Wed. Jun 12th, 2024
NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Bucs v Detroit Lions
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Bucs gave it everything but a few self-inflicted wounds turned the tide.

People will bemoan Baker Mayfield’s game-ending interception or the defense allowing three straight scoring drives, but ultimately the Bucs came dangerously close to pulling off THE upset of the 2023 NFL Postseason.

The Detroit Lions showed how they won 12 games, marrying a meticulous, yet explosive offensive approach with creative pressure packages to edge the Bucs, 31-23, on Sunday. It was a dead heat through 3 quarters, with the defenses largely taking center stage before some late-game dynamics from both Jared Goff and Mayfield.

An unfortunate injury to Jamel Dean for Tampa coincided with the floodgates opening, as the Lions finally starting ripping off chunk plays and scoring thrice before Tampa could stop the bleeding and keep its chances alive.

All in all, it’s impossible not to consider this year a success for the Bucs. There seems to be a foundation worth building on, and the offseason will be fascinating for seeing how that approach continues.

For the last time, let’s give our top performer shoutouts.

Offensive Top Performer: WR Mike Evans

Make no mistake, Evans made some terrible focus drops early in the game, including a straight-up volleyball set that turned into a tip-drill interception.

As frustrating as that was, Evans showed what makes him an elite talent by shrugging off the struggles and setting a new franchise record for receiving yards in a postseason game with 147 yards on 8 catches. His jump ball touchdown also kept the team alive late, further punctuating how necessary keeping him around is.

Speculation on his future will swirl like crazy for the next 6 weeks, but for now we can appreciate the best offensive player in Bucs history once again showing up when it mattered and producing like the Hall of Famer he is.

On the passing end, Mayfield matched his feat from last week by producing only the second 300-yard, 3-touchdown performance in team playoff history. The final interception stung, but it shouldn’t undercut Mayfield orchestrating several successful drives prior to that. His outlook is also uncertain, but it seems like a good bet he’s earned two or three more years in red and pewter.

More certainly, Rachaad White punctuated his RB1 status with another good performance against an excellent rush defense. He carried just 9 times but ran for 55 yards (6.1 average) and caught 4 passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. If OC Dave Canales sticks around, it will be exciting to see how White continues to evolve in his dual role.

Finally, Cade Otton tallied more impressive numbers after leading all receivers last week. His 5 catches for 65 yards and one score proved pivotal, and he’s at least secured TE1 status going into next year as well.

Defensive Top Performer: LB Lavonte David

What more can I say about this man that hasn’t already been uttered?

David shows up over and over, without fail — a true beacon of consistency is the soon-to-be 34-year-old franchise legend. He total 13 tackles, 2 for loss, with one sack, playing a crucial role in largely stymieing the fearsome Detroit ground game and containing rookie phenom Sam LaPorta, who caught 9 balls but only for 65 yards (7.2 YPC).

If David wants to keep playing, there should be zero doubt in his ability to do so. And Tampa shouldn’t hesitate for even a second to give him a healthy 1-year deal to keep it going.

If he returns, he’d enjoy a much more reliable running mate in K.J. Britt, who has completely exceeded expectations to become a solid multi-down linebacker. His run fits were awesome on Sunday, and he held up fine enough in coverage to keep giving him extended looks. Britt finished with 12 total tackles, 1 for loss.

Calijah Kancey picked up where he left off last week as well, as the rookie defensive tackle was one of the only consistent sources of pressure for the front 4 all afternoon. He finished with a sack and multiple pressures, giving the team plenty of optimism that they’ve already hit on their 2023 first-round pick.

Jamel Dean played very well, but an unfortunate back injury served as a fitting microcosm for his fifth-year campaign. With Zyon McCollum forced into duty, the Lions immediately pounced by pounding him with the blunt force object that is Amon-Ra St. Brown, who eviscerated McCollum throughout the 4th quarter.

With Dean’s contract basically unmovable for 2024, hopefully he can find a way to remain healthy and return to his previous form.

Special Teams Top Performer: P Jake Camarda

Camarda worked through an uneven second half of the season, but he boomed some beauties that very much helped the field position battle.

His 66-yard long was the longest in his postseason career, as he punted four times and averaged a massive 51.8 yard gross average with two punts inside the 20. Hopefully this game gives him the confidence to further improve his consistency next season.

And while he missed a field goal, Chase McLaughlin still deserves a ton of praise. Just three misses all season, playoffs included, with 31 field goals is a fantastic performance by any measure, and he’s earned his long-term home in Tampa if he wants it.

The Bucs’ special teams are positioned strongly for the future.

By admin