NFC South Reporter
TAMPA, Fla. — As a microcosm for an odd don’t-count-them-out Bucs season, Sunday’s recreation in opposition to the Panthers was practically good.
They trailed 14-0 early. They trailed 21-10 early within the fourth quarter. After which they scored 20 straight factors and clinched not solely a comeback win however an NFC South division title — with the fully pointless bonus end-game drama of an onsides kick and a Stanford-band multi-lateral desperation closing play from Carolina.
“NFL games are tough to win,” stated Tom Brady, who handed for 432 yards and three touchdowns — all to receiver Mike Evans — in main the comeback. “We always figure out a way to keep them somehow exciting. [I] wish they wouldn’t be as exciting as we’ve made them, but happy we got the win and happy so many guys contributed.”
Tom Brady leads Bucs to NFC South title
Tom Brady had himself a day, throwing for 432 yards and three TDs and operating for one more TD. The Bucs beat the Panthers 30-24 to safe a playoff berth.
For the third time in 5 weeks, the Bucs overcame a double-digit deficit in a comeback win. They’ve solely executed that 3 times in a whole season twice earlier than of their historical past, certainly one of them the 2020 Tremendous Bowl championship season with Brady.
Tampa Bay (8-8) has received eight video games this season, and in 5 of them (together with Sunday), the Bucs managed to attain extra factors within the fourth quarter than they did within the first three quarters. It is hardly a recipe for constant success, however the Bucs have principally executed that — add up their two wins over the Saints with wins over the Rams, Cardinals and Panthers, they usually scored 28 factors within the first three quarters, and 74 factors from the fourth quarter on.
“They never got down, they never got disgusted,” coach Todd Bowles stated of his triumphant procrastinators. “We’ve been through a lot this year, so we have a lot of resiliency and strength. So we don’t get down when we get down, score-wise. They buckled down, they stayed together as a team and they came through.”
Tampa Bay’s wild end Sunday was each wonderful and in addition totally regular by latest requirements: wrestle to attain in any respect for a half or extra, then end with the sort of livid comeback you anticipate from a seven-time Tremendous Bowl champ.
Carolina got here in as winners of 4 of six video games, speeding for a franchise document 320 yards final week and realizing that in the event that they received Sunday, they may clinch an unlikely division title with one other win within the season finale. And so they constructed a powerful lead out of character, with little success operating the ball and quarterback Sam Darnold getting his first three-touchdown recreation in three years.
Darnold went 4-for-4 for 60 yards on the opening drive, and the Bucs fumbled and stalled on offense till Darnold threw one other landing for a 14-0 lead halfway by means of the second quarter. Tampa Bay awakened with three minutes left within the half, as Brady threw a 63-yard landing down the fitting sideline to Evans, who had one way or the other gone 11 video games with out scoring.
The Bucs recovered a Carolina fumble on the 13-yard line, however might solely muster a area objective to path 14-10. The third quarter noticed them drive 90 yards — from their 2 to the Carolina 8, solely to stall once more, and have Ryan Succop’s 26-yard area objective try blocked to maintain them down 4 factors. Carolina answered with a 91-yard landing drive for a 21-10 lead, scoring on the primary play of the fourth quarter, and it regarded like one other recreation that obtained away from the Bucs.
However Brady discovered Evans once more down the fitting sideline, this time for 57 yards, then did it once more for a 30-yard landing with 6:47 left. The 2 had mixed for double-digit touchdowns in 2020 and 2021, however had struggled to attach this season, particularly on deep passes — Evans completed with 207 yards, his highest complete in any recreation since 209 as a rookie in 2014.
“I’ve missed him too many times this year, so it was nice to connect with him, and hopefully we can keep that going,” Brady stated. “I think we will.”
Within the first recreation in opposition to Carolina in Week 7, Brady had Evans wide-open for a protracted landing early and the ball merely went off the Professional Bowl receiver’s arms, the beginning of two months of irritating misconnections between the 2. Sunday was a reminder of how good the Bucs could be when these two are on the identical web page.
“Those were some really, really good balls,” Evans stated. “One of the best games I’ve seen Tom play since he has been here. They were falling right in the breadbasket every time. He had an unbelievable game.”
Brady has performed 23 seasons and 381 video games, however Sunday was the primary time he threw for 400-plus yards, accomplished 75% of his passes and threw a minimum of 45 passes with out an interception. The Bucs protection even helped shut out the win, with exterior linebacker Anthony Nelson getting a strip sack of Darnold and defensive lineman Vita Vea falling on the unfastened ball to set the Bucs up on the Carolina 6, with a Brady landing on a quarterback sneak.
There was nonetheless time for drama. After Carolina kicked a area objective to tug inside six factors, the Bucs needed to punt the ball from close to midfield with 42 seconds left. A low snap obtained away from rookie punter Jake Camarda, however he had the savvy to select up the unfastened ball, scramble towards the sideline and get off a kick, rugby-style. A penalty pressured a re-kick, however his subsequent punt was downed on the Carolina 8-yard line, so as a substitute of the Panthers tackling him and getting the ball in Bucs territory, that they had 92 yards to go.
Exterior of Hail Mary vary, the Panthers had a closing play with a number of laterals, the ultimate sort out finally made on the Bucs’ 41-yard line. Tampa Bay had one other comeback win and a division title. As a result of the Bucs have locked up the No. 4 seed within the NFC, they’ll even relaxation some starters in subsequent week’s recreation at Atlanta, the place the one factor that issues is ending with a profitable document. One other recreation that began poorly and stayed that manner into the fourth quarter ended one way or the other in celebration.
“Every year, you try to win the division, and we won the division,” Bowles stated. “It doesn’t matter how you win the division. My heart doesn’t have much left in it, but I feel great. We can’t get to where we want to be without winning the division, and we won the division.”
For a lot of Sunday’s recreation, it regarded like Brady was in actual jeopardy of lacking the playoffs for the primary time in 20 years, however as a substitute, the Bucs had purple “CONQUERED: SOUTH” T-shirts to put on within the locker room. They’ve back-to-back division titles for the primary time of their historical past, with a simple week forward after which a house playoff recreation. Who is aware of the place they’re going to go from there?
“We battled through a lot of tough things this year,” Brady stated. “Happy to win the division. It’s always tough to do it … so nice to qualify. Still got one tough game to go to try to finish strong, and we know we have at least one extra bonus game.”
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Greg Auman is FOX Sports activities’ NFC South reporter, overlaying the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He’s in his tenth season overlaying the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having hung out on the Tampa Bay Instances and The Athletic. You’ll be able to observe him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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