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Bucs dominate Eagles in wild-card win

Mark Parker

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A sellout crowd packed into Raymond James Stadium to watch Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their title defense against the Atlanta Falcons on Jan. 16. Photo by Lonn Anderson.

Tampa Bay’s pursuit of a second-straight Lombardi trophy is off to a hot start Sunday, after cruising to a 31-15 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Quarterback Tom Brady once again led the way for the Buccaneers, completing 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Fears that a stiff wind in Raymond James Stadium may slow down Tampa’s passing attack proved unfounded, as Brady led the team down the field for a score on the first possession of the game.

With the Bucs missing their top two running backs due to injuries, lightly-used backups Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn came up big for the team from the outset of the game. Bernard’s two-yard run began the scoring for the Bucs, and Vaugn punched the ball in the endzone from a yard out on the following drive to give Tampa an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

“I think we’re just going to have to keep doing what we did today,” Brady told reporters after the game. “Everyone’s got to touch it, make some explosive plays.”

Tampa Bay’s defense played with a championship-level intensity, setting the tone for the game from the start. Philadelphia ran just eight plays in the first quarter, gaining a paltry 17 yards. The Eagles only managed one first down in the first quarter, compared to 11 for the Bucs.

The Buccaneers defense welcomed the return of injured star linebackers Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul for the opening round of the playoffs. The Eagles nearly scored late in the second quarter before safety Mike Edwards intercepted Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts’ pass in the end zone just before halftime. Edwards would go on to lead the Bucs in tackles for the game.

“We did a good job possessing it; the defense played great,” said Brady. “So, it was a great team win.”

The Bucs kept their intensity through the break, and Brady found tight end Rob Gronkowski uncovered in the end zone to make it a 24-0 game in the third quarter. Shortly after, a 36-yard pass from Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans made it 31-0. Evans led all pass catchers with nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown.

The Eagles came into the game with the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack, running for a least 130 yards over their last nine games. However, Philadelphia only managed 95 yards on the ground against the Bucs.

With the game well in hand, Philadelphia would eventually find the endzone in the final quarter of play. Eagles running back Boston Scott carried the ball for a 34-yard touchdown run, followed by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Hurts to running back Kenneth Gainwell. The Eagles converted the ensuing 2-point conversion to make it 31-15 with 4:45 remaining, though neither team would score again before the final whistle.

“We’ll be back,” said Hurts, who at 23 is the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game for Philadelphia. “This is a feeling that will kind of simmer in our hearts, simmer for us all.”

Tampa Bay now looks to carry the momentum from an emphatic victory into the divisional round of the playoffs. The Bucs host the winner of Monday night’s wild-card game between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams next Sunday (Jan.23) at Raymond James Stadium.

“It only gets tougher from here,” said Brady after the game.

 

 

 

 

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