Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 Season Recapby Darius Walker January 28, 2022 1 comment
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hopes of becoming the eighth franchise in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls after returning all 22 starters from last year’s team. They finished the season with a 13-4 record and won the NFC South. It was their first division title since the 2007 season. The Buccaneers faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round and won with ease, setting up a Divisional round matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. The offense started slow and found itself in a hole for most of the game but fought back in the fourth quarter. After tying the game late in the fourth quarter, the Rams nailed a game-winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock, ending the Buccaneers’ chances of a repeat.
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What Went Right
Tampa Bay was one of only two teams to end the season ranked in the top five in both scoring offense, and scoring defense. They coasted to the NFC South title and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Tom Brady had one of the best seasons in his career. Rob Gronkowski looked more comfortable in the offense and was one of the best tight ends in the NFL this season. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Gronkowski made the Buccaneers one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Defensively, the pass rush was amongst the league’s best led by Shaquil Barrett. They finished in the top 10 in multiple categories. The Buccaneers ranked first in quarterback knockdowns, first in hurries, fifth in turnovers forced, and seventh in sacks. Tampa Bay was one of the most complete teams in the league.
What Went Wrong
There were a few problems for Tampa Bay this season. Godwin tearing his ACL in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints was a huge blow to the offense. He was the team’s best all-around receiver. Godwin is great from the slot and does most of the dirty work over the middle for the offense. He was the team leader in both catches and yards this season. The offense still performed without Godwin to close the season out but in the playoff loss to the Rams, it was obvious that Brady was missing his most reliable receiver. The situation with Brown was another big blow to the receiving corps. Once Brown was cut, it left Tyler Johnson, and Scotty Miller to fill those voids at receiver.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Tom Brady
Brady was phenomenal in his 22nd season. At age 44, Brady is defying the odds and still performing at an all-pro level. This season was comparable to several of Brady’s MVP seasons. He passed for the most yards in his career and surpassed 40 passing touchdowns for the second time in his career. His 5,316 passing yards were the third-most in NFL history and he paired that with 43 passing touchdowns. He led the NFL in completions, passing attempts, touchdowns, and yards, earning both pro bowl and all-pro honors. He had six games with four or more passing touchdowns and three games with over 400 passing yards. The Buccaneers dealt with several injuries to their receiving corps but it did not affect Brady as he kept the offense afloat and had an MVP caliber season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Jaelon Darden
The Buccaneers traded up in the NFL draft to select Darden. He stands at 5’8” and runs a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. His skill set is unlike any other Buccaneers receiver but due to a loaded receiving corps, Darden did not see the field much, ending the season with six receptions for 43 yards. He was utilized on special teams and was the Buccaneers’ primary return man during the second half of the season. He had 19 punt returns for 142 yards and 18 kick returns for 359 yards. It was a quiet year statistically for Darden but Godwin and Gronkowski are both hitting free agency so there could be a large number of vacated targets heading into the 2022 season, presenting an opportunity for Darden.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
Tryon-Shoyinka was the Buccaneers’ first-round selection and he showed promise as a rookie. He is an explosive athlete with length but his game needs some refining. Tryon was used mostly in spot duty as a rookie with Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul locked in as the starters. He ended up starting six games due to Barrett and Pierre-Paul both missing games with injuries. Tryon-Shoyinka’s rookie year numbers are modest but he only played 49 percent of the defensive snaps. He finished with 29 tackles, four sacks, five tackles for loss, and 10 quarterback hits. Pierre-Paul is a free agent, and with several other key players entering free agency, the team could choose to move on. Tryon-Shoyinka may enter the 2022 season as a starter.
Biggest Surprise – Jordan Whitehead
Whitehead is one of the more underrated players on the Tampa Bay roster. With big names like Devin White, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield Jr, and Barrett on the defense, Whitehead is the unsung hero. His energy and physicality help set the tone for the defense and he plays with great instincts. He was the leader of the secondary this season and he is almost always in the right position. Is effective against both the run and the passing game. With Whitehead, it is not about the statistics. His impact on the field can not be measured with a stat sheet. Every defense needs a player like Whitehead. He is a free agent and the Buccaneers should make sure to bring him back.
Biggest Disappointment – Antonio Brown
Brown’s performance was not disappointing at all. He was producing at a high level and still had the look of a No. 1 receiver. Brown played seven games with the team and had three 100 yard games. He was second on the team in receiving yards per game, averaging 77.9 yards per game. Brown, Evans, and Gronkowski gave the team three great receiving options which would soften the blow of the Godwin injury. However. things went sour between the Buccaneers and Brown in Week 17 against the New York Jets. Brown and Bruce Arians had a heated exchange on the sideline which resulted in the team releasing Brown. The situation is still sorting itself out but it would have been nice to have Brown on the field in the Divisional round against the Rams.
One Burning Question
Will Brady Return in 2022?
Brady’s comments after the Buccaneers’ loss to the Rams were enough to make people wonder if this could be it for him. He spoke about being there for his wife and kids at this stage of his life. He will be 45 years old when next season starts. With seven Super Bowl rings, nearly every regular season, and postseason passing record, what else does Brady have to prove? He has accomplished more than any other player in NFL history. Returning for his 23rd season and playing at a high level would further solidify Brady’s case as the greatest quarterback of all time. It does not look like his game is regressing at all, and if he were to return, the Buccaneers would be one of the Super Bowl favorites.
Tampa Bay could lose several key players in free agency. Ndamukong Suh, Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, Alex Cappa, Ryan Jensen, Leonard Fournette, Gronkowski, and Godwin are all set to hit the market. Brady returning would give them stability at quarterback and would help overcome some of the roster attrition. If Brady was to retire, the team would have another huge hole to fill. Kyle Trask is entering his second season so the team could turn to him in 2022. The free-agent quarterback class consists of players like Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. None of those names seem like the answer, but Winston and Bridgewater have both proved to be serviceable quarterbacks. Brady is the key for the Buccaneers, replacing him will not be easy.
Follow Darius Walker on Twitter @BullWalker1
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images