TAMPA, Fla. – Comeback Tom does it again. This time it was with Tom Brady connecting on the deep ball to Mike Evans for three long scoring touchdowns as the Bucs beat the Carolina Panthers 30-24 and the Bucs clinched the NFC South for the second year in a row.
“It felt great,” said Brady. “I’m really proud of our guys. Everyone on the team, coaches, and we battled through a lot of tough things this year. Happy to do it. NFL games are tough to win.”
It wasn’t pretty early on. Carolina jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and it was looking like the Panthers were going to keep their hopes alive of winning the division. The Bucs defense was bending but not breaking.
The Bucs shut down the Panthers rushing attack, limiting D’Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard to a combined 47 yards rushing.
“Obviously, they had a good plan,” Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold said. “I think Coach Bowles obviously got those guys ready to go. All the credit to them for the way they came out and played.”
“We wanted to make them beat us through the air, “Bowles said. “We tried to take those two guys away on the ground, because we wanted to win time of possession.”
In the news: Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFC South Champions After Scratching Out Panthers 30-24
In the third quarter, Panthers up 14-10, the Bucs drive 90 yards, convert a 4th down, and Ryan Succop’s field goal attempt is blocked. Carolina goes 91 yards, with Sam Darnold finding Shi Smith for a 19-yard TD to take a 21-10 lead. But Brady hits Evans for touchdowns of 63, 57, and 75 yards to get the victory.
“Dropping dimes, those were some really good balls,” Evans said of Brady’s throws. “It was one of the best games I’ve seen Tom since he’s been here. They were falling right in my breadbasket.”
Brady threw for 432 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, in what might have been his best game of the season. The 45-year-old quarterback was finally on the same page with Evans.
“Yeah, Mike played awesome,” Brady said. “I love playing out there with him, and he’s an amazing player. I’ve missed him too many times this year, so it was nice to connect with him, and hopefully, we can keep that going. I think we will.”
It’s a huge relief for Bowles to get in the playoffs after a subpar season. How does Bowles plan on celebrating?
“I’ve got a one percent milk and a bag of chip-ahoy cookies,” Bowles said. “That’s my go-to.”
Quite a different way to celebrate than how former head coach and now a senior consultant Beruce Arians would party after a clinching win. Arians was honored at halftime, being inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor.
The Bucs wrap up the regular season next Sunday in Atlanta. The outcome doesn’t change their standing so head coach Todd Bowles may rest some of his starters. The following week the Bucs will host the NFC Wild Card Game.