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Buccaneers playoff path is lined with potential opponents who beat them during the regular season

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The NFL playoffs are shaping up as a redemption tour of sorts for Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The NFC South champions pummeled Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles 32-9 in a wild-card matchup, advancing to next weekend’s divisional round against the Detroit Lions, another team that beat the Bucs handily during the regular season.

Coach Todd Bowles reiterated Monday that the Bucs, who have gone from having one of the oldest rosters in the league to one of the youngest following the retirement of Tom Brady, have embraced the role of being underdogs all season long.

The Eagles, who collapsed after a 10-1 start to the season, beat Tampa Bay by two touchdowns in Week 3. Three weeks later, the Lions (13-5) traveled to Florida and shut down Mayfield and a sputtering Bucs offense 20-6.

Next Sunday, offers another opportunity to redeem themselves.

“It is what it is, man. They are just the team that’s in our way right now, and we’re in the way,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “We’re all trying to get to the same goal, so we’re just going to go up there and play the best game we (can) play.”

A victory at Detroit would set up a possible rematch with No. 1 seed San Francisco in the NFC championship game. The 49ers, who face the Green Bay Packers on Saturday, also defeated Tampa Bay earlier this season.

“I think back about the Lions game … we just didn’t play our best game offensively. We’ll look back at the tape once we get into the game plan, but we’re very different than we were early on in the year," Mayfield said. "That’s something to be proud of, that we’ve continued to improve. We haven’t reinvented the wheel. We just stuck with it and gotten better at the little things.”

Bowles made a number of adjustments to counter what the Eagles were able to do successfully against the Bucs in the regular season, at times employing a six-man defensive front to stop Philadelphia’s running game.

Hurts threw for 250 yards and one touchdown, however a relentless Tampa Bay pass rush created three sacks and a safety that put the Bucs up by nine points in the third quarter. Two plays later, rookie Trey Palmer turned a short reception into a 56-yard TD to break the game open.

The Bucs have now won six of seven following a stretch in which they lost six of seven to damage their playoff hopes.

“It says a lot about the growth of our team from where we were in the beginning to the middle, toward the end and now — playing with confidence, playing team football,” Bowles said.

“We have a great locker room. … We lean on each other. We trust each other. Just doing your job and knowing the guy next to you is going to do his,” Mayfield added. “That’s accountability for yourself and for your teammates. It’s just amazing to see the growth.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The offense picked a good time to come alive, scoring a touchdown and three field goals on its first four possessions against the Eagles, who didn’t allowed the Bucs to get into the end zone until the fourth quarter of the first meeting. Tampa Bay scored 22 points in its previous two games combined, including three field goals in a 9-0 win over Carolina to clinch the NFC South and a playoff berth.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Since 2020, Tampa Bay’s defense has a league-high 16 takeaways during the postseason. Although the unit delivered one of its best performances of the season against the Eagles, it didn’t add to that impressive turnover statistic on Monday night.

STOCK UP

The Eagles did a decent job containing WRs Mike Evans (three receptions, 48 yards) and Chris Godwin (four catches, 45 yards and a late TD), however the extra attention drawn by the duo created opportunities for Palmer, WR David Moore and TE Cade Otton to shine. The trio combined for 11 receptions for 211 yards.

STOCK DOWN

The Eagles sacked Mayfield four times and had six quarterback hits. With the quarterback playing with sore ribs and an ankle injury suffered in the regular season, the Bucs had hoped to protect him better in the pocket.

INJURIES

The Bucs are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Mayfield was limited in practice during the week, but still went out and completed 22 of 36 passes for 337 yards and three TDs without an interception.

KEY NUMBER

6. The Bucs have six playoff wins since 2020, second most in the NFL behind Kansas City’s eight.

NEXT STEPS

Travel to Detroit to face the NFC North champion Lions on Sunday at 3 p.m.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl