The Tampa Bay Buccaneers avenged their shaky game against the New York Jets. They began the game slowly, letting the visiting Carolina Panthers control the ball and dictate the pace of the game to the tune of leading 7-3 late in the second quarter. Then, the defending champs woke up.
Tom Brady and the Bucs used an up-tempo strategy late in the first half on a 92-yard drive which ended with a Le’Veon Bell one-yard touchdown catch to give the Bucs a lead, 10-7, that they would never relinquish. The Bucs would get the ball first in the second half and would go 77 yards on 7 plays to push the lead to 17-7. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn would do the honors on the ground from one yard out.
The Panthers would close the lead to 24-17 with just under 11 minutes in the game but that’s as close as the game would be. The Bucs would put up the last 17 points of the contest. A 20-yard touchdown from Brady to Mike Evans, a 40-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, and a 33-yard touchdown on an end around by little used receiver Scotty Miller finished off the game and Tampa Bay’s franchise record 13th regular season triumph.
The Buccaneers only recorded one sack against Panthers’ signal caller Sam Darnold, but made up for it with 2 turnovers by the defensive secondary. Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., recovered a fumble and reserve Safety Andrew Adams got the game’s only interception.
Records and accomplishments abounded for the Bucs as well. Brady finished with a career high 5,316 yards passing on the year and goes over 5,000 for the second time in his career, throwing 43 touchdown passes to set a franchise high. Rob Gronkowski’s 137 yards on the day gives him 32 100-yard receiving games in his career, an NFL record.
Mike Evans also extended his all-time record to 8 for 1,000 yard receiving seasons to begin a career. He had 8 catches for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns on the day. Those two end zone visits gave Evans 14 on the year which set another Bucs season record.
Finally, starting slowly and finishing fast benefited the Bucs in the final NFC Standings. The San Francisco 49ers recovered from a slow beginning down 17-0 to the Los Angeles Rams, to punch their ticket as a Wild Card, 27-24 in Overtime. More importantly, the win gives Tampa Bay the 2 Seed and they will host the 7 seeded Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round next week.
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