The Bucs hosted the Panthers to start the new year with the NFC South division title on the line with a victory in Tampa Bay. And that’s exactly what happened. The Bucs rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Panthers 30-24 to win their second straight NFC South title. The Bucs have never before won two division titles in consecutive years.
Here are the most impressive players in Week 17’s win over the Panthers.
W. R. Mike Evans
Evans shrugged off an early drop and had a huge first half for the Bucs. He hauled in five catches for 94 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown, in the first 30 minutes of play. After Carolina took an early 14–0 lead, Evans beat cornerback Keith Taylor to reel in a 63-yard bomb from Tom Brady to put the Bucs on the scoreboard. That catch put Evans over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the ninth straight year to start his career, extending his own NFL record.
Evans’ touchdown catch was only his fourth of the year and his first since scoring two against Kansas City in Week 4. He added another from 57 yards in the fourth quarter to regain the Panthers’ lead. bringing it to 21-16, and then the go lead score, a 30-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Evans would cross the 100-yard mark for the third time this season and finish the game with 10 catches for 207 yards.
QB Tom Brady
Brady started the game fairly well, passing 15 of 20 for 196 yards and a halftime touchdown as Tampa trailed Bay 14–10. After Evans dropped a deep ball early in the first quarter, Brady hit the Bucs’ star receiver in the pass after stepping on cornerback Keith Taylor for a 63-yard touchdown. That cut the Panthers’ lead to 14-7.
In the second half, Brady hit Evans with a 57-yard touchdown to cut Carolina’s lead to 21-16 with 13:49 left in regulation and then a 30-yard strike to put the Bucs ahead, 24- 21, after Brady hit Chris Godwin. with a two-point conversion and later scored a touchdown on a QB sneak to push the Bucs’ lead to 30–21. He finished the game with 34 of 45 passes for a season-high 432 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
CB Sean Murphy Bunting
Murphy-Bunting came at the right time with his second interception of the season. With the Panthers leading 14-10 in the third quarter, Darnold threw a deep ball to Stephen Sullivan, but Murphy-Bunting stepped forward and took it off at the Tampa Bay 2-yard line. That play thwarted a scoring drive by the Panthers. In addition to a forced fumble that went out of bounds in the first half, Murphy-Bunting also broke a pass into the end zone early in the fourth quarter. He finished with two tackles.
OLB Anthony Nelson
With the Bucs leading 24-21 late in the fourth quarter, Nelson came up with a huge strip sack on quarterback Sam Darnold at the Carolina 13-yard line. Defensive tackle Vita Vea recovered for the Bucs at the Carolina 3-yard line. Two plays later, a 1-yard QB sneak from Brady put the Bucs up 30-21 with less than two minutes left. Nelson finished the game with four tackles.
L. B. Devin White
Takeaways were hard to come by for the Bucs this year, but White came through with a big just before halftime. Darnold fumbled for the snap and White slammed into him to make sure he wouldn’t get it back. Instead, White jumped on the ball and set up the Bucs for a field goal just before halftime to cut the Panthers’ lead to 14–10. White had five tackles at half time to finish with seven in the game.
W.R. Chris Godwin
Godwin came up with a huge catch on Buc’s first drive of the game to convert for a first down, but when he tried to gain extra yards, he got the ball knocked out. Tampa Bay lost the ball on a fumble. Godwin later had an offensive pass interference that nullified a 30-yard catch-and-run by Cade Otton. But Godwin then redeemed himself with a very productive game. He hauled in nine passes for a season-high 120 yards and caught a two-point conversion.
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