The home crowd began to boo in the first half of Thursday Night Football, but you wouldn't have known it if you only tuned in for the second half (or at least, the final 20 minutes).
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles last night, getting off to a hot start with a halftime lead of 21-7 while outgaining the Eagles with 233 offensive yards compared to 73.
Yet, the game ended with Tampa Bay hanging onto a one-possession lead, finishing with a score of 28-22. Philadelphia was able to cover the spread by half a point as the Buccaneers' offense stalled and the Eagles were able to put together some last-minute points as a result. The Bucs finished with 399 yards on 73 plays while the Eagles posted 213 yards on 47 offensive snaps.
A win is a win, though, and the Bucs can be proud of a road victory in their third game in 12 days. That being said, there's plenty of positive and some negative to pull from the final result, which you can find in AllBucs' takeaways from the matchup below.
Yet another big game for Leonard Forunette
We discussed this in our takeaways a week ago, but it is worth repeating now: Leonard Fournette has taken the Buccaneers' running back No. 1 duties and, literally, ran with them.
Fournette played a massive part in the Bucs' game plan last night, both on the ground and through the air, which led to his 47 snaps compared to 14 for Ronald Jones II and 12 for Giovani Bernard at running back. Fournette has been a more productive rusher than Jones this season so his early-down presence made a lot of sense, but he significantly out-snapped Bernard on passing downs, which seemed surprising as Bernard had scored a receiving touchdown in consecutive appearances.
The surprise could be quickly forgotten, though: In addition to 81 yards and two scores on 22 rushing attempts, Fournette ranked tied for second on the team with six receptions (catching 100 percent of his targets) for a third-ranking 43 yards, while a total of eight Bucs caught passes on the night.
Provided his early-season struggles and limited usage to follow, there are doubts that the Bucs could have pulled off the same game plan with Jones in the same role. Instead, Fournette continued to prove himself as Tampa Bay's top running back, a role that should no longer be in question for the fifth-year pro.
And yet another Buccaneers' secondary injury
Jeez, how many times can we write the same takeaway?
Once again, the Buccaneers lost a starting defensive back due to injury throughout a game this season - this time, it was cornerback Richard Sherman. The recently-signed defensive back went out with a hamstring injury in the first quarter and was quickly ruled out of the game after posting one tackle.
Head coach Bruce Arians described the injury as a pulled hamstring after the game, and NFL Network has since reported that Sherman could miss "a couple weeks" depending on the results of an MRI. Fortunately for Sherman and the Bucs, the team has an extended break before facing Chicago next Sunday as the Eagles game was on Thursday night.
Still, hamstring injuries are nothing to take lightly. Should Sherman rush his recovery while the remainder of the Bucs' secondary remains injury-plagued, he could aggravate the injury and set the secondary back even further. It remains unknown if nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting will be activated from injured reserve any time soon, while outside corner Carlton Davis III won't be eligible to return until at least Week 8 - and odds are he'll be out even longer than that.
The good news for Tampa Bay is that Jamel Dean has taken his play up a level after returning from an injury of his own. He's committed some costly penalties this year including a 45-yard pass interference at the beginning of last night's game, but Dean has tallied two interceptions and six defended passes in the past two weeks, with one pick and four breakups on Thursday.
Philly didn't think to try Tampa Bay's run defense, until "garbage time"
At halftime, the Eagles had only run the ball seven times for 21 yards. A decent chunk of those yards came from quarterback Jalen Hurts scrambling out of pressure - running back Miles Sanders only had one carry for one yard to that point.
Sanders only earned three carries in the third quarter, tallying five yards. The Eagles finally moved the ball on the ground in the fourth quarter (unless you count Hurts' six-yard scramble touchdown at the end of the third quarter), as Sanders put together 56 yards on two drives while the Eagles were able to get back within one score of the lead.
It mattered very little, though, as Tampa Bay was able to run out the clock following Philadelphia's most productive rushing drive of the night.
The Buccaneers entered the game with the league's best run defense, allowing just over 45 yards per game on the season. The box score from this week will raise that average, but with the context in mind, there is no denying that this Buccaneers' run defense is elite - perhaps the team's best in the three-season stretch of being the top unit in the NFL. Philadelphia didn't even think to run the ball for most of the night, the team knew better.
O.J. Howard bounces back
After tearing his Achilles a year ago, it's taken fifth-year tight end O.J. Howard time to reacclimate himself within the Bucs' offense. As such, he's struggled to create much of anything as a receiver and has shown no progression as a blocker.
Blocking remains a concern, but Howard re-emerged as a pass-catcher on Thursday night.
Howard led Tampa Bay's tight end unit with six receptions on seven targets for 49 yards, scoring his first touchdown since Week 4 of the 2020 season. Given the seriousness of his injury a year ago, it is obvious that Howard has lost a bit of the top-speed that makes him a unique tight end, but he showed off athleticism and strength against Philadelphia with impressive yards after the catch and two successful stiff-arms on the night.
The Bucs are hopeful that starting tight end and red zone star Rob Gronkowski will play in Week 7 as he's missed three games in a row with a rib injury. However, if Howard can build upon this performance, the team will have much less to worry about at tight end if/when Gronkowski is unavailable.
A curious play-call and poor throw put the lead in jeopardy
Truthfully, the Buccaneers should never have felt threatened by the Eagles on Thursday night. But they did, as the Eagles were able to drive down the field for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter and were provided another scoring opportunity in the middle of the fourth.
On their second-to-last drive of the game, the Bucs took a chance on 4th and 3 near midfield with 9:04 left on the clock. Quarterback Tom Brady threw an inaccurate pass to Howard down the field and near the sideline which went incomplete, which gave the Eagles the ball on their side of the field. They scored seven plays later and converted a two-point conversion to make it a six-point ball game with 5:57 remaining in the matchup.
All while the Bucs' offense scored one time across their four second-half possessions, which combined in 158 yards on 33 plays - far less efficient than the first half - until the final drive in which Tampa Bay successfully wiped the remaining time off of the clock. All it would have taken, though, was one mistake on the Bucs' end to hand the ball back to the Eagles and put control of the final result in Philadelphia's hands.
Going for it on 4th and 3 was an aggressive but understandable decision, as Tampa Bay had an opportunity to put the game away with a fourth-quarter score of any kind. But why the shot to Howard? Why not trust Fournette to churn out three yards as he had done all night against a worn-down and disappointing Eagles' run defense? Why not a short throw to Antonio Brown who had little issue separating throughout the game?
The decision was risky, but sensical. The play call, as well as the throw from Brady, were poor - and could have changed the outcome of the game if Philadelphia had picked up enough momentum.
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