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In waning moments, Todd Bowles goes from conservative to card counter

His team’s surreal season on the line, Todd Bowles opted for calculus instead of convention.

Stiff-arming his generally conservative offensive approach, the Bucs coach opted for a two-point attempt after Mike Evans’ 16-yard scoring catch from Baker Mayfield cut the Bucs’ deficit to 31-23 with 4:37 remaining.

The decision naturally set parts of social media afire, as did the non-call on Lions cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, who appeared to make contact with Evans in the back left corner of the end zone on the incomplete two-point try. Bowles wasn’t asked about the decision in his brief postgame news conference, but seemed to have at least one ally in NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth.

“It’s always the same thing: It’s the math that is slightly in your favor,” Collinsworth said. “You go for two. If you get it you can win the game in regulation. If you miss it, you get a second chance at two on the back end. I know it drives people crazy, it actually is favorable from a mathematics standpoint.”

Also coming under scrutiny was Bowles’ decision not to use his final timeout. He still had it in his pocket when Jared Goff kneeled for the final time on third and 12 from the Bucs 30 with 37 seconds to play.

“They already had a field goal lined up, and it would’ve been about 12 seconds left on the clock to end the ball game,” he said. “We weren’t going to come back from that. No sense in prolonging the obvious.”

No Dean on decisive drive

Perhaps not coincidentally, Detroit’s game-clinching touchdown drive occurred after one of the Bucs’ steadiest secondary tacklers was carted off Ford Field.

Veteran Jamel Dean sustained a lower-back injury after tackling Lions tight end Sam LaPorta following a short reception deep in Detroit territory. The hosts scored nine plays later on Jared Goff’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown with 6:27 to play, giving Detroit a 31-17 lead.

Dean had five tackles and a team-high three passes defended upon exiting. Earlier in the half, safety Kaevon Merriweather, a special teams fixture experiencing a homecoming of sorts (he hails from Belleville, Michigan), was carted off with an ankle injury and also didn’t return.

Bucs feature Britt

While 10th-year receiver Mike Evans (eight catches, 147 yards, one TD) left fans wanting more in what conceivably could have been his Bucs finale, the same couldn’t be said for Devin White.

The fifth-year inside linebacker, whose future in Tampa Bay appears bleak at best, finished with one tackle as the Bucs opted to employ third-year backup K.J. Britt alongside Lavonte David against a typically fierce Lions run game. Britt finished with a career-best 12 tackles; the Lions had 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts.

“Judging by some of the things they were doing, and they were hurrying up back on the ball,” Bowles said when asked about the decision to go with Britt. “Probably got lost in translation; Devin should’ve played a little bit more.”

By the numbers

6 Passing touchdowns this postseason by Baker Mayfield, already second most in Bucs history behind Tom Brady (15)

13 Tackles (a game high) by Bucs inside linebacker Lavonte David, who turns 34 on Tuesday

14 Length of Mayfield’s scramble on Bucs’ touchdown drive at end of first half. It was the longest postseason run by a quarterback in franchise history.

408 Total yards amassed by the Bucs, third-highest postseason total in franchise history. Their 6.8 yards per play was the second-highest mark in team playoff history.

Audible

“Through all the (stuff) that I’ve been through, I leaned on a lot of people here and you can do that. I had a lot of people that helped me out throughout the year, and it made it special. You go through stuff, and where I was at in my life — not just football — this place helped me out, so I’m thankful for that.” — Mayfield, when asked what he learned about himself in the 2023 season

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