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

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South for the second straight year with their 30-24 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. The Buccaneers didn’t look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders during the major part 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 wide star caught 10 passes for 207 yards and all three scores, while Chris Godwin also impressed with 120 receiving yards on nine catches.

The Panthers took a 14-0 second quarter lead but only managed 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 an interception, while DJ 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 breakthrough win for the Buccaneers.

Why the Buccaneers won

The Bucs’ first half was poor. The Panthers seemed much more excited to play football, as 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 passed for 385 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 most of the year. That narrative finally died on Sunday, as Evans posted season-high numbers across the board with 10 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns. He had three touchdowns in 14 games prior to this game.

On Sunday, Evans notched his ninth straight 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.

It’s the kind of offensive explosion you want to have right before the playoffs. With Brady being Brady, maybe the Bucs can get something done if they get hot at the right time.

Why the Panthers lost

Carolina’s first rusher at D’Onta Foreman surprisingly had just 35 yards, and Darnold was just plain inconsistent. In the end, however, 24 points scored historically was enough to beat the Buccaneers this season. That Panthers loss came down to defense.

How does Evans score three touchdowns doing the exact same thing? Panthers fans experienced deja vu throughout the 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 happened in the same end zone. The loss of Jaycee Horn was heavy. Carolina allowing Tampa Bay to drop 20 points in the fourth quarter single-handedly blew up that game, and now the Panthers’ playoff hopes have been dashed.

Turning

Down three points with 2:32 left in the fourth quarter, the Panthers had the chance to ride a winning streak. On the first play of that drive, rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu was beaten on the edge by Anthony Nelson, who hit Darnold from behind and forced a fumble. The Buccaneers recovered the loose ball and Brady netted a yard tally a few plays later to extend the lead to nine points with less than two minutes remaining.

Game of the game

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

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

Quotable

And after

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

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