Buccaneers Earn Two-Seed with Rout of the Panthers

Ken Cross

January 10, 2022 at 4:42 pm.

TAMPA, Fla. – Mike Evans caught fourth-quarter touchdown passes of three and 20 yards and Tom Brady who again proved why he is a maestro with a football in his hand as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers survived a slow start to cage the Carolina Panthers, 41-17, at Raymond James Stadium.

The win, along with the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-24 come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles Rams, pushed the Buccaneers into the second seed in the NFC Playoffs. They will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

It was on a day when the Buccaneers were strapped with a litany of injuries which included linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett, as well as running backs Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and wide receiver Chris Godwin.

The struggle was so real that the Bucs had only 48 total yards going into the last drive in the first half, while the Panthers were nursing a 7-3 lead and were looking for Tampa Bay to bleed the clock as the Bucs had the ball on their own 8-yard line.

The Buccaneers were needing a burst of energy, a jolt, or even a Lighting strike from Amalie Arena, home of the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Quarterback Tom Brady followed through when he ended the sleepy first half, hitting Mike Evans on a 37-yard pass play with 1:22 remaining before intermission to set Tampa Bay up on the 45-yard line. After throwing for 28 more yards to Rob Gronkowski, the Buccaneers shattered the preceding first-half yardage total.

Evans’ catch ignited the team and put it in position to take a halftime lead after being outplayed for most of the first half.

“He’s the guy and he has been very, very unselfish this year,” said Arians. “That’s what makes our receiver room so special is the way Mike leads that room and Chris (Godwin) leads that room.”

Then, Le’Veon Bell gave the Buccaneers the lead for good when he caught a 1-yard TD pass from Brady as Tampa Bay led 10- 7 at the break.

There were two passes at the outset of the second half of 42 and 19 yards to Rob Gronkowski that sealed the deal as Keyshawn Vaughn finished this drive with a 2-yard TD run and gave the Buccaneers a 17-7 advantage.

This was a surge of offense that the Buccaneers needed to break the dam and send the offense back into rolling like a proverbial locomotive.

“It’s good when you get a double score like that – 14 points where they don’t touch the ball is pretty good,” said Brady. “Guys made a bunch of big plays.”

Arians went to a hurry-up offense and it kick-started the Buccaneers for what would be an outpouring of points over the next 32 minutes.

“It was just a matter of let’s get going and normally when we go in no-huddle, we get going pretty good,” said the third-year Bucs head coach. “We didn’t do it early in the game, but the two-minute drive kind of convinced us that’s the way we need to play the second half.”

In addition to the two TD tosses to Evans, Scotty Miller scored on a 33-yard end-around with 4:07 to play after a 40-yard field goal by Ryan Succop.

Milestone Mania:  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 13 games for the first time in team history as they passed the 2002 Buccaneers which had 12 wins. In addition, the seven home wins were only equaled one other time and that was by the 1979 Buccaneers, which lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

In addition, wide receiver Mike Evans went over 1,000 yards in his first eight seasons which is an NFL record and Tom Brady checked in with the second 5,000-yard passing season of his career.

“It’s amazing, the records – it seems like there were five or six every week,” said Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians. “Each guy stepped up and played and can’t say enough about them all. Thirteen wins brother, that’s hard to do.”

Tight end Rob Gronkowski had a season-high 137 receiving yards on seven catches. He needed seven catches and 85 receiving yards on Sunday to get $500,000 for hitting the 55 catches and then easily clipped the needed 85 receiving yards.

“The most important thing is obviously getting the win, but hitting incentives is cool,” said Gronkowski. “The Buccaneers are a great organization and putting me in a position to where I can hit those incentives is awesome. I love playing here, love playing for this organization.”

Brady, the ultimate teammate, and the ultimate competitor, stepped up and lauded the enjoyment of seeing all of the milestones.

“I think everyone is happy for those guys because they’ve had incredible years and they’ve just been incredible contributors to what we’re trying to accomplish – great teammates that just come to work every day, just working their tails off,” he said.


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