Tar Heels in NFL: Bernard has most productive game of season for injury-depleted Bucs

By R.L. Bynum

The injury-depleted Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed a boost in their playoff opener and got one from Giovani Bernard, who missed the last four games of the regular season with hip and knee issues.

Bernard piled up 83 total yards and a touchdown in the Bucs’ 31–15 playoff win Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles.

After getting only eight carries in the regular season, Bernard rushed 13 times for 44 yards and a touchdown in addition to getting five receptions on seven targets for 39 yards. The only regular-season game with more reception yards was in Week 3, when he had nine catches for 51 yards in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

“Ever since my first game in 2013, I’ve always been the type of guy that, when an opportunity arises, just make the most of it,” Bernard said in November. “I’ve never been the guy like, ‘Oh, hey, I need the ball, I need the ball, I want the ball’ and this and that. For me, those opportunities are gonna come and you just have to make the most of them. I’ve just always been that kind of guy. That’s how I am. That’s just in my DNA. So, just make a play when that happens.”

That was the case in the Bucs’ wild-card round win Sunday.

Bernard gave Tampa Bay a quick touchdown lead on a two-yard scoring run with 10:05 left in the first quarter on his first carry of the game.

It was Bernard’s most productive day since totaling 131 yards on 65 rushing yards and 66 reception yards in Week 16 of the 2020 season for the Cincinnati Bengals in a 37–31 victory at Houston.

Bernard had a 22-yard gain on a third-quarter reception.

Bernard’s niche most of the season was his ability to make catches out of the backfield, particularly on third down.

Leonard Fournette, the Bucs’ top running back, missed the game with a hamstring injury and Ronald Jones also was out with an ankle injury.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn started at running back but ended up with the same number of snaps as Bernard (36) and fewer total yards (51, on 42 rushing yards and nine reception yards)

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Mitchell Trubisky and Andre Smith had minor roles in Buffalo’s 41–17 playoff victory Saturday over the New England Patriots.

Trubisky didn’t get into the game until the Bills’ final possession and kneeled on three plays to run the clock out. Smith played four defensive snaps and 14 special-teams snaps with no statistics.

Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back
31–15 win vs. Philadelphia — 13 rushes, 44 yards (8 longest), 1 TD; 5 catches on 7 targets for 39 yards (22 longest); 36 offensive snaps
Season statistics —
12 games, 8 rushes, 58 yards (24 longest); 23 catches, 123 yards, 3 TDs, 1 fumble; 1 kickoff return for 18 yards; 2 punt returns, 7 yards
Up next — 3 p.m. Sunday vs. Los Angeles Rams, NBC, Peacock
———————————————
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end
42–21
loss at Kansas City Sunday night — Out for the season with a knee injury
Season statistics — 8 games, 12 receptions, 84 yards (7.0 average, longest 19), 1 TD; 1 rush, 1 yard, 1 TD
Steelers’ season over
———————————————
Andre Smith, Buffalo Bills weakside linebacker
47–17 win vs. New England — Played, no statistics; 4 defensive snaps (6%), 14 special-teams snaps (56%)
Season statistics — 14 games, 4 tackles, 5 assists, 3 special-teams tackles, 5 special-teams assists
Up next —
6:30 p.m. Sunday at Kansas City, CBS, Paramount+
————————————————————————————
Mitchell Trubisky, Buffalo Bills quarterback
47–17 win vs. New England — 3 rushes, -2 yards (kneeled three times on Bills’ last possession)
Season statistics — 7 games; 6 of 8 passing for 43 yards (longest 15), 1 interception; 16 rushes for 22 yards (longest 22)
Up next — 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Kansas City, CBS, Paramount+
————————————————————————————

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