ATLANTA, Georgia- Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew they had already wrapped up the NFC South championship heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
Thus Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles had already made his mind up that the starters wouldn’t be playing the entirety of the game versus the Falcons. That led to a season-ending loss heading into the postseason for Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers led 17-10 at one point but then allowed 20 unanswered points en route to a 30-17 loss to the Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Dome. Tampa Bay finishes the season at 8-9 heading into the NFC playoffs, where they will host the Dallas Cowboys.
One player who wouldn’t be denied playing time in the regular season’s final game was 45-year-old Tom Brady, who entered the contest looking to break his record for completions in a single campaign. Needing just nine completions to break his previous record of 485, Brady added to it.
The legendary quarterback finished the day completing 13-of-17 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown pass. Brady’s lone touchdown pass came on Tampa Bay’s opening drive when he connected with tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Buccaneers’ starting signal caller led one other scoring drive on the afternoon before giving way to backup Blaine Gabbert.
Bowles and his staff used the game more like a preseason game, in which starters saw time to start the game, but one by one, would give way to backups. Gabbert, in backup duty, was solid, completing 6-of-8 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown pass to Russell Gage. Injuries were a primary concern for holding starters back, and Gage was among those that had to exit the game due to an injury. The other was center Robert Hainsey, who suffered a hamstring injury and didn’t return.
The long list of players that didn’t end up playing in the game included offensive tackles Tristen Wirfs and Donovan Smith, nose tackle Vita Vea and wide receiver Julio Jones. Another late scratch ended up being Mike Evans, who left early due to an illness. With Evans and Jones being out, it provided more opportunities to Chris Godwin, who surpassed 100 receptions and 1,000 yards for the season.
What Tampa Bay will have to do a better job of when facing the Cowboys is stopping the run game, as Atlanta running back Tyler Allgeier rushed for 135 yards on 24 carries. The Falcons finished with a losing season for the fifth consecutive year.
Focus now shifts to the Cowboys, a team that the Buccaneers defeated to open up the regular season. Tampa Bay started the 2022 campaign on the road at AT&T Stadium with a dominating 19-3 victory.