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Spadaro: A sign of things to come? Revisiting the Monday night win in Tampa Bay

Olamide Zaccheaus
Olamide Zaccheaus

This was Week 3, a 90-degree night in Tampa and the Eagles had a prime-time audience in front of them – a stadium with thousands and thousands of fans from Philadelphia and an entire nation viewing on television – interested to see a pair of 2-0 teams going toe to toe.

How real were the 2-0 Bucs with new quarterback Baker Mayfield at the helm, replacing Tom Brady? Were the Eagles, after hold-on-at-the-end wins against New England and Minnesota, up for the challenge of a stout Tampa Bay defense and an offense that had not turned the ball over in its two victories?

As the Eagles prepare for Monday night's Wild Card Playoff Game in Tampa, it's important to look back on the Week 3 matchup, a 25-11 Eagles win (the first time in NFL history for a 25-11 final score – a scorigami as it is termed, in more than 16,000 games in league history). Philadelphia dominated the game with a strong offensive performance and a suffocating defensive job, and the special teams had a terrific outing to win the hidden-yardage category convincingly.

Here are some thoughts on the game – perhaps the Eagles' most complete 60 minutes of the season – and what that win might mean for Monday night ...

1. Tampa Bay used some one-on-one coverage against wide receiver A.J. Brown and quarterback Jalen Hurts took advantage. He targeted Brown 14 times overall and completed 9 passes for 131 yards to Brown. On the first offensive drive, Hurts threw to Brown on a shallow cross and his catch and run gained 28 yards and then Hurts came right back on the next play with a 16-yard completion to Brown over the middle. Getting Brown going early opened things up for everyone – Hurts completed passes to seven players on a 23-of-37 for 277 yards night.

"They were giving us some one-on-ones on the outside to A.J., so we took that and so you know it was a check by Jalen and Brian – I thought (Offensive Coordinator) Brian (Johnson) did a good job on the second play of the game getting to the check that sprung A.J.," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "That ball wasn't going to A.J. and then it went to him because we checked out of it and then he had the next one that gave us a certain coverage that was able to get it as well. So we're always going to want to get A.J. involved, it just so happened he had the first couple catches of the game, 44 yards, I think it was on the first drive and he kept rolling from there."

Something to consider: Tampa Bay didn't have its best cornerback, Carlton Davis, for that game. He is healthy now and could see Brown in one-on-one situations.

2. Tampa Bay likes to blitz with Head Coach Todd Bowles calling the shots and the Eagles did a great job protecting Hurts and making the Bucs pay for the pressure. Tight end Dallas Goedert caught 5 passes for 41 yards, wide receiver DeVonta Smith chipped in with 4 grabs, and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus had a big touchdown catch. The Eagles also caught Tampa Bay's pressure with the running game – D'Andre Swift gained 130 rushing yards (8.1 yards per carry) as the team amassed 201 yards total on 40 attempts.

Philadelphia mixed it up in the fourth quarter and ate 9 minutes, 22 seconds off the clock, answering everything Bowles and the Bucs threw at them.

"I think that's something that Todd Bowles is known for and does a great job with," said Hurts about handling the blitz. "I think the last time we played them (2021 Wild Card Round), I didn't do a great job of truly being patient in the pocket. So, I feel like that was something that I took a step (forward) in tonight. With those steps you take forward, you want to learn from everything. Learning from that, continuing to build on that, and continuing to learn from the mistakes that were made today."

3. Tampa Bay's offense had success its first two weeks protecting the football, getting it out of Mayfield's hands to talented receivers – including Mike Evans – and protecting Mayfield. In this game? The Eagles smothered Tampa Bay in every way.

In the first half, the Eagles allowed just 86 total net yards on 29 plays, a 3.0-yard average. Tampa Bay gained 20 rushing yards on 11 carries and Mayfield threw for 66 yards, completing 9-of-16 passes with one interception (after entering the game with none). He was sacked twice (after being sacked once in the first two wins). The Eagles allowed just 13 total yards in the third quarter, so Tampa Bay had just 99 total offensive yards through three quarters. On Tampa Bay's first eight possessions, the Eagles forced four punts, had a safety, and two takeaways as the Buccaneers also managed a field goal drive. Evans had two receptions in the opening three quarters, by which time the Eagles had a commanding lead.

4. Some impact plays from the defense changed the game. The Eagles had two takeaways – defensive tackle Jalen Carter forced a pair of fumbles and a half-sack and safety Reed Blankenship perfectly read a Mayfield pass and made the interception – and also added a safety when linebacker Nicholas Morrow timed up a blitz and sliced through the line of scrimmage to take down Mayfield.

5. Philadelphia won the game, yes, but they also struggled in the red zone with one touchdown in five trips inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. This is going to be a critical area for review during the week. This is the playoffs and every mistake is magnified and every missed opportunity could make the difference.

6. The special teams were just great in this game and used that momentum to collectively post a strong performance throughout 2023, a season in which the unit ranked first overall in the league according to advanced analytics. It was Braden Mann's first game at punter and he had just one kick, a 38-yard pooch job, and look at how far he's come throughout the season – 49.8-yard gross average, 43.8-yard net average. Britain Covey returned a punt 52 yards to the Tampa Bay 44-yard line to set up a field goal drive – Covey averaged 27 yards on 3 returns – and he also had a 30-yard return on the free kick after the safety. Elliott made all three of his field goal attempts and had touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs. The special teams won in that phase of the game.

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