Analysis

What We Learned: 27 Takeaways from NFL Wild Card Weekend

27 takeaways from the NFL’s three-day Super Wild Card Weekend:

Saturday

Jaguars 31, Chargers 30

1. No Guts, No glory

Want a bold call at a key moment during a big game? Then Doug Pederson is your coach. The author of the “Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII struck again with another concoction from his play-calling lab Saturday night.

Trailing by four points after scoring a touchdown with 5:30 to play, the Jaguars coach decided to go for two points after the Chargers’ Joey Bosa was called for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the scoring play. The infraction moved the ball to the 1, just close enough for quarterback Trevor Lawrence to reach over the goal line and cut the deficit to 30-28.

Facing a fourth-and-1 with 1:27 left, Pederson put three players in the backfield behind Lawrence, and rather than calling a quarterback sneak, the coach called for a run around right end by Travis Etienne that went for 25 yards, all the way to the Chargers 16. That set the table for Riley Patterson‘s field goal as time expired to give Jacksonville a victory in a game that once appeared over at halftime.

2. About That Late Penalty …

Bosa obviously believed the Jaguars should have been flagged for, in no particular order, a false start and/or holding on Christian Kirk‘s fourth-quarter touchdown reception. He vented (and vented) his frustrations, finally taking them out on his helmet near the Chargers sideline while still standing on the field. That was a no-no.

But analyst Mike Martz of The 33rd Team thought the aggressor was the official, not Bosa.

“I think Bosa got a raw deal,” Martz said. “I think that referee made it personal. There’s a lot of things said on the field.

“Whatever he said, Bosa was walking away from him and said something, and the official was back there and ran over to him and asked, ‘What did you say? What did you say?’ To my knowledge, you just leave it alone unless you see him in your face saying that to you. Just let that stuff go. But I think the referee made this thing personal, and it’s regrettable because officials normally aren’t like that.”

3. All-Time Jekyll-and-Hyde Performance

Lawrence had a record-setting night, just maybe not the sort anyone envisioned. As bad as he was for most of the first half, when he threw four interceptions (three alone in the first quarter), he started down the path of redemption just before halftime, connecting with tight end Evan Engram to cut the score to 27-7.

That was just a warmup for a 24-point second half and the last-second victory. Lawrence threw touchdown passes to Marvin Jones, Zay Jones and Kirk on Jacksonville’s first three possessions of the second half. The fourth drive resulted in the winning field goal.

“The best attribute any athlete can have is realizing when you’re having one of your worst performances and find a way to turn it into one of your finest moments,” said Trey Wingo of The 33rd Team. “And that’s what Trevor Lawrence did.”

Lawrence’s stat line almost defies belief: four TD passes, four interceptions and 288 yards on 28-of-47 passing. In the process, he became the first quarterback to throw four picks and still win a playoff game (Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 was the other).

4. Chargers’ Coverage Changes Confused Lawrence

Part of the reason Lawrence and the Jaguars imploded in the first half was because the Chargers did their homework on Jacksonville’s offense. They baited the second-year quarterback into throwing four first-half interceptions — three by Asante Samuel Jr., one more than he had during the entire 17-game regular season.

“The Chargers looked at it as whole, how many balls actually go past 10, 12, 13 yards? Not many,” Martz said. “So what they’ve done in their man (coverage) they just clamped everything down real tight, safeties in, the corners are leveling and keeping the quarterback really hard. So he’s not getting any separation by anybody whether it’s zone or man. And it’s confusing him, and he’s holding the ball, letting that ball go later than he should.”

Of course, it was the adjustments Pederson and his staff made at halftime, along with the mental toughness of Lawrence in the second half, that allowed the Jaguars to eventually call checkmate on the Chargers.

5. Chargers’ Offense Short-Circuits

Los Angeles’ first-half scoring drives covered 18 (touchdown), 57 (field goal), 16 (TD), 67 (TD) and 1 (FG) yards. The Chargers punted three more times after a total of 11 plays. Needing to drain the clock after the Jaguars pulled within two points after Lawrence’s two-point conversion with just over 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, they punted after five plays. That came on the heels of a missed field goal after a 17-play drive.

Clearly, the Chargers offense wasn’t up to the task. It generated 320 yards for the game but twice got bogged down in the red zone, settling for 22- and 23-yard field goals.

“I was surprised at how punchless the Chargers were on offense, because if you take away the takeaways from their defense, offensively they didn’t do anything,” Martz said. “They got the ball on the 5-yard line in the first half, and they ran a couple of plays and threw the ball and missed this and missed that, and they kicked a field goal. It happened to them twice, the defense puts them down nice and tight to get touchdowns, and they get field goals, and then they miss a field goal.

“It’s a game they should have easily won, but offensively I thought it was a very poor performance.”

6. Is This the End for Staley?

The Chargers finished with a 5-0 turnover advantage, helping them build a 27-0 lead before halftime … and lost. How do they recover from this playoff meltdown?

And maybe the bigger question: Will this disaster end up costing Brandon Staley his job? The Chargers head coach came off a week of heavy criticism for playing his starters last week in what ended up being a meaningless game. Wide receiver Mike Williams wasn’t available Saturday night (in a game Staley could have used him) after suffering a fracture in his back while playing in the season finale.

“You have to wonder if this game cost Brandon Staley his chance to be the head coach going forward, especially when you have a guy like Sean Payton out there,” Wingo said. “Sean Payton is talking to a bunch of teams right now, but imagine Sean Payton with his offensive genius and his resume and everything else he’s done in the NFL as a head coach, imagine him paired with Justin Herbert. Think what that would do for the power structure in the AFC West, which has been owned and dominated by the Kansas City Chiefs.”

49ers 41, Seahawks 23

7. Purdy Impressive Second Half for 49ers

What more can be said about Brock Purdy? The rookie quarterback overcame a lackluster first half to spark the 49ers’ second-half surge. Purdy accounted for four touchdowns, passed for 332 yards and finished with a 131.5 passer rating. He directed three drives of 70 yards or longer after halftime, including one that he finished quickly with a 74-yard catch-and-run play to Deebo Samuel. As a result, San Francisco flipped a one-point deficit into a 24-point lead.

“He was a little off on a couple (of passes), but he also made a couple off-schedules in the first half that were really good,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He ended up playing a hell of a game. The most impressive thing is not turning it over.”

Purdy’s poise stood out to analyst Robert Smith of The 33rd Team.

“Really, there’s nothing that rattles the guy,” Smith said. “I believe at the beginning of the game, probably because of a little bit of anxiety, maybe a little bit of butterflies, he was a little bit late on a couple of throws, a little big inaccurate on a couple of throws. But once he settled in, he was the exact same player I saw on the field at Iowa State who could make any throw to any area of the field with timing, with accuracy and could escape the pocket.”

Sounds like another quarterback who enjoyed a pretty good career in San Francisco.

8. 49ers Go Back to Their Identity

San Francisco put the ball in Purdy’s hands in the first half before returning to its running roots in the second, when it hammered out long drives, including its 15-play statement-maker to start the third quarter.

“I was surprised San Francisco didn’t run the ball more in the first half than they did,” said analyst Eric Mangini of The 33rd Team. “They ended up running 10 times. They’re averaging 11 yards a carry, but they let Brock Purdy throw the ball 19 times, which was totally different from in the second half. In the third quarter alone, they had 12 carries.

“In that (first second-half) drive they ran the ball nine times. … That’s what they’ve got to do. They’ve got to run the ball consistently to allow Purdy to be as effective as possible with play-action, and also give him more time in the pocket.”

Christian McCaffrey was one part of the 49ers’ 33-carry onslaught, gaining 119 yards on 15 carries and scoring the 49ers’ first touchdown on a short pass from Purdy.

“He’s no stranger to adversity, and he responds really well,” McCaffrey said of Purdy. “That’s a mature football player, especially playing quarterback.”

9. Fast Start for Seahawks

Seattle played a mistake-free first half in taking a 17-16 intermission lead. The Seahawks held the 49ers to field goals three times, and then climbed back from an early 10-point deficit behind quarterback Geno Smith, running back Kenneth Walker and receiver DK Metcalf. Walker rushed for a touchdown among his 63 yards, and Metcalf caught 50-yard bomb from Smith in the second quarter before Jason Myers kicked a 56-yard field goal as time expired to give the Seahawks their only lead.

“If anything, I was impressed by the way Seattle played the game,” Mangini said. “Seattle played a clean first half — no turnovers, penalties — consistency, approach, toughness. All of those things I thought were really good.”

The reverse happened for the Seahawks in the second half, and credit the 49ers defense for playing up to its top ranking. Smith lost a fumble on a strip sack and later threw an interception.

“They got two penalties on that drive, that’s why (Smith has to) look down the field, eat up more time,” Mangini said. “He gets strip sacked, really frustrating I’m sure from a coaching standpoint and from a players’ standpoint, too, for all the good things they’ve been doing to let that be the thing that turns the game.”

10. Purdy’s Impact Extends to Playoffs

Purdy’s performance was his fifth 100-plus passer rating in his six starts, something the the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft took in stride.

“It’s playoff football, everyone plays their best football,” he said. “Overall it wasn’t, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re in the playoffs, … we gotta get all tense.’ We’ve just got to play our game and let everything else fall into place.”

There is no downplaying what Purdy is accomplishing, however.

“He’s not only ruined it for Mr. Irrelevant, but he’s ruined it for every top quarterback pick moving forward when you have the success that he does as early as he did,” Mangini said. “The guys who come as a top-5 pick, there’s already a ton of pressure on them now.

“(Purdy is showing) you can go in and be successful as a rookie quarterback and light it up.”

11. 49ers Putting Playoff Teams on Notice

So the question begs to be asked: How do you stop the 49ers’ offense?

Smith isn’t so sure that’s possible.

“The real danger of the 49ers offense is that it’s a lethal combination of creativity from an offensive play-caller, versatile pieces that can be used in a lot of different ways and give a lot of different looks,” he said. “And three, a rookie quarterback, 23 years old and only in his sixth start, has already shown he’s going to be able to handle any type of pressure situation.”

Sunday

Jaguars 31, Chargers 30

12. No Guts, No glory

Want a bold call at a key moment during a big game? Then Doug Pederson is your coach. The author of the “Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII struck again with another concoction from his play-calling lab Saturday night.

Trailing by four points after scoring a touchdown with 5:30 to play, the Jaguars coach decided to go for two points after the Chargers’ Joey Bosa was called for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the scoring play. The infraction moved the ball to the 1, just close enough for quarterback Trevor Lawrence to reach over the goal line and cut the deficit to 30-28.

Facing a fourth-and-1 with 1:27 left, Pederson put three players in the backfield behind Lawrence, and rather than calling a quarterback sneak, the coach called for a run around right end by Travis Etienne that went for 25 yards, all the way to the Chargers 16. That set the table for Riley Patterson‘s field goal as time expired to give Jacksonville a victory in a game that once appeared over at halftime.

13. About That Late Penalty …

Bosa obviously believed the Jaguars should have been flagged for, in no particular order, a false start and/or holding on Christian Kirk‘s fourth-quarter touchdown reception. He vented (and vented) his frustrations, finally taking them out on his helmet near the Chargers sideline while still standing on the field. That was a no-no.

But analyst Mike Martz of The 33rd Team thought the aggressor was the official, not Bosa.

“I think Bosa got a raw deal,” Martz said. “I think that referee made it personal. There’s a lot of things said on the field.

“Whatever he said, Bosa was walking away from him and said something, and the official was back there and ran over to him and asked, ‘What did you say? What did you say?’ To my knowledge, you just leave it alone unless you see him in your face saying that to you. Just let that stuff go. But I think the referee made this thing personal, and it’s regrettable because officials normally aren’t like that.”

14. All-Time Jekyll-and-Hyde Performance

Lawrence had a record-setting night, just maybe not the sort anyone envisioned. As bad as he was for most of the first half, when he threw four interceptions (three alone in the first quarter), he started down the path of redemption just before halftime, connecting with tight end Evan Engram to cut the score to 27-7.

That was just a warmup for a 24-point second half and the last-second victory. Lawrence threw touchdown passes to Marvin Jones, Zay Jones and Kirk on Jacksonville’s first three possessions of the second half. The fourth drive resulted in the winning field goal.

“The best attribute any athlete can have is realizing when you’re having one of your worst performances and find a way to turn it into one of your finest moments,” said Trey Wingo of The 33rd Team. “And that’s what Trevor Lawrence did.”

Lawrence’s stat line almost defies belief: four TD passes, four interceptions and 288 yards on 28-of-47 passing. In the process, he became the first quarterback to throw four picks and still win a playoff game (Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 was the other).

15. Chargers’ Coverage Changes Confused Lawrence

Part of the reason Lawrence and the Jaguars imploded in the first half was because the Chargers did their homework on Jacksonville’s offense. They baited the second-year quarterback into throwing four first-half interceptions — three by Asante Samuel Jr., one more than he had during the entire 17-game regular season.

“The Chargers looked at it as whole, how many balls actually go past 10, 12, 13 yards? Not many,” Martz said. “So what they’ve done in their man (coverage) they just clamped everything down real tight, safeties in, the corners are leveling and keeping the quarterback really hard. So he’s not getting any separation by anybody whether it’s zone or man. And it’s confusing him, and he’s holding the ball, letting that ball go later than he should.”

Of course, it was the adjustments Pederson and his staff made at halftime, along with the mental toughness of Lawrence in the second half, that allowed the Jaguars to eventually call checkmate on the Chargers.

16. Chargers’ Offense Short-Circuits

Los Angeles’ first-half scoring drives covered 18 (touchdown), 57 (field goal), 16 (TD), 67 (TD) and 1 (FG) yards. The Chargers punted three more times after a total of 11 plays. Needing to drain the clock after the Jaguars pulled within two points after Lawrence’s two-point conversion with just over 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, they punted after five plays. That came on the heels of a missed field goal after a 17-play drive.

Clearly, the Chargers offense wasn’t up to the task. It generated 320 yards for the game but twice got bogged down in the red zone, settling for 22- and 23-yard field goals.

“I was surprised at how punchless the Chargers were on offense, because if you take away the takeaways from their defense, offensively they didn’t do anything,” Martz said. “They got the ball on the 5-yard line in the first half, and they ran a couple of plays and threw the ball and missed this and missed that, and they kicked a field goal. It happened to them twice, the defense puts them down nice and tight to get touchdowns, and they get field goals, and then they miss a field goal.

“It’s a game they should have easily won, but offensively I though it was a very poor performance.”

17. Is This the End for Staley?

The Chargers finished with a 5-0 turnover advantage, helping them build a 27-0 lead before halftime … and lost. How do they recover from this playoff meltdown?

And maybe the bigger question: Will this disaster end up costing Brandon Staley his job? The Chargers head coach came off a week of heavy criticism for playing his starters last week in what ended up being a meaningless game. Wide receiver Mike Williams wasn’t available Saturday night (in a game Staley could have used him) after suffering a fracture in his back while playing in the season finale.

“You have to wonder if this game cost Brandon Staley his chance to be the head coach going forward, especially when you have a guy like Sean Payton out there,” Wingo said. “Sean Payton is talking to a bunch of teams right now, but imagine Sean Payton with his offensive genius and his resume and everything else he’s done in the NFL as a head coach, imagine him paired with Justin Herbert. Think what that would do for the power structure in the AFC West, which has been owned and dominated by the Kansas City Chiefs.”

49ers 41, Seahawks 23

18. Purdy Impressive Second Half for 49ers

What more can be said about Brock Purdy? The rookie quarterback overcame a lackluster first half to spark the 49ers’ second-half surge. Purdy accounted for four touchdowns, passed for 332 yards and finished with a 131.5 passer rating. He directed three drives of 70 yards or longer after halftime, including one that he finished quickly with a 74-yard catch-and-run play to Deebo Samuel. As a result, San Francisco flipped a one-point deficit into a 24-point lead.

“He was a little off on a couple (of passes), but he also made a couple off-schedules in the first half that were really good,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He ended up playing a hell of a game. The most impressive thing is not turning it over.”

Purdy’s poise stood out to analyst Robert Smith of The 33rd Team.

“Really, there’s nothing that rattles the guy,” Smith said. “I believe at the beginning of the game, probably because of a little bit of anxiety, maybe a little bit of butterflies, he was a little bit late on a couple of throws, a little big inaccurate on a couple of throws. But once he settled in, he was the exact same player I saw on the field at Iowa State who could make any throw to any area of the field with timing, with accuracy and could escape the pocket.”

Sounds like another quarterback who enjoyed a pretty good career in San Francisco.

19. 49ers Go Back to Their Identity

San Francisco put the ball in Purdy’s hands in the first half before returning to its running roots in the second, when it hammered out long drives, including its 15-play statement-maker to start the third quarter.

“I was surprised San Francisco didn’t run the ball more in the first half than they did,” said analyst Eric Mangini of The 33rd Team. “They ended up running 10 times. They’re averaging 11 yards a carry, but they let Brock Purdy throw the ball 19 times, which was totally different from in the second half. In the third quarter alone, they had 12 carries.

“In that (first second-half) drive they ran the ball nine times. … That’s what they’ve got to do. They’ve got to run the ball consistently to allow Purdy to be as effective as possible with play-action, and also give him more time in the pocket.”

Christian McCaffrey was one part of the 49ers’ 33-carry onslaught, gaining 119 yards on 15 carries and scoring the 49ers’ first touchdown on a short pass from Purdy.

“He’s no stranger to adversity, and he responds really well,” McCaffrey said of Purdy. “That’s a mature football player, especially playing quarterback.”

20. Fast Start for Seahawks

Seattle played a mistake-free first half in taking a 17-16 intermission lead. The Seahawks held the 49ers to field goals three times, and then climbed back from an early 10-point deficit behind quarterback Geno Smith, running back Kenneth Walker and receiver DK Metcalf. Walker rushed for a touchdown among his 63 yards, and Metcalf caught 50-yard bomb from Smith in the second quarter before Jason Myers kicked a 56-yard field goal as time expired to give the Seahawks their only lead.

“If anything, I was impressed by the way Seattle played the game,” Mangini said. “Seattle played a clean first half — no turnovers, penalties — consistency, approach, toughness. All of those things I thought were really good.”

The reverse happened for the Seahawks in the second half, and credit the 49ers defense for playing up to its top ranking. Smith lost a fumble on a strip sack and later threw an interception.

“They got two penalties on that drive, that’s why (Smith has to) look down the field, eat up more time,” Mangini said. “He gets strip sacked, really frustrating I’m sure from a coaching standpoint and from a players’ standpoint, too, for all the good things they’ve been doing to let that be the thing that turns the game.”

21. Purdy’s Impact Extends to Playoffs

Purdy’s performance was his fifth 100-plus passer rating in his six starts, something the the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft took in stride.

“It’s playoff football, everyone plays their best football,” he said. “Overall it wasn’t, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re in the playoffs, … we gotta get all tense.’ We’ve just got to play our game and let everything else fall into place.”

There is no downplaying what Purdy is accomplishing, however.

“He’s not only ruined it for Mr. Irrelevant, but he’s ruined it for every top quarterback pick moving forward when you have the success that he does as early as he did,” Mangini said. “The guys who come as a top-5 pick, there’s already a ton of pressure on them now.

“(Purdy is showing) you can go in and be successful as a rookie quarterback and light it up.”

22. 49ers Putting Playoff Teams on Notice

So the question begs to be asked: How do you stop the 49ers’ offense?

Smith isn’t so sure that’s possible.

“The real danger of the 49ers offense is that it’s a lethal combination of creativity from an offensive play-caller, versatile pieces that can be used in a lot of different ways and give a lot of different looks,” he said. “And three, a rookie quarterback, 23 years old and only in his sixth start, has already shown he’s going to be able to handle any type of pressure situation.”

Monday

Cowboys 31, Buccaneers 14

23. Dak Is Back

One of the Cowboys’ biggest question marks entering the playoffs was what was wrong with Dak Prescott? The quarterback had 15 touchdown passes but 11 interceptions during Dallas’ final seven regular-season games. His 15 interceptions (in just 12 games) during the season tied the Texans’ Davis Mills for the NFL lead.

Then there was the dismal regular-season finish against the Commanders, in which Prescott went 14-of-37 in a loss that cost the Cowboys the NFC East title.

“Going into the game, it was a toss-up for me because of how poorly Dak Prescott had been playing the last game of the season, where they limp into the playoffs, the volume of interceptions that he’s thrown, and just the general inconsistency that you’ve seen from the team,” said analyst Eric Mangini of The 33rd Team.

After a 0-for-3 start Monday night, Prescott caught fire and completed his next 11 passes and 15 of his final 17 before halftime. Two of those completions went to tight end Dalton Schultz for touchdowns, and Prescott sandwiched those around his bootleg TD run on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1. He gained 20 of Dallas’ 65 first-half yards on the ground.

Prescott didn’t slow down after halftime, finishing 25-for-33 for 305 yards for a Cowboys playoff-record four TD passes. He found receivers Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb for two more scoring strikes. In all, the Cowboys amassed 425 yards, including 128 on the ground.

“He looked in control, he looked poised,” Mangini said. “He actually looked aggressive as a quarterback and completely confident, not only with his ability, but confident with the moment. You couldn’t guarantee that or even really expect that based off of everything he’s shown … with the picks. It’s 40 percent more picks (in 12 games) than his worst season, which was a 16-game season.”

Schultz and backup Jake Ferguson exposed Tampa Bay’s inability to cover tight ends, combining for nine catches for 129 yards.

The Cowboys scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives, covering 80, 80, 91, and 86 yards, during a span from midway through the first quarter until late in the third.

24. Maher Misses and Misses and …

Brett Maher carved his name in the NFL record books in the first half and cemented it there in the second half, but not for reasons he or the Cowboys were celebrating. The fourth-year kicker set a playoff record for missed extra points by sending all three of his first-half tries wide of the goal posts (first two right, third one left).

The whammy continued in the third quarter when he hit the top of the right upright after Dallas scored a touchdown for a fourth consecutive drive. His fourth missed extra point set an NFL record for any game in league history.

“It’s a huge concern now,” Mangini said. “When you miss four kicks in a game, it’s hard to go into the next game where you go home if you lose, not knowing whether or not you can hit an extra point. The problem is who do you go and get that you have that much more confidence in than the guy who has been so reliable throughout the course of the season.

“Do you carry an extra kicker on the roster in the next game, in case he has the yips like he did in this game? It’s a problem, and thankfully for them it wasn’t an issue in this game. If you’re sitting in that next game against San Francisco, and the game comes down to a kick to win it, or if you miss an extra point to lose the game, you’re going to be sick.”

Absolutely nothing in Maher’s history suggested this was coming. He went 50-for-53 during the regular season (94.3 percent) and before Monday night had made more than 96 percent of his career attempts (129 of 135 career attempts, including 5-for-5 in his only playoff appearance in 2018). What’s more, he is the only kicker in NFL history who has made four field goals of 60 yards or longer.

The good news? He crushed his fifth try with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter to make it 31-6.

25. What’s Next for Brady, Bucs?

Brady is an unrestricted free agent. Will he want to continue playing in Tampa Bay? Somewhere else? At all? That will be one of the NFL’s biggest offseason storylines.

“It’s hard for me to imagine he’s going to be back in Tampa Bay,” Mangini said. “It just seems like it’s probably time for both parties to move on. It’s probably time for Tampa Bay to look for a long-term solution, and it’s probably time to look for a team that’s a little bit better equipped for where he’s at at this point in his career.”

Brady was non-committal about the future, saying simply “I’m going home and get a good night’s sleep … (and take things) one day at a time.”

Brady ended his press conference by thanking the Bucs, the media and Bucs fans.

Former Bucs star Ronde Barber, a 33rd Team analyst, said Brady has earned the right to decide where – and if – he wants to play next season, but he wonders if it isn’t time for a chance in Tampa.

“I’m not sure they should keep Tom,” Barber said. “I think this team is at a point where they’re going to let him make the decision, obviously, it’s Tom Brady, he can make the decision. But this team is probably looking to evolve a little bit away from what they have once been.

“So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s somewhat of a mutual parting if he’s not here in the 2023 season.”

What other changes might be in story for the Bucs? The roster has plenty of aging parts.

How about the coaching staff? Todd Bowles’ first playoff game as a head coach was one to forget, and it came on the heels of an 8-9 regular season. Then there is the Byron Leftwich-coordinated offense, which finished No. 25 in scoring and didn’t sustain any consistency on the ground most of the season. On Monday, the Bucs ran the ball just 12 times, while Brady threw it 66 times for 351 yards.

“I would guess Todd Bowles is back in 2023,” Barber said. “I think they gave a lot of autonomy to him with the staff that was already here with Bruce Arians over the past couple years. But I bet you they give Todd another opportunity.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they made some adjustments to their staff. They’ve had some issues across the board, but I know in the middle of the season they had the faith in Todd to bring them through what were some struggles earlier in the year.”

It’s a good bet there will be changes in Tampa Bay. The question is how many?

26. Quinn’s Revenge

The Cowboys entered the game with the NFL’s No. 5 scoring defense (20.1 ponts per game). The Dan Quinn-directed group had a strong start Monday, holding the Bucs and Brady to 120 total yards, including just 24 on the ground, in a scoreless first half.

That stood in contrast to the Bucs’ output during the teams’ Week 1 meeting, when Tampa Bay rushed for 152 yards, including 127 by Leonard Fournette, among its 347-yard output. On Monday, the Bucs had 52 yards on the ground, and the bulk of Brady’s 351 passing yards came after the outcome was no longer in doubt.

The Cowboys also coaxed Brady into a rare red-zone interception on the second play of the second quarter. The ageless quarterback and seven-time Super Bowl champion threw his first pick inside the opponent’s 20 since 2019 — a span of 409 passes — when Jayron Kearse picked him off in the back of the end zone.

Brady, who directed the Patriots to the largest comeback victory in Super Bowl history against Quinn’s Falcons in 2017, was under siege and off-target much of the first three quarters. The Cowboys’ pass rush extinguished any chance of another Brady miracle late in the fourth quarter, when they sacked him on third down in the red zone and nearly got him again on a play that ended with an incompletion.

Quinn is a hot name in the current coaching cycle, and his defense enhanced his resume.

27. Another Scary Monday Night Injury

Near the end of the game, Bucs receiver Russell Gage sustained an injury that required the game to be halted for several minutes before he placed on a backboard and taken away on a cart.

Gage, who was coming off a back injury, was thrown a pass on second down from the Dallas 19-yard line but was hit in back and neck area by Donovan Wilson. He tried to get up off the field after the incompletion but couldn’t.

Bowles said Gage suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital to be checked out for a neck injury and observed. Bowles added that Gage had movement in his extremities.

Scroll to the Top