Banged-up Buccaneers come up lackluster on both sides of the ball in loss

Greg Auman

NFC South Reporter

TAMPA, Fla. – The last time the Eagles came to Tampa, the Bucs jumped out to a 31-0 lead in eliminating them from the 2021 playoffs.

If you needed a reminder of how the two franchises have gone in opposite directions since then, in how the balance of power in the NFC has shifted, Monday night’s game did that well, as the Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage in a 25-11 win.

Since that playoff meeting, the Eagles are 19-4, while the Bucs are 10-11.

“They came in here, beat us pretty good, and we own that,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “We played hard. We made some mistakes. Mistakes we didn’t make the first two games, we made in this game. A lot of it has to do with them, so give them credit.”

Nowhere was the divide between the two teams more apparent than in the ground game — they entered the night ranked 1-2 in the NFL in run defense. The Eagles defense held true to that, holding the Bucs to 41 yards on 17 carries for a 2.4-yard average, with just one first down gained on the ground. The Bucs defense had no such luck, as Philadelphia piled up 201 yards on 40 carries, led by D’Andre Swift, who went off for 130 yards on 16 carries.

“It’s pretty s—– — when a team gets 200 yards, it’s not ideal,” defensive lineman Greg Gaines said. “They executed really well, and they’re really efficient with their blocks, getting a hat for a hat.”

The last time a running back had 15-plus carries and averaged at least eight yards a carry against the Bucs, it was Adrian Peterson way back in 2012. Opposing backs have only had four such games in Tampa against the Bucs in their history, and Barry Sanders had two of those.

Tampa Bay’s defense, dealing with injuries all over, played well enough early that it was a 3-3 game with four minutes left in the first half. On a third-and-10, Jalen Hurts avoided a sack and threw a 34-yard touchdown to receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, and the Eagles controlled the game the rest of the way.

Philadelphia’s ability to run and move the chains made the Bucs offense nearly disappear in the second half. The Bucs had just three possessions, and one of them was a single play, trying to run the ball from their 1-yard line and getting dropped in the end zone for a safety. Tampa Bay had 99 yards of total offense entering the fourth quarter and came up with three Mike Evans catches for a spark of offense. Then the Eagles grinded out the final 9:22, with three third-down conversions and a fourth-down run to close out the game.

David Helman reacts to Eagles’ dominant victory over Buccaneers

The Bucs finished with 174 yards, their lowest total for any game since 2014, when Evans was a rookie.

“We started too slow,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield, who had 146 passing yards on 25 pass attempts and threw his first interception in three games with the Bucs. “That’s a good football team, so any time you give them more opportunities to have the football in their hands, they’re going to capitalize. We just have to get better on offense as a whole.”

Tampa Bay’s defense was decidedly shorthanded. Top corner Carlton Davis missed a second straight game with a toe injury, and the other starting corner, Jamel Dean, left the game with a shoulder injury, leaving backups at both spots. Defensive lineman Vita Vea was limited by a pectoral injury, and when linebacker Devin White picked off a Hurts pass just before halftime, he was slowed by a groin injury — so instead of a pick-six, he went out of bounds after 26 yards.

“I wish I would have manned it out and got a touchdown, but I was in pain,” he said. “I had to go in, get it fixed and came back out and finished the game. I needed a lot of treatment. I’ll be ready by Sunday.”

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Bowles said the Eagles won because they were the more physical team Monday night, and for Bucs players on both sides of the ball, that was tough to hear after the game, but something they can work to change.

“It was tough to hear, but he didn’t lie,” White said. “If you look at the scoresheet, we take pride in the run game, and we let Swift get over 100 yards. That’s a slap in the face to us. We’ve got to be better. We have to own it and do what we’ve got to do so that doesn’t happen again, because we’re fixing to play another explosive back.”

Monday’s loss closed out a rough weekend for the NFC South, which saw all three 2-0 teams take their first losses, with Carolina dropping to 0-3. The Bucs are still tied for the division lead, but to stay that way, they’ll have to win Sunday at the Saints, in a game that will leave one team as the squad to beat in the division.

“We have to focus on us, get back to the drawing board,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “We always make an emphasis on stopping the run, and we didn’t do that today. Now we’re going against a division opponent, going into a hostile environment, so we have to be ready for whatever they throw at us.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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2023-09-26 12:44:03
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