wirfs limped off with an ankle injury a little over a minute into the game. He returned briefly in the second quarter, before taking the rest of the day off.

Tim McManus at ESPN.com touched upon some possible conclusions from the Eagles’ shockingly lousy performance:

“It showed that while the Eagles had some encouraging moments over the second half of the season, they’re an average team still miles away from being a legitimate contender.

“When the season comes to a halt — especially in the jarring, ego-bruising fashion that the Eagles’ season did — questions immediately flood in.  The one with the most gravity to it: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at quarterback? He had some very good stretches over the course of the regular season and, at age 23, guided Philadelphia to the postseason in his first year as a full-time starter. His final impression was not a good one, however, as he was inefficient through the air and had a pair of costly interceptions. The Eagles have three first-round picks in April’s draft and must decide whether to use that capital on another signal-caller.

“I know we’re all judged on the last game that we played, I fully get that, but I felt like Jalen grew throughout the year,” said coach Nick Sirianni. “And he got better as a passer, he got better reading the defense, getting the ball to the right place. He developed so much in his ability to extend plays, not only making plays with his feet but also making plays downfield on the scramble. … I feel really good with what we have in place right here at the quarterback position. I thought he had a great year and he came a long way and that’s [what] I expect of Jalen just because of the character he has, the toughness he has, the love for football he has. I can’t say enough things about Jalen the person and the player.”

Once that direction is determined, they can move on to other pressing matters, including bolstering their pass rush and adding better playmakers on offense. While the Eagles did manage to sack Tom Brady four times Sunday (their production picked up when All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs exited with an ankle injury), they finished with the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (29) during the regular season. Edge rushers are of particular need. Brandon Graham is going to be 34 years old next year and is coming off an Achilles rupture, Derek Barnett is a pending free agent, making Josh Sweat, who did not play in this game following a medical procedure earlier in the week, the only defensive end currently considered a building block. Receiver remains a big need, with little production coming from the position outside rookie DeVonta Smith.

One question that was answered this season was about Sirianni. Yes, it appears, he can coach. The Eagles overperformed in 2021. Once the sting eases from this loss, that will be the general consensus in Philadelphia. But they beat only one team that finished the season with a winning record (the New Orleans Saints, at 9-8). And while the chants that broke out in the crowd at the end of Sunday’s game — “Eagles suck!” — weren’t quite accurate, they’re as close to the bottom as they are the top. Their moves this offseason will help dictate which direction they go in 2022.

“This game does not define us, does not define who we are,” said Hurts. “We know all of the different things we have overcome, we know the environment that we’ve built as a football team and an organization. … I know as a football team, we’ll be back. And this is a feeling that will kind of simmer in our hearts and simmer for us all. And with the youth on this football team, we’re definitely coming back hungry.”

Some notable Jalen Hurts stats from the first half, via ESPN Stats & Info: He was 2-of-8 with an interception on passes with more than 10 air yards, 2-of-6 with a pick when pressured, and 0-of-4 with an interception on passes outside the pocket. His interception near the end of the first half in the end zone was the beginning of the end for the Eagles this season.

It was not pretty.

Matchup
1st Downs 14 23
Passing 1st downs 10 14
Rushing 1st downs 3 8
1st downs from penalties 1 1
3rd down efficiency 5-14 4-13
4th down efficiency 1-3 0-1
Total Plays 62 72
Total Yards 339 349
Total Drives 13 13
Yards per Play 5.5 4.8
Passing 244 243
Comp-Att 23-43 29-37
Yards per pass 5.4 5.9
Interceptions thrown 2 0
Sacks-Yards Lost 2-14 4-28
Rushing 95 106
Rushing Attempts 17 31
Yards per rush 5.6 3.4
Red Zone (Made-Att) 1-1 3-5
Penalties 4-45 4-35
Turnovers 3 0
Fumbles lost 1 0
Interceptions thrown 2 0
Defensive / Special Teams TDs 0 0
Possession 26:57 33:03