By Leo Haggerty

With the National Football League continuing its severe media practice attendance limitations, I don’t have any first-hand information to provide you on the Buccaneers.  There were two occurrences that I have to relate to you and my opinion on both.

The first event was the in-game exodus of WR Antonio Brown.  After a heated discussion on the sidelines between #81 and HC Bruce Arians, the 11-year pro took off his equipment and headed for the locker room.  Since then, Tampa Bay has released Brown and, in my humble opinion, that makes this a non-issue from that point forward and does not rate any further discussion.  It’s water over the dam and time to move on.  Drop the mic on AB, right?

The second event this week was what I believe is the unwanted criticism of Arians as it applies to his late game decision to go for the two point conversion after the Buccaneers scored the go ahead touchdown.  The critic’s argument was that the Pewter Pirates Head Honcho should have kicked the PAT to go up three.  That would mean that the Jets, with two timeouts but only 15 seconds left in regulation, would only tie the game with a field goal and not win it if the two point attempt failed.

Obviously, the people who are aspiring to that theory have played very little football at any level if they stepped on to the gridiron at all.  Here’s what we do know.  When Arians was queried on that decision, he responded that the only way the Jets could tie the game was to block the kick and return it for two points.

Now, here’s what those nay-sayers didn’t take into consideration.  First, the New York defense was gassed and demoralized after giving up a 93 yard scoring drive that ended in a touchdown with 15 seconds on the clock.  Second, the Jets had their PAT block team on the field.  That would force the Green & White to take a timeout to get the correct personnel on the gridiron.  Third, if the home team took that time out, that would leave them with only one and the Buccaneers could have elected to back the pigskin up and kick the extra point to make it a three point lead.  Fourth, when there was no time out taken.  the Pewter Pirates could run a safe handoff to the 220 pound RB Le’Veon Bell.  #6 went across the goal line practically unmolested.  That gave Tampa Bay a four point lead taking the field goal out of the equation and, for all intents and purposes, sealing the victory.  Hey, no risk it no biscuit, correct?

Tampa Bay, after a lethargic start, turned on the jets scoring 31 second half points to run away from Carolina by a 41-17 count.  The victory moved the Bucs to a franchise record 13-4 and, coupled with a San Francisco 49ers overtime victory over the Los Angeles Rams, secured the Pewter Pirates as the #2 seed in the NFL National Conference playoffs.  The loss dropped the Panthers to 5-12 on the campaign and last in the NFC South Division.

The Cats took the opening kickoff and immediately put points up on the board at 7:22 of the opening period.  QB Sam Darnold (29 of 42 for 219 yards and 2 TD plus 1 INT) found RB Chuba Hubbard (2 for 8 yards and 1 TD) with a swing pass to the right for a two yard scoring strike.  That finished off a 14 play drive that travelled 75 yards in 7:38.  K Lirim Hajrtullaha booted the PAT and Carolina took an early 7-0 advantage.

The Bucs cut into that margin at 11:11 of the second period.  K Ryan Succop booted a 39 yard field goal to put to bed a 40 yard drive that took 3:51 and 10 plays.  That cut the Panthers lead to 7-3.

The Pewter Pirates took their first lead of the game with 15 ticks left in the opening half.  QB Tom Brady (29 of 37 for 326 yards and 3 TD) rolled out right and found Bell (1 for 1 yard and 1 TD)  with a short swing pass for a one yard catch and run.  That culminated an eight play drive that took 1:33 to traverse 92 yards.  Succop was true with the PAT and the Buccaneers took their first lead of the tilt at 10-7 heading into intermission.

Whatever Arians said at halftime he needs to bottle it because the Bucs came out on fire.  Taking the opening kickoff of the second half and going up tempo for the entire series, RB Ke’Shaun Vaughn (10 for 29 yards and 1 TD) rambled the final two yards at 11:57 of the third quarter.  That ended a seven play drive that took 3:03 to go 77 yards.  Succop converted the extra point and Tampa Bay increased their margin to 17-7.

The Cats answered on their next drive posting points at 4:44 of the third quarter.  Hajrullahu drilled a 35 yard field goal that put to bed a 52 yard drive that took 4:42 and nine plays.  That cut the Pewter Pirates lead to 17-10.

The Buccaneers stretched their lead on their next possession.  Brady found WR Mike Evans (6 for 89 yards and 2 TD) in the back right corner of the end zone with a three yard scoring aerial.  That capped a 4:48 drive that went 62 yards in eight plays. Succop drilled the PAT and Bucs increased their lead to 24-10 just four ticks into the final quarter.

Their was still fight left in the Panthers as they scored at 10:40 of the fourth period.  Darnold located WR Robby Anderson  (7 for 50 yards and 1 TD) just across the goal line on the left sideline with a 19 yard scoring strike.  That drive took 4:22 to cover 56 yards in eight plays.  Hajrullahu split the uprights with the conversion and that pulled Carolina to within striking distance at 24-17 but that’s as close as the Cats would get.

The Bucs put the game out of reach with scores on their next three possessions.  The first came when Brady hooked up with Evans again this time from 20 yards out.  That finished off a six play drive that went 75 yards in 3:00.  Succop made the PAT and Tampa Bay extended their lead to 31-17 at 7:34 of the fourth quarter.

The second came, after Darnold fumbled and it was recovered by S Antoine Winfield, came at 2:30 later.  Succup cashed in from 40 yards out ended a short three play drive that went five yards in 1:25.  That extended the home team’s advantage to 34-17.

The third came, after Carolina turned it over on downs, quickly 10 seconds later at 4:07 of the final period.  On the Pewter Pirates first offensive play, WR Scotty Miller (2 for 43 yards and 1 TD) took a jet sweep to the house from 33 yards out.  Succop was good with the conversion and  that made the final arithmetic 41-17 in favor of Tampa Bay.

Had a chance to ask a question of NT Vita Vea in the post game Zoom interview.  Her is his response to my question.

LH : Last year in the playoff, you had to go to Washington and New Orleans and Green Bay.  How does it feel knowing you’re guaranteed two home playoff games if it wins next week?
VV : I think it’s really nice. Really nice for us as a team and also for the fans to come experience that. Obviously, last year with COVID, it was a lot different. I think it’ll help us in general.