Bucs handle their in-state rivals for a 45-17 victory
Through the first four possessions of Sunday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon, each team had gone on two lengthy scoring drives and the game was tied, 10-10. From there, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay defense took over and the Buccaneers ran away with a 45-17 Week Five victory at Raymond James Stadium.
Brady threw five touchdown passes and racked up 411 passing yards without being intercepted, extending his team-record streak to 203 consecutive passes without a pick. It was also the 12th 400-yard passing game of his career and his ninth outing with five-plus touchdown passes. It was, however, the first game of his career in which he had both 400-plus yards and five TDs.
"For Tom, he sees that he's got a lot of weapons," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "There's contributions from everybody and he trusts guys. His understanding of what we're trying to do inside the 25, and outside the 25 – he can still hit that deep ball as good as anybody."
With the win, the Buccaneers improved to 4-1, marking the fifth time in team history they have been 4-1 or better after five games. In each of the other four – 1979, 1997, 2002 and 2005 – the Buccaneers made the playoffs, with division titles in all but 1997. With Carolina falling to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Buccaneers took over sole possession of first in the NFC South, one game ahead of both the Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
"It was a good team victory," said Arians. "Offensively, we led the way. Every time they would get back [into the game], we'd answer the bell. And that's what you would expect. I think this was the first fourth quarter when we had the lead and didn't give up any points. That was a big step forward, also."
Brady threw two touchdown passes apiece to Antonio Brown and Mike Evans, including a 62-yarder to Brown in the second quarter that broke that 10-10 tie and put Tampa Bay up for good. Blaine Gabbert relieved Brady for the final seven minutes of the game. Brown finished with seven catches for 124 yards to lead the team and record his third 100-yard game since joining the Buccaneers at midseason in 2020. Along the way, he replaced Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison as the fastest to 900 career catches in NFL history.
"It's pretty amazing," said Brady of Brown's feat. "Give him a lot of credit. He's been through a lot and shown a lot of mental toughness, a lot of resilience, a lot of support from a lot of different people in his life at different times. Everyone just really wants him to succeed. BA and Byron [Leftwich] just do a great job with all the different guys that we've got. We've got a really unique group of guys and they're very talented, obviously."
While Brown is a relative newcomer to the Bucs' offense, Evans has been its most productive player for the past eight seasons. He had another 113 yards on six catches Sunday and his two touchdowns pushed his career total to 66, just five behind Mike Alstott for the all-time franchise record. In all, 10 different players caught passes against the Dolphins Sunday and five had more than 40 yards.
"Those guys are very selfless, too, because the ball is going a lot of different places," said Brady. "All those guys are getting opportunities to make plays and it's just fun to see when everyone's involved how fun it can be. … Mike's a great player, Chris [Godwin] is a great player, Tyler [Johnson] made some plays, so everybody's really contributing. It's fun to see from my standpoint all these different guys at different ages all kind of coming together as a group and being I think the best group of receivers in the league."
Overall, Tampa Bay's racked up 558 net yards, the fourth-highest single-game total in franchise history. While Brady was sharp all afternoon, completing 30 of 41 for 411 yards, the rushing attack enjoyed a second straight productive game. Leonard Fournette led the way with 67 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as Tampa Bay finished with a season-high 121 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry. The Bucs had their highest overall output of the season despite playing without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who leads the team with four touchdowns, and it was enough to impress one of the team's newest players, cornerback Richard Sherman.
"Prior to the third quarter, Rich came over and he was like, 'Man, I've never been part of a team with so much talent,'" said Fournette. "And I'm telling him like, 'Man, this [stuff] is different. We can score at any time. You have multiple what I would say are Hall-of-Fame players, Pro Bowl players all over the field, not to mention missing Gronk. This team as a whole, we can do a lot if we come out and focus, have our minds together, understand the game plan and stay focused through the course."
Tampa Bay also did not turn the ball over against Miami, marking its third straight game without a giveaway. The Bucs won the turnover battle on Sunday, as the defense came up with a pair of takeaways, including a Jamel Dean interception in the fourth quarter that led to Brady's final touchdown pass. Shaquil Barrett, who was credited with 1.5 sacks – splitting one with Vita Vea in the fourth quarter – created the other takeaway with a strip sack of Jacoby Brissett that denied the Dolphins a chance to score right before halftime.
"It was big for us," said Barrett. "Coach [Todd] Bowles came in, gave us a message, the message was received and we wanted to go out there and play the way we're supposed to be playing all four quarters, and we were able to do it."
Tampa Bay's defense saw another key contributor leave with an injury when inside linebacker and team captain Lavonte David was helped off the field in the third quarter with what Arians believes is a high ankle sprain. The Bucs still managed to hold Miami to just 301 yards of offense, including just 39 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, playing for the injured Tua Tagovailoa, did keep Miami in the game until midway through the third quarter, completing 27 of 39 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Despite suffering a hamstring injury in the second quarter, Brissett routinely made plays to keep the chains moving while being heavily pressured and hit. His touchdown pass to Myles Gaskin in the third period briefly pulled the Dolphins to within seven points.
Still, the Buccaneers were pleased with their defensive effort overall, and the complementary style of football played by the team as a whole.
"A really, really good team win," said Arians. "Loved the effort after the first five minutes of the third quarter. Offensively, I thought it was a hell of a game. [Offensive Coordinator] Byron [Leftwich] had a hell of a game plan, good job of run-pass, great mix, good protections all day. Defensively, I loved Todd's game plan. I thought it was excellent. Give up 17 points, which is our goal for the season. We scored a little bit higher than normal but our guys executed that well."
The Dolphins scored on the game's opening possession, though a defensive stand inside the 10 kept them to three points on Jason Sanders' 23-yard field goal. Most of the 70-yard drive came on two catches for 55 yards by Preston Williams, the first a sideline toe-tapper that the Bucs challenged but failed to get overturned. Stops by Mike Edwards and Shaq Barrett runs inside the 10 led to a third-down incompletion by Brissett, who was pressured by Jordan Whitehead.
The Bucs' offense answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive on which Brady completed four of five passes for 58 yards and the score at the end on a 10-yard strike to Bernard. Brady stood firm in the pocket as an unblocked defender closed in and delivered it over the middle to Bernard, who zipped towards the goal line and flipped in over a Miami defender, landing on his back. The big play on the drive was Evans' sliding 26-yard catch that took the ball into Dolphins territory.
The lead changed hands again on the next possession as the Dolphins marched 75 yards for a touchdown. Brissett started the drive by letting the pass rush get to him and then dumping it off to Gaskin multiple times. After a pass interference call on Ross Cockrell made it first down at the Bucs' 29, Brissett stood for a long time in the pocket, giving Gaskin time to loop open down the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown reception.
The Bucs tied it up on the game's fourth possession, going 50 yards to put Succop in position for a 43-yard field goal. Godwin got the ball into Miami territory by breaking free for 18 yards on a screen, and Brady converted a subsequent third down by hitting Evans over the middle. Unfortunately, Xavien Howard broke up a potential scoring pass to Godwin and Brady was sacked on third down by Jerome Baker on the next play.
Tampa Bay's defense was the first to get a stop, forcing a three-and-out on the next possession and a punt that rolled to a stop at the Bucs' 30 with 12:35 left in the first half. The Bucs' offense needed only three plays from there to retake the lead, as Brady hit Brown in stride in the left seam on third-and-two and Brown accelerated to go the distance for the 62-yard touchdown.
The Bucs got another defensive stop thanks to Ross Cockrell's impressive third-down pass breakup and Miami's second punt was downed at the 23 with eight minutes left in the first half. Brady then led another touchdown drive that chewed up more than six of those eight remaining minutes and finished in his four-yard TD pass to Brown. Along the way, Brady tried deep strikes to Evans, Brown and Godwin; all three missed but in between he continued to move the chains with short passes to Fournette and Howard, in particular. A pass interference penalty on Miami safety Eric Rowe erased a third-down incompletion and made it first-and-goal from the three and Brady hit Brown two plays later.
Brissett was able to get the Dolphins into scoring range in the game's final two minutes but the Bucs managed to keep their 14-point halftime lead intact when Barrett made his way around the quarterback's blind side and swatted the ball from his hand. Ndamukong Suh recovered for the home team at its own 34. The Bucs only had time to get the ball to the Dolphins' 42 before letting punter Bradley Pinion try a 60-yard field goal. Pinion gave it a good try but his kick was just a little short and a little left.
The Bucs' first drive of the second half stalled near midfield and Pinion punted it down to the Miami 13. The Dolphins turned that field position around with an impressive 11-play drive ending in Gaskin's second touchdown catch, a one-yarder. Brissett made several incredible plays in which he was under heavy pressure, including a seven-yard sideline miracle to Gaskin on which he was hit low by Barrett and high by Jason Pierre-Paul but didn't go down. Brissett was chased out of the pocket on the next play but got off a running throw to Williams in the back corner of the end zone, drawing a pass-interference flag that made it first-and-goal at the one.
Tampa Bay fired right back with its own clock-chewing drive. The Bucs got it back at their 25 with seven minutes left in the third quarter and scored on the first play of the fourth period when Fournette knifed over right guard on third-and-two from the Miami five, getting more than just the first down by bouncing off three Miami defenders. Fournette also got 13 yards on a swing pass to get the ball into the red zone and Godwin caught three passes for 32 yards on the drive.
Tampa Bay's defense followed with a three-and-out, and Brady turned that into another touchdown drive. Jones started it with a 15-yard gain on a swing pass, following a nifty block by Ali Marpet. Three plays later, Brady went up top to Evans and delivered a perfect 34-yard arc down the right sideline, hitting Evans in stride as he arrived at the goal line.
Three plays into Miami's next possession, a pass went through the hands of Jaylen Waddle and was caught by Dean for the Bucs' second takeaway of the game. Dean ran out of bounds at the Miami 41 and Brady immediately hit Tyler Johnson over the middle of the field for a 21-yard gain. Brady then shook off two consecutive false starts to deliver a 22-yard touchdown pass to Evans.
After a Miami punt from near midfield, Gabbert came in to run Tampa Bay's next drive and guided them down close to the Dolphins' end zone. A dazzling, spinning 23-yard catch by Brown got the ball down to Miami's 24 and Gabbert hit Johnson over the middle for 14 more down to the five as the two-minute warning arrived. At that point, the Bucs chose to kneel three times to run out the clock.
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 11 October 2021