2021 NFL playoffs: What we learned from Buccaneers' win over Eagles on Super Wild Card Weekend

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1. Bucs' Super Bowl title defense off to a roaring start. Tampa dominated in all three phases from the jump, squashing any hopes the upstart Eagles could keep it close. Tom Brady diced up the Philly defense with quick passes, averaging 2.17 seconds to throw, the fastest in a game this season. Despite missing several key pieces, Brady knew the weak points to the Eagles' vanilla defense pre-snap and ate it alive, chipping their way down the field for two first-quarter TD drives of 10-plus plays as the route was on. Sans Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, the Eagles still couldn’t slow Mike Evans, who set a club franchise record with nine catches for 117 yards and a TD. There were some early miscues between Brady and his replacement receivers, and the G.O.A.T. took four sacks. But on the whole, Tampa got out to a big lead and never looked back. It was an excellent amuse-bouche for the Bucs' playoff feast.2


2. Jalen Hurts regresses after late-season improvement. The second-year quarterback looked overmatched most of the contest until garbage time -- much like he did versus Tampa in Week 6. Against a juggernaut Bucs run D, the matchup would always come down to Hurts’ arm. Credit the QB for fighting back to make the scoreboard more palatable in garbage time, but his struggles early cost Philly as they got down 31-0. Hurts struggled much as he did during the Eagles' early-season swoon. The QB fled the pocket too soon at times, missing opportunities for big plays. He often missed high and wide. Nothing down the field from Hurts was on target as he went 2 of 11 for 63 yards and an INT on deep passes. His two interceptions killed any chance for the Eagles to keep it close. The inconsistent play Sunday belied the improvement the young signal-caller displayed down the stretch of the regular season. After the stinker, Philadelphia will spend the offseason debating whether Hurts has done enough to retain the starting gig in 2022.


3. Bucs D dominates. Hurts struggled because the Super Bowl defense was back in Tampa. Todd Bowles’ unit flew around the field from start to finish. The Bucs stifled an Eagles top-ranked run game that came in hot. Tampa was well prepared for the run-pass options and read-options that the Eagles love to run with Hurts, smothering them from the outset. Through three quarters, the Bucs forced four three-and-outs and allowed just one drive with more than one first down on nine Philly possessions. The Eagles generated 44 rushing yards through three quarters. Tampa’s D was an oppressive nightmare. The safety play was superb, with Jordan Whitehead flying around, making tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and Mike Edwards leading the team with nine tackles and a glorious INT in the end zone. Shaq Barrett’s tip-INT in coverage was the icing on top of Sunday’s pound cake. Tampa got healthy on defense heading into the postseason, and it showed with a dominant performance from Bowles’ crew.


4. Nick Sirianni’s team was blasted with haymakers, didn’t fight back until too late. So much for showing his team Rocky before the game. All three phases got pummeled. The special teams were a disaster. The defense couldn’t make a game-changing play. But it was Sirianni’s offense that was the most depressing. It took forever for Philly to get DeVonta Smith involved. The team's biggest weapon and a first-round pick can’t have one catch in the first half of a playoff game. Smith’s two big, fourth-quarter plays when the game was already decided underscored the issue with not involving the rookie earlier. Sirianni’s offense reverted to its early-season struggles when it couldn’t get the run game going. A cavalcade of inefficient WR screens wasn’t going to get it done against the reigning Super Bowl Champs. The beatdown will lead to questions about whether Philly simply beat bad teams/quarterbacks to make the postseason. The loss pushed the Eagles to 0-7 against playoff teams on the year.


5. Tristan Wirfs' injury something to monitor. The All-Pro right tackle injured his ankle on the opening drive of the game and had to be helped off the field. He attempted to come back just before halftime but could barely put any weight on his right leg and was swiftly ruled out. Wirfs had played every snap this season until the injury. Veteran Josh Wells filled in but was banged up himself. Wirfs’ injury didn’t kill the Bucs on Sunday, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the competition increases deeper into January. If the ankle knocks Wirfs out next week, it would be a massive blow to a Bucs offense already missing key pieces.


NFL Research: Tom Brady notched his 35th career postseason victory. The man with the next-most is Hall of Famer Joe Montana with 16.


Next Gen Stat of the game: Tampa generated 22 QB pressures, led by Anthony Nelson’s seven on just 22 pass rushes.

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