CHARLOTTE, NC.- The laundry list of injuries starting to pile up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed concerning heading into Sunday’s tilt against NFC South rival Carolina Panthers.
With the Buccaneers down wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, running back Leonard Fournette, and then defensive standouts LaVonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul, things looked bleak for a moment. There’s no testing the resolve of this Tampa Bay team, however, as they answered the bell despite being depleted.
Tampa Bay got a good bounce-back game from quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 232 yards and a touchdown, to lead the Buccaneers to a dominating 32-6 win over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. With the victory, the Buccaneers clinched their first division championship since 2007 and will have a home playoff game to start. It’s now figuring out whether it will be in the Wild-Card Round or Divisional.
After being shut out 9-0 last time around against the New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers (11-4) made sure they bounced back against the NFL’s 2nd best defense when it comes to yardage allowed per game. An unlikely couple of players stepped up on the offensive side, as second-year running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn burst off left tackle and went 55 yards to pay dirt to give Tampa Bay a 7-3 lead. Vaughn flashed his potential, carrying the ball seven times for 70 yards.
Another player that stepped up in place of missing pieces was wide receiver Cyril Grayson, who had three catches for 81 yards and a rushing attempt go for 14. Grayson, a former sprinter at LSU, was elevated from the practice squad and filled in admirably in place of Godwin, who will be out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL injury. The Buccaneers do expect wide receiver Breshad Perriman to return against the New York Jets.
Tampa Bay’s defense was relentless, going after Carolina quarterbacks Cam Newton and Sam Darnold. Newton, who may have been playing in his last home game as a Panther, did not have a memorable day against the Buccaneers’ defense, throwing an interception, throwing for 61 yards, and was sacked three times. The Panthers went with a dual-quarterback approach and it didn’t work too well against Tampa Bay, with neither signal-caller producing a touchdown.
The final two games for Tampa Bay look to be winnable contests, with the Buccaneers facing the New York Jets (4-11), who narrowly got by the Jacksonville Jaguars 26-21 and the Panthers in the home finale. The Buccaneers are looking to finish off 13-4, as they’re chasing the Green Bay Packers for a chance to finish as the NFC Conference’s No. 1 seed. Only the top seed in the conference receives a bye in the opening round of the playoffs.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.