With relative ease, the No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers outlasted the No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles during Sunday's Super Wild Card matchup and are moving on to the Divisional Round of the 2021-22 NFL playoffs, following a 31-15 win.
Before we find out who the Bucs will next face next weekend in the second leg of the postseason — one of the No. 3 Dallas Cowboys, No. 4 Los Angeles Rams or No. 5 Arizona Cardinals — it's time to take a look back at where the Buccaneers shined and where concerns were raised (you'd have to look thoroughly) throughout what was a lopsided victory over the Eagles to begin building playoff momentum.
You can find our takeaways from the matchup below.
It was an easy day for Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense
You probably wouldn't have noticed that the Buccaneers were without their starting and No. 2 running backs, No. 1 wide receiver and a handful of other pass-catchers on Sunday. Tampa Bay's offense ran a masterful game plan to perfection that simply took advantage of what Philadelphia gave the unit, en route to 31 points and 349 total yards.
Reserve running backs Giovani Bernard and Ke'Shawn Vaughn carried the load in the run game, with Bernard pitching in quite a bit as a receiver, scoring a combined two touchdowns on the ground and averaging a poor, yet at the same time effective, 3.2 yards per carry. When needed, the Bucs were able to run the ball to move the chains and put the ball in the end zone.
The passing game was similar, not relying on deep shots but utilizing quick concepts and creating yards after the catch. Nine different players caught passes throughout the matchup, with Mike Evans leading the way on nine grabs for 117 yards and a score with Rob Gronkowski scoring a touchdown of his own on a play-action concept that fooled the entire Eagles' defense.
Tom Brady finished his day having completed 29-of-37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. The game's broadcasters were already wondering if Brady and the starters should have been pulled in the middle of the third quarter as a result of the unit's efficiency.
Bucs shut Eagles' run game down, and Jalen Hurts couldn't make up for it
The biggest threat Philadelphia posed offensively entering the game was on the ground, as the Eagles finished the season ranking No. 1 in the NFL in rushing offense.
The issue for Philly? Tampa Bay's rushing defense ranked No. 3. And it was the Buccaneers that came out on top of the battle, limiting the Eagles to only 95 yards on 17 attempts, and only 35 of those yards came in the first half when the contest was in reach whatsoever.
While the Eagles faltered on the ground, quarterback Jalen Hurts was incapable of getting the passing game going. Pitching an interception on a late read and throwing for only 88 yards on 19 first-half attempts, Hurts routinely made throws late and missed some open receivers down the field, leaving the Eagles in a hole that — even after finding some life in the second half — they couldn't climb out of.
Hurts threw a second pick in the second half as well, tossing a jump pass which was batted into the air and acrobatically caught by edge rusher Shaquil Barrett.
Offensive line health now in question
Five plays into the game, the Bucs lost All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs due to an ankle injury. Two drives later, center Ryan Jensen suffered what appeared to be a very painful back injury.
Fortunately, Jensen was able to return to play and didn't miss a beat. However, despite trying to take the field on a second-quarter drive, Wirfs continued to limp around and was eventually ruled out of the game with an ankle sprain.
Barring any setbacks, Jensen should be fine to play in the divisional round of the playoffs, although his status is a bit concerning as he's dealt with some injuries throughout the year and was visibly uncomfortable after suffering his injury.
As for Wirfs, his status will be worth monitoring throughout the week as his movement skills took a turn for the worse when he attempted to play. Tampa Bay's top linemen and one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, the Bucs depend on Wirfs to keep Brady's jersey clean, and when he wasn't on the gridiron, the Bucs allowed Brady to be sacked four times and take a roughing the passer hit.
Special teams came to play
Both the Bucs and the Eagles avoided long field goal attempts throughout the game due to windy and sometimes wet conditions, although that wasn't a problem for Tampa Bay kicker Ryan Succop, who nailed a 34-yard field goal and four extra-point attempts throughout the contest.
Tampa Bay's other foot-user, punter Bradley Pinion, had a stellar day as well. Punting seven times into and with the wind, Pinion averaged 48.7 yards per punt and pinned three kicks inside of Philly's 20-yard line. The coverage teams did a great job on Pinion's punts as well, seen by a muffed punt forced by Scotty Miller and recovered by Ross Cockrell and on a return held to no gain when blown up by Dee Delaney.
Head coach Bruce Arians put it best after the matchup, the Bucs had their best game of the season when it came to special teams. The performance played a huge part in what was a dominant victory.
What should Philadelphia do this offseason?
Give the Eagles some props, they did the improbable and made the playoffs after beginning the season 2-5 under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. That being said, the Eagles weren't viewed as a contender this year and have some holes to fill across their roster in order to become a threat in the postseason in 2022 and beyond.
The bad news is the Eagles do not have much projected cap room, currently possessing just over $13 million with a small handful of important contracts set to expire such as defensive end Derek Barnett's, cornerback Steven Nelson's and safety Anthony Harris'. The good news: Philadelphia owns three first-round draft picks this offseason and ten selections in total.
The question is, should the Eagles believe in Jalen Hurts as their unquestioned QB1, at least for the upcoming season? That decision will be the story of Philadelphia's season, although to be frank, the front office doesn't have many other options at signal-caller.
The draft class of quarterbacks is underwhelming this year and the Eagles don't have the cap space to pursue a free agent passer. With their three first-round picks and ample selections to follow, the Eagles can build around Hurts this offseason and see if he improves enough as a passer to lead the team further into the playoffs in 2022-23.
Hurts needs help at wide receiver, better protection, and more playmakers on defense to set the offense up with better field position on a consistent basis. The Eagles can provide Hurts the weapons he needs with their stockpile of picks, but will they?
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