What We Learned in the N.F.L.’s Wild-Card Round

American Age Official

That was not the case in the wild-card round, with the Buffalo Bills routing the New England Patriots, 47-17, Saturday night. The expanded postseason field, which added another team from each conference in the 2020 season, meant little distinctive play in the pairings between the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismantled the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-15, on Sunday afternoon and the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose quarterback earlier this week admitted “we don’t stand a chance” ahead of their 42-21 prime time loss to Kansas City.

There is no larger narrative to wrap around such unbalanced outcomes, and it is tempting to wonder if there was actually anything to be gleaned in this year’s wild-card weekend.

There was: The Buccaneers can dink their way through as long as the defense holds.

Tampa Bay learned it wouldn’t have its lead running back, Leonard Fournette, available for Sunday’s game, and was already playing without the receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, two of Tom Brady’s favorite targets. Still, the game could not have been teed up any better for the Buccaneers’ offense, stylistically.

The Eagles lack the top-end talent to create big defensive plays, ranking in the bottom 10 in sacks, tackles for loss and passes broken up. Their soft zone coverage and inability to create much pressure gave the greatest quarterback to ever “take what the defense gives” too much room to dink and dunk his way down the field. Brady finished with a sweatless 29-of-37 performance, including two touchdowns.

Philadelphia led the league in rushing yards per game, but no team in the 2021 regular season threw the ball less often, and the threat of quarterback Jalen Hurts or any of the Eagles’ backs was not enough to manufacture alleys against a defense plugged by the gigantic combination of Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh on the interior.

Teams know better than to run against Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers saw the fewest rushing attempts of any team this season but still were in the top 10 in tackles for loss, remarkable efficiency for a front seven.

The Eagles’ only strength played to a buzz saw performance by the Buccaneers’ defense. Hurts led all Eagles rushers with 39 yards, and a 34-yard touchdown in garbage time from Boston Scott inflated what had been a 3.8 yards per carry team average prior.

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