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Buccaneers start title defense with 31-15 win over Eagles

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, right, celebrates with wide receiver Mike Evans after Evans caught a touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles. (Mark LoMoglio/AP)
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Tampa Bay beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-15, Sunday in the first round of the NFL playoffs at Raymond James Stadium as the Buccaneers began their title defense.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers scored 31 unanswered points, putting the matchup out of reach by the end of the third quarter. The Buccaneers’ running backs, Giovanni Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, each scored a first-quarter rushing touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter pushed the score to 17-0. Brady, who finished with 271 yards, threw third-quarter touchdowns to Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski.

Philadelphia’s offensive miscues halted any attempt at a comeback; quarterback Jalen Hurts — who finished with 258 yards — threw two interceptions and wideout Jalen Reagor muffed a punt. The Eagles showed life with fourth-quarter touchdowns by Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell, but struggled to move the ball while playing from behind and the scores proved to be too little, too late.

The Buccaneers are without several stars, but all that matters is they have Tom Brady

Check out highlights and real-time analysis from Sunday’s game below.

4:02 p.m.
Headshot of Mark Maske
Mark Maske: The Buccaneers have been dominant for most of this game as they launch the postseason portion of their bid to repeat as Super Bowl champs. So should anyone feel differently, based on this performance, about their chances?Probably not.The competition will get far tougher from here. The Bucs will host the Cowboys in a conference semifinal next weekend, if Dallas can get by the 49ers.There remain issues about the supporting cast around quarterback Tom Brady on offense. Brady’s pass-receiving group is diminished, with the losses of wideouts Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Wide receiver Mike Evans has topped 100 yards against the Eagles and Brady has spread the ball around to nine different receivers.Pass-protection issues have arisen during this game with the injuries to two Buccaneers offensive linemen, tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen. Wirfs tried to return to the game but exited again and later was ruled out. If he is sidelined or his play is diminished later in the postseason, Brady could be vulnerable to the sort of pass-rush disruptions that generally have accompanied his playoff disappointments.Perhaps the best sign for the Bucs during this game has been the play of their defense. That unit is healthier now. The Buccaneers shut out the Eagles into the fourth quarter, and their play on defense has been closer to what carried them to last season’s Super Bowl triumph over the Chiefs.
Mark Maske, Sports reporter covering the NFL
3:39 p.m.
Headshot of Mark Maske
Mark Maske: This is a dreadful performance by the Eagles, as they’ll make a quick exit from the playoffs with this lopsided defeat.But that should not change the fact that this was a successful season for them.Simply reaching the postseason was an accomplishment in a transition season. Nick Sirianni was a rookie NFL head coach. Jalen Hurts was in his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. There was no reason to believe, when the season began, that the Eagles still would be playing in mid-January.The question is: How much changes now?The Eagles have three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft. That gives them the draft-choice capital to move into position, if they want, to draft any available quarterback. It gives them the resources to try to trade for a veteran quarterback, if they opt to go that direction.The organization’s first decision must be to determine whether it believes that Hurts is a franchise quarterback, and then move forward accordingly.
Mark Maske, Sports reporter covering the NFL
3:17 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: Now that the Buccaneers have opened a 24-0 lead in the third quarter, their mission has shifted toward protecting their key players for later rounds. Having already lost right tackle Tristan Wirfs for the remainder of this game and playing without a handful of injured skill players, Tampa Bay needs to do what it can to prevent an injury to Tom Brady. The Buccaneers are likely to take the air out of the ball and try to get to the end of the game with as little strain as possible.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
3:07 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: Along with getting thoroughly outplayed in obvious ways, the Eagles have damaged their chances in small ways. Jalen Raegor had been a disaster on punt returns all day, clearly uneasy tracking balls in the wind. He muffed a punt and gave Tampa Bay the ball back when the Eagles should have taken over in excellent field position. Meanwhile, Eagles punter Arryn Siposs shanked his first punt and has averaged just 36.3 yards. The Eagles needed to find small edges to have a chance. As their defense has found its footing, special teams has prevented them from getting back in the game.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
2:52 p.m.
Headshot of Mark Maske
Mark Maske: It probably won’t matter much in this game, since the Buccaneers seem to be in control. But their pass protection issues — and the injury to offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs — will be a major consideration going forward in the postseason, as the Bucs attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champs.Wirfs and another Pro Bowl offensive lineman, center Ryan Jensen, left the game with injuries during the first half. Both returned to the lineup. But Wirfs exited a second time, leaving room to wonder how healthy and how effective he will be for the remainder of the playoffs.The Eagles managed to sack Bucs quarterback Tom Brady three times in the first half. Brady still completed 20 of 25 passes for 159 yards. The Buccaneers still lead, 17-0.But the ability of an opposing defense to get pressure on Brady always is the issue for a Brady-led team in the postseason. The Buccaneers now have that as a concern, along with any lingering worries about the number and quality of playmakers around Brady on offense with the losses of wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.
Mark Maske, Sports reporter covering the NFL
2:44 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: At halftime, the Eagles could be a facing a decision they wanted to avoid. If they can’t score on the opening drive of the second half, would it be time to consider backup quarterback Gardner Minshew? Hurts has proved himself the best quarterback for the Eagles when they can play the game on their terms. But the Eagles have not come close to dictating the game. If they’re behind by three or more scores in the middle of the third quarter, they’ll require a passing offense to bring them back. Minshew would be better equipped for that style.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
2:21 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: In his first career playoff start, Jalen Hurts struggled on his first three drives, unable to keep his eyes downfield against even superficial pressure. On a key play, he missed wide receiver Quez Watkins streaking uncovered down the middle of the field. He settled down on the Eagles’ fourth possession, showing more calm in the pocket and better decisiveness when he ran. After a crucial fourth-down conversion, the Eagles had something going when Hurts stepped up, found space and zipped a pass to tight end Dallas Goedert … who dropped it. That would have been the play that pulled the Eagles back into the game. Instead, the Eagles could not convert on fourth down three plays later. Goedert’s drop may be the final straw in an ugly first half for Philadelphia.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
1:50 p.m.
Headshot of Mark Maske
Mark Maske: The main issue for the Buccaneers as they attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions is the dwindling number — and quality — of pass-catching options for quarterback Tom Brady.Chris Godwin is out after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown is gone after his well-chronicled incident at MetLife Stadium.So far, it has been a nonissue Sunday for Brady against the Eagles.He has targeted seven different receivers while the Buccaneers have scored two touchdowns on their first three offensive possessions to craft a 14-0 lead. Wideout Mike Evans has been targeted four times and tight end Rob Gronkowski has been targeted three times.They figure to be Brady’s favorite receivers for the remainder of the postseason. But others must emerge. And that could determine the Buccaneers’ level of playoff success.
Mark Maske, Sports reporter covering the NFL
1:41 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: The Buccaneers are doing a lot on defense to prevent Jalen Hurts from escaping the pocket, even with playing coordinator Todd Bowles’s preferred man-to-man. Their third-and-9 stop showed one example. The Bucs lined up Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, a rangy edge, on the inside and had him loop around to Hurts’s left on a stunt. When Hurts rolled left, Tryon-Shoyinka was there to prevent a scramble, then batted down his pass. Hurts is at his best on the edge. The Bucs’ aim is to not let him get there.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
1:24 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: The Philadelphia Eagles and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon took a puzzling approach on Tampa Bay’s opening touchdown drive. The Buccaneers are without many of their best playmakers, giving the Eagles an opportunity to be aggressive in coverage and challenge Tom Brady. Instead, the Eagles played soft coverage. Brady predictably picked them apart with surgical short passes, with help from a specious roughing the passer call. On one successful third down, wide receiver Mike Evans was able to be matched up against linebacker Trent Edwards. There’s no reason the Eagles should allow that to happen. Gannon needs to regroup.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
1:18 p.m.
Headshot of Mark Maske
Mark Maske: The officiating issues for the NFL continue during wild-card weekend.The roughing-the-passer call on the Eagles’ Derek Barnett for his hit on Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady drew immediate scrutiny on the Fox broadcast. Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating czar who is now a rules analyst for Fox, said he did not believe the call should have been made.After the controversy Saturday for the inadvertent whistle during the Raiders-Bengals game, the NFL and its on-field officials could use a quiet Sunday.
Mark Maske, Sports reporter covering the NFL
12:58 p.m.
Headshot of Adam Kilgore
Adam Kilgore: The Eagles may have a first-year head coach in Nick Sirianni and a second-year quarterback in Jalen Hurts, but they have a real chance against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions.The Eagles shifted their approach around Hurts, a smart and bruising runner for a quarterback, and ran more than any other team in the second half of the season, ending the year as the second-best rushing offense in the NFL. The Buccaneers’ rushing defense, a brick wall on their Super Bowl run, fell off later in the year, partially as a result of devoting resources to help a battered secondary.The soggy, windy conditions in Tampa Bay favor the kind of game the Eagles want to play. Brady will be without his top two running backs after the Bucs ruled out injured Leonard Fournette, a playoff hero a year ago, late in the week. He’ll also be missing wide receivers Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Cyril Grayson, placing emphasis on his tight ends.If the Eagles can limit Mike Evans on the outside and clog the middle, Brady may resemble the quarterback he was at the end of his Patriots tenure: immobile and bereft of the complementary weapons necessary to exploit his surgical genius. The Eagles did not beat a playoff team all year, but they are surging as the Bucs are trying to hold themselves together. In a telling development, the point spread tumbled from 9.5 points early in the week to seven by Sunday morning.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
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