Buccaneers make history clinching third straight NFC South title

Despite another horrible offensive outing, the Bucs clinched the NFC South -- again -- and made history in the process.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers / Grant Halverson/GettyImages

On Sunday the Tampa Buccaneers did what needed to be done, defeating the Panthers in a game that clinched another NFC South title. It's the third straight season the Bucs end the season as division champs, and it's the fourth consecutive year they punched a playoff ticket.

Tampa Bay also made history in the process, capping off a season of ups and downs in about as fitting a way as possible.

The deciding factor in Sunday's game proved to be Tampa Bay's stout defense, which held Carolina under 200 yards of offense and most zero points. There was plenty to gripe about performance-wise after the game, but almost none of the grumbling was directed at the defense.

In winning the NFC South on Sunday, the Buccaneers made a bit of franchise history. For the first time ever, the Bucs won a division title in three consecutive seasons. Tampa Bay had never before won back-to-back division titles prior to doing os last season and the historic streak continues.

Buccaneers need to give Antoine Winfield Jr. a blank check after Week 18 his performance

Carolina threatened to score touchdowns multiple times, but Tampa Bay's defense bent without ever breaking. One play stood out as potentially season-defining; on a 3rd-and-four from the Buccaneers' 43, Bryce Young hit D.J. Chark on a pass that looked to be a touchdown. Antoine Winfield Jr. had other ideas, knocking the ball out of Chark's hands at the goal line and forcing a turnover touchback.

It kept seven points off the board and might have saved the Bucs season.

On the Panthers' final drive with 6:25 left in the fourth quarter, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka managed to strip-sack Young, giving Tampa Bay the football back and the chance to run the clock out. Coupled with field goals of 36, 57, and 39 yards from Chase McLaughlin, Tampa Bay completed the defensive-led win over Carolina.

"Thank goodness for Winfield's play on the goal line," Bowles said. "Thank goodness for Chase kicking some field goals. We knew it was going to be a tough battle. We knew we had to play four quarters. We made less mistakes, and we got a division title."

Just one week after being snubbed from the Pro Bowl, Winfield Jr. ended the season with another outrageous outing, finishing with five tackles, one tackle for loss, one QB hit, and one sack -- oh, and that forced fumble which was his sixth of the season.

Winfield Jr. finished the regular season with 117 total tackles, five tackles for loss, seven QB hits, five sacks, 12 passes defended, three interceptions, five forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. To top it all off, Winfield Jr. passed legendary John Lynch as the Buccaneers' franchise all-time DB leading tackler, with 379 career tackles.

Absolute baller stuff from Winfield Jr., who is already establishing himself as an all-time Buccaneers great.

Now Tampa Bay will host a playoff game for the third time in as many seasons. As part of Super Wild Card Weekend, the Buccaneers will play the No. 5 seed Philadelphia Eagles, who have suffered a considerable number of injuries and have lost five of their last six after starting the season 10-1.

"We have a locker room full of guys comfortable being counted out," Mayfield said. "It's when we're most comfortable. All we wanted was a chance to get in. And now we're here, and we've got to handle it the right way."

It wasn't pretty, but it's impossible to not feel great about how the Bucs went from the second-worst team in the league to division champions.

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