Buccaneers Team Effort Seal NFC South Title Against Panthers

Tom Brady, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Tom Brady, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did what championship-caliber teams do on Sunday afternoon. They bounced back from a disappointing performance last week against the New Orleans Saints to get a total team win over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, 32-6, and win their first division title since 2007. The Bucs’ win snaps the Saints four-year run at the top of the NFC South.

The major storyline coming out of the Panthers game for Tampa Bay was the continued great play of a burgeoning part of the team late in the season, their defense. Todd Bowles’ crew has given up a total of 15 points (5 field goals) in their last two contests. The defensive front seven certainly stood up as the stalwarts with a season-high seven sacks combined on Panthers quarterbacks Cam Newton and Sam Darnold.

Individual plaudits go to defensive end William Gholston, who led the team with a career high 2.5 sacks on the day. Safety Jordan Whitehead was all over the field with seven tackles, three passes defended and an interception. Linebacker Shaq Barrett recorded his 10th sack of the season to join legends Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice as the only Bucs to record multiple double digit sack seasons.

Offensively, it was next man up and the Bucs were very effective in that regard against Carolina. Backup running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn hit pay dirt with a 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to open up the scoring for Tampa Bay. Add Ronald Jones’ 65 yards on the ground, and their 135 yards rushing on the day more than made up for the loss of injured Leonard Fournette.

Antonio Brown did his thing catching 10 passes for 101 yards in his return. He’ll be the top target for Tom Brady at least until Mike Evans can get back on the field. A huge tip of the cap has to go to reserve wide receiver Cyril Grayson who caught three balls for 81 yards, threw a key block to get Vaughn in the end zone on his run, and even had a carry for 14 yards.

Honorable mention to the Bucs special teams as well. Sterling Hofrichter who spelled the injured Bradley Pinion, did a great job on punts, kickoffs and holding for Ryan Succop on field goals and extra points. Kenyon Barner on his five punt returns averaged almost nine yards an attempt, which helped with field position for the offense.

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