Buccaneers vs. Panthers score, takeaways: Tom Brady-Mike Evans connection helps Tampa Bay clinch NFC South

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South for the second straight year with their 30-24 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. The Buccaneers haven't looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders for most of the season, but that changed on Sunday, as Tom Brady and his team exploded for 478 yards of total offense.

Brady completed 34-of-45 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns -- all three of which went to Mike Evans. The star wideout caught 10 passes for 207 yards and the three scores, while Chris Godwin also impressed with 120 receiving yards on nine catches. 

The Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but managed just 10 points in the second half while Tampa Bay dropped 20 points in the fourth quarter alone. Sam Darnold completed 23-of-37 passes for 341 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while D.J. Moore caught six passes for 117 yards and a score.

So, what happened on Sunday? Let's take a look at what could be a season-changing win for the Buccaneers. 

Why the Buccaneers won

The first half for the Bucs was poor. The Panthers looked much more excited to play the game of football, while Godwin lost a fumble, Ryan Succop missed a field goal and Brady was visibly upset with his teammates and himself. Then, this team as a whole settled in and delivered the best offensive performance of the season.

Brady threw for 432 yards. He hadn't crossed 385 passing yards all season. His three passing touchdowns also tied a season high. It was well known that Brady and Evans weren't on the same page for the majority of the year. That narrative finally died on Sunday, as Evans put up season-high numbers across the board with 10 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns. He had three touchdowns in 14 games coming into this matchup. 

On Sunday, Evans clinched his ninth consecutive season with 1,000 receiving yards, tying Tim Brown for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Evans already owned the NFL record for most consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start an NFL career. 

This is the kind of offensive explosion you want to have right before the playoffs. With Brady being Brady, maybe the Bucs can accomplish something if this is them getting hot at the right time. 

Why the Panthers lost

Carolina's leading rusher in D'Onta Foreman surprisingly had just 35 yards, and Darnold was just inconsistent. Ultimately, however, 24 points scored historically has been enough to beat the Buccaneers this season. This Panthers loss came down to the defense.

How does Evans score three touchdowns doing the same exact thing? Panthers fans experienced deja vu the entire second half, as Evans scored again and again just by burning man coverage along the right sideline. Correct, all three touchdowns he scored came on the right sideline, in man coverage and occurred in the same end zone. The loss of Jaycee Horn loomed large. Carolina allowing Tampa Bay to drop 20 points in the fourth quarter alone blew this game wide open, and now, the Panthers' postseason hopes have been dashed. 

Turning point

Down three points with 2:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Panthers had a chance to lead a game-winning drive. On the first play of that "drive," rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu was beat on the edge by Anthony Nelson, who hit Darnold from behind and forced a fumble. The Buccaneers recovered the loose ball, and Brady punched in a one-yard score a couple plays later to extend the lead to nine points with under two minutes remaining. 

Play of the game

Evans crossed 1,000 yards receiving for the ninth consecutive season, thanks to three long touchdown receptions: a 63-yarder in the second quarter, a 57-yarder early in the fourth quarter and then a 30-yarder seven minutes later. 

The second touchdown made Evans the first player in franchise history to record touchdown receptions of 50-plus yards in the same game. 


What's next

The Panthers travel to New Orleans next week, and will finish out the regular season against the rival Saints (7-9). As for the Buccaneers, they will travel to Atlanta to take on Desmond Ridder and the 6-10 Falcons. 

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Panthers cap the eight-play, 44-yard drive with a 49-yard field goal. Panthers down six points with 59 seconds remaining. 


Nine-point lead for the Bucs with under two minutes remaining. That may do it. 


Aaaaand he fumbles. 


Here we go. 2:32 remaining. Down three points. All three timeouts. Sam Darnold time. 


Panthers go three-and-out, and the Buccaneers have ALL the momentum. 


Mike Evans with his THIRD touchdown of the game. Unreal. 


An absolute DOT to Russell Gage on second-and-12. Goes for 21 yards right up the middle. 


Big-time stop from the Buccaneers defense. Down five points with 9:30 remaining there's plenty of time left. 


Deja vu! Mike Evans burns the Panthers down the right sideline for a 57-yard touchdown! 


TOUCHDOWN. A bullet to Shi Smith. Seriously, the anticipation on that play was insane. That was a very difficult throw.

Caps a seven-play, 91-yard drive. 


D.J. Moore is actually one of the best WRs in the NFL. 47 yard gain on an underthrown pass. Great adjustment in the air. 


I imagine the Panthers are going to attempt to pound Tampa Bay into submission here with the run game. 


Bend but don't break defense from Carolina in the red zone. PLUS they block the field goal. HUGE change in momentum. 

15 plays, 90 yards 0 points! 


Brady can't be happy with Cade Otton. Another dropped pass from him on third and short in the red zone. Bucs will go for it on fourth down. 


Sam Darnold did not have a turnover all season coming into today. He has two here vs. the Bucs. 


And as soon as I say that! Darnold underthrows a pass downfield, and it's picked off by Sean Murphy-Bunting. Great play from the corner. 


GOODNESS. Sam Darnold finds Ricci across the middle for 32 yards. What a throw, what a find. What is this Buccaneers defense doing? 


Buccaneers have to punt after just five plays. A couple dropped passes in a row, and Brady is MAD. 



1st downs: CAR 8 TB 9
3rd downs: CAR 1-6 TB 2-8
Total yards: CAR 138 TB 201
Penalties: CAR 1-5 TB 3-26
TOP: CAR 14:27 TB 15:33

Sam Darnold: 11/15 112 yds 2 TDs
Tom Brady: 15/20 196 yds 1 TD

D'Onta Foreman: 6 carries 15 yds
Chuba Hubbard: 3 carries 12 yds
Rachaad White: 6 carries 13 yds

DJ Moore: 4 catches 56 yds 1 TD
Mike Evans: 5 catches 94 yds 1 TD
Chris Godwin: 3 catches 57 yds


Buccaneers kicking the field goal four yards from the end zone on fourth-and-1 is certainly surprising. Especially since it just cuts Carolina's lead to four points. 


Buccaneers are right back on offense after a Sam Darnold fumble. Tampa Bay on the four-yard line with 1:17 remaining. 


Buccaneers FINALLY get it going. A 63-yard TD bomb to Mike Evans. Just burned Keith Taylor down the sideline. 14-7! 


Buccaneers answer the Panthers TD with a three-and-out...

It appeared Roberts fumbled the punt, but he was down. Fortunate for Carolina. 

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