Buccaneers 17, Panthers 16: Immediate Reactions

Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) reacts to the fans after they beat the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) reacts to the fans after they beat the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

In a very sloppy game, the Buccaneers (9-7) pulled out a victory, beating the Panthers (6-10) at Raymond James Stadium. Here, we have immediate observations and reactions from the season-closing victory.

16. 87. 17. 48. Final

Sunday afternoon was far from the best performance of the year from the Buccaneers, but they were able to come away with a 17-16 win over the Panthers. The offense struggled for much of the day, but the defense was solid. It took a missed two-point conversion in the final minute by Carolina, but Tampa Bay finished its season at 9-7.

Observations and Reactions- General

-All-around, this was a weird game. Both teams had nothing on the line, and it showed. There was sloppiness all over the place, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

-Despite the sloppy effort, it was important for the Bucs to get this win. 9-7 is much different from 8-8.

-Tampa Bay committed five penalties for 30 yards, which really isn’t too bad considering some of the penalty yards it racked up earlier in the season.

Observations and Reactions- Offense

-Once again, Jameis Winston wasn’t at his best. But, he did enough to win. He completed 20 of his 35 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, but threw an interception and fumbled once. A pretty average performance capped a solid season for the second-year quarterback.

-Although Winston wasn’t very good for the rest of the day, he was fantastic on the Bucs’ final drive. He went five-for-six for 73 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.

-He also made some history on Sunday. On the scoring drive, he broke the franchise record for single-season passing yards and single-season passing touchdowns. And, earlier in the game, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards in his first two seasons.

Jacquizz Rodgers was good on Sunday afternoon, averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the absence of Doug Martin and Charles Sims. He rushed for 75 yards on 17 carries.

Mike Evans made some history as well, tying his own franchise record for touchdown catches in a season. His 12th of the year put the Bucs on top with 3:13 to go.

Adam Humphries was exceptional. He caught a career-high 10 passes for 94 yards. At the end of the first half, he almost broke off for a touchdown on a missed field goal by the Panthers, taking it from the back of the end zone across midfield before getting brought down.

-The offensive line didn’t have its worst game of the season, but it wasn’t very good. Winston was sacked three times and flushed out of the pocket too many times to count. The group is a major area of concern that needs to be addressed in the offseason.

Observations and Reactions- Defense

-As it has multiple times this season, the defense won this game for Tampa Bay. No matter how hurt Cam Newton was, or how little the Panthers had to play for, this was an impressive performance by Mike Smith‘s unit.

Keith Tandy and Brent Grimes were especially impressive. Tandy came up with 12 tackles (10 solo) and two big interceptions. Grimes played some solid lockdown defense, breaking up four passes and returning an interception 31 yards for a touchdown to open the second half.

-The Bucs had their issues with the run on Sunday, but their two talented linebackers still played well. Kwon Alexander had 10 tackles (six solo, one for loss) and a pass breakup, while Lavonte David picked up six tackles (five solo), two of which were sacks.

Robert Ayers added a sack of his own, finishing his first season with the team on a good note.

-No matter how good it was to see the Bucs shut down the Panthers in the game’s first 57-plus minutes, the final drive was disappointing. After Tampa Bay’s offense finally got a lead, the defense fell apart and allowed a quick touchdown drive to Carolina. It was able to survive on the two-point conversion attempt, but the fact that the Panthers were in position to win right there was a letdown.

-Noah Spence is tough. He dislocated his bad shoulder during the game, popped it back in and went back to business. That’s a pro, and for him to be so tough at such a young age is a huge deal for the Bucs’ future.

Observations and Reactions- Special Teams

-Yikes. I wrote earlier this week about the recent progress of Roberto Aguayo, and noted that a solid week 17 performance would ease the criticism of his first year. He was unable to have that solid performance, missing from 46 before having one blocked later in the game from 48 yards out.

-Speaking of that block from 48 yards out… It was originally a 43-yarder before a costly false start pushed it back. Those are the kinds of mistakes, especially on crucial field goal attempts like this one, that absolutely cannot happen.

-Oh. Just another day at the office for Bryan Anger. One day after signing a five-year extension, he showed why he deserves it. He punted five times, averaged 45.8 yards per punt and pinned all five inside the 20. He is good. Very good.

Final Thoughts

This 17-16 win was very important. Two straight losses had the Bucs reeling before this game, but they gutted out a victory in front of the home fans to kick off 2017 the right way. A loss would’ve done a lot of damage to the team’s progress. The five-game winning streak was a big deal, but had Tampa Bay dropped its final three to finish 8-8, it would’ve been a major disappointment. Instead, Dirk Koetter and company found a way to escape with a season-ending victory.

There is a lot of work to do for this team. Jameis Winston has to be better. He needs to limit the turnovers, while finding some more accuracy with his deep ball. The backfield needs to be figured out. What happens with Doug Martin? Does Jacquizz Rodgers come back? Winston needs some more weapons. Mike Evans and Cameron Brate aren’t enough, and as pleasantly surprising as Adam Humphries has been, he shouldn’t be one of the team’s top options. Of course, the offensive line needs a lot of work as well. The defense has some question marks too, but it improved a lot this season. Some pieces need to be added, but the core is definitely there.

This offseason is a very important one for the Bucs. Moves need to be made and holes need to get filled, because as exciting as 9-7 was this season, it shouldn’t be acceptable next year. It’s time for the players to rest up and heal for a while, but now is when general manager Jason Licht needs to make some magic.

Next: Losses To Rams, Raiders Prove Very Costly For Bucs

A fun season is now in the books. Thanks for following along with us here at The Pewter Plank, and stay tuned for some more offseason content in the coming months.