Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a fine tune-up in their first playoff game as the defending Super Bowl champions, taking a 31-point lead after three quarters and never looking back in a 31-15 rout over the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady finished 29 of 37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns as Tampa Bay controlled the game from the opening kickoff.
The Buccaneers defense forced three turnovers and picked off Jalen Hurts two times in the rout. Hurts finished 23 of 43 for 258 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, yet most of those completions and yards were when the game was out of hand. The Eagles entered the game as the top-ranked rushing attack in the league, but were held to just 17 carries for 95 yards on the afternoon. Boston Scott scored Philadelphia's first touchdown in the fourth quarter on his only carry of the game, a 34-yard run to prevent the shutout.
Tampa Bay scored three times on its first four possessions to take a 17-0 lead, as Brady went 20 of 25 for 159 yards before halftime. Both of Brady's touchdown passes came in the second half: a two-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski and a 36-yard strike to Mike Evans that put Tampa Bay up 31-0 in the third quarter. Evans finished with nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Here are the takeaways from the Buccaneers' dominant effort:
Why the Buccaneers won
Tampa Bay was able to shut down the Eagles' rushing attack by sending an extra rusher (typically a cornerback or safety) on the blitz, forcing Hurts to throw under pressure and make mistakes when passing the ball.
The Buccaneers forced the Eagles to pass, knowing Hurts had just one or two options to throw to. Hurts was off on his throws, but the Eagles receivers didn't make a difference in adjusting when the run was taken away.
The Buccaneers had the opportunity to complete passes early by taking advantage of Philadelphia's two-high safeties on defense, moving the ball down the field at will early and forcing Philadelphia to throw the ball.
For the Eagles, it didn't go well. The Buccaneers took the lead after their first possession and never looked back.
Why the Eagles lost
The Eagles were just beaten in all three phases of the game. Hurts was late on his throws throughout the day, the Eagles' pass catchers couldn't consistently get open, and the offensive line couldn't contain the Buccaneers sending extra rushers, which forced the Eagles quarterback to run for his life and make poor decisions.
The Eagles defense allowed Brady to have a clean pocket early by not sending extra rushers after him. They played back on the Buccaneers receivers, which allowed a high volume of completions and easy scoring drives. The adjustments were made too late.
Jalen Reagor was a disaster on special teams, muffing a punt when the Eagles were trailing 17-0 after a defensive stop in the third quarter that led to a Buccaneers touchdown, and allowing two punts to go past him that set up the Eagles 10 yards back from where they should have started their possession. Reagor likely played his final game with the Eagles after two disastrous seasons.
Philadelphia was dominated in its wild card playoff loss to Tampa Bay. Plain and simple.
The Buccaneers controlled this one from the opening kickoff, but the Eagles had an opportunity to get back in this one late in the first half. Trailing 17-0, Jalen Hurts drove the Eagles downfield and gave them an opportunity to score before intermission.
On second-and-4 from the Buccaneers' 21-yard line, DeVonta Smith got his man to slip and found himself open in the end zone. Rolling to his left and facing pressure, Hurts made an errant throw to the open Smith by firing a rocket instead of lobbing it.
Mike Edwards was able to close in on Smith and pick off the pass in the end zone, resulting in the Eagles trailing 17-0 at half instead of getting points on the board. If Hurts lobbed the pass to Smith, perhaps the Eagles would have scored a touchdown or lived to see another play if Hurts overthrew it.
Instead, they came up with nothing and the rout was on.
Play of the game
The Buccaneers made a lot of highlight-reel plays in this one, but Shaquil Barrett's interception off Hurts on fourth-and-3 in the third quarter takes the cake.
With Tampa Bay already up 24-0, Hurts threw off his back foot as the Eagles picked up the blitz. The throw was a major mistake, allowing Barrett to convert a one-handed interception at the Buccaneers' 47-yard line.
Hurts threw his second interception of the game from that mistake, but Barrett deserves a lot of credit for making that interception possible. If Barrett didn't tip the pass, Smith may have had a first down and more.
The Buccaneers will host an NFC Divisional playoff game next weekend at a day and time to be determined. The Eagles finish the 2021 campaign with a 9-8 regular season record and a first-round playoff exit.