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The Bucs trailed 7-0 early in the first quarter, but took a 10-7 halftime lead thanks to a brilliant, 92-yard drive from quarterback Tom Brady. Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans broke franchise records as Tampa Bay reached a historic 13th win, beating Carolina 41-17. The Bucs scored 31 second half points and also finished with a franchise-best 7-1 home record this season.

Tampa Bay’s victory coupled with a 27-24 overtime win by San Francisco at Los Angeles gave the Bucs the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC. The Bucs will host the Eagles next week in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

Here are this week’s most impressive Buccaneers:

QB Tom Brady

Brady shook off a slow start that saw the Bucs offense go 0-of-4 on third downs in the first half. Brady led Tampa Bay on a 92-yard touchdown drive, hitting Mike Evans with a 37-yard gain to help set up a 1-yard touchdown pass to Le’Veon Bell. That gave the Bucs a 10-7 halftime lead. Brady then hit tight end Rob Gronkowski with two passes of 20 yards or more, including a 42-yarder in the third quarter to set up Tampa Bay’s second touchdown drive. He added a pair of two touchdown passes to Mike Evans in the second half to widen the Bucs’ lead.

Brady wound up breaking two franchise records. The first was his own single season touchdown record of 40, which was set last year. Brady threw three TDs against the Panthers and now has 43 scoring strikes on the season. The 44-year old QB also threw for 326 yards and broke Jameis Winston’s single-season passing yardage record of 5,109 yards. Brady now holds the record with 5,316 yards, which is the third-most passing yards in a single season in NFL history.

WR Mike Evans

With Antonio Brown gone and Chris Godwin out for the season, Evans needed to step up in Week 18 and did just that. He caught six passes for 89 yards and topped 1,000 yards for eight straight seasons to start his career, which broke his own NFL record. Evans scored two critical touchdowns and also set a record for the most touchdowns in a single season in Tampa Bay history with 14 this year. The Bucs’ star receiver now has 75 career touchdown catches and finished the year with 74 receptions for 1,035 yards.

TE Rob Gronkowski

Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski

Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With the Bucs receiving arsenal diminished, Gronkowski needed to have a huge game and he delivered. Gronkowski had two big catches for 20 yards or more on Sunday. He had back-to-back catches of 42 yards and 19 yards to help Tampa Bay score a touchdown in the third quarter to go up 17-3. Gronkowski finished the day with seven catches for 137 yards, which was his third 100-yard game of the season. The future Hall of Famer also set the NFL record for most career games with 100 yards for a tight end, which now stands at 32. Gronkowski also hit two contract incentives with catches and yards, earning a pair of $500,000 bonuses in the process.

FS Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Winfield continues to shine this season and had a great finish to the regular season. The second-year safety led the Bucs with eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery as Tampa Bay’s defense clamped down on Carolina’s offense in the second half.

OLB Anthony Nelson

Nelson recorded his fifth sack of the season, dropping Sam Darnold for a loss in the first quarter. The third-year pass rusher has recorded a sack in each of the last three games. Nelson also had a huge tackle in space on third-and-9, forcing a fourth-and-6 situation. The Bucs got off the field with a fourth down pass break-up by Carlton Davis III. Nelson finished with five tackles, two tackles for loss and his sack.

WR Scotty Miller

The seldom-used Miller showed up in a big way on Sunday night at the end of the game. Down a receiver with Cyril Grayson, Jr.’s hamstring injury in the first quarter, Miller had one catch for nine yards in the game. But it was two runs that put him on the Most Impressive list. With the Bucs leading 34-17, Miller took an end around from Blaine Gabbert and followed great lead blocks by tight end Cam Brate and pulling lineman Robert Hainsey to run 33 yards for a touchdown down the right sideline. That produced the final score of 41-17. Miller had another end around on the next drive, running for nine yards. He finished with two carries for 42 yards and a touchdown to lead the Bucs in rushing.

RB Le’Veon Bell

Bucs RB Le'Veon Bell

Bucs RB Le’Veon Bell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bell didn’t make the list because of his stat sheet accomplishments. He ran the ball three times for 14 yards and caught a 1-yard touchdown pass to give the Bucs a 10-7 halftime lead. It was just as much for his effort in pass protection as it was anything Bell did as a runner or receiver. Ke’Shawn Vaughn surrendered a sack in pass protection, but Bell was the better back in pass protection. Brady was only sacked one time in the game, and Bell was a big reason why, especially on third downs.

DT Steve McLendon

The Bucs defense didn’t play great, but McLendon made two huge stops inside the Tampa Bay 2-yard line in the second quarter. On third-and-2 from the 3-yard line, Darnold’s shovel pass to tight end Tommy Tremble was snuffed out and went for a 1-yard gain. On the next play, the Panthers tried a QB sneak and McLendon teamed with inside linebacker Devin White for a tackle for no gain. McLendon finished with four tackles and two QB hits.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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drdneast
drdneast(@drdneast)
10 days ago

I remember when you guys at PR and the rest of the media were dismissing or discounting Nelson in your rush to make Tryon-Shoyinka the second coming because of a preseason performance. As Warren Sapps says, “the proof is in the puddin.”

bucballer
bucballer(@bucballer)
Reply to  drdneast
10 days ago

Hell, I discounted Nelson. Built like Tarzan, play like Jane… I used to kid. Kid has proved me wrong. He’s stepped up his game this year. I’m happy for the kid. He’s been working hard for a couple of years now. Look at that, hard work and determination does pay off. Going to need him against Philly.

Spitfire
Spitfire(@spitfire)
Reply to  drdneast
10 days ago

Yeah because he showed no promise as a pass rusher prior to this season. Trust me, all of us including PR are happy to see it starting to click with him.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  drdneast
10 days ago

Allowing as how you are right that the PR writers hyped the hell out of Tryon-Shoyinka, it is still fair to mention that Anthony Nelson just finished his third year of play in the NFL, with 42 games played and four starts, while Shoyinka is still just a rookie pass rusher, who’s only played in 17 games, with relatively few snaps through the majority of those games, and started 6. With Tryon-Shoyinka, it is about potential, because rookie pass rushers are never as good as they are with a couple or three years of NFL game experience under their belts.… Read more »

BucHarbour
BucHarbour(@bucharbour)
10 days ago

I think you guys are stretching it a little with the Bell pass protection. I though both backs did well. And the sack was more on Brady than Vaughn. Backs can’t be counted on holding blocks for extended periods of time. The QB knows when a running back is picking up a blitzer and that he needs to get the ball out quickly. Vaughn picked up the guy, but a second and a half later, the guy managed to get around him and sack Brady. Brady should have had that ball out much quicker. RB’s are chippers and stand up… Read more »

Dman
Dman(@dman)
Reply to  BucHarbour
10 days ago

Completely agree, sack was on TB, not Vaughn. The RB did his job on that play.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  BucHarbour
10 days ago

It was probably not so much Brady’s fault either, as it would be considered a “coverage sack”. TB-12 has the shortest release time of any quarterback in the league, and he rarely holds the ball too long. But you’re right, this sack is not on Vaughn either.

Spitfire
Spitfire(@spitfire)
10 days ago

I would still like to see more of Bell. I’m super glad to see Vaughn catching well and I hope Fournette will be back next week, I also know Bell struggled between Pittsburg and here but I still think he’s got a lot to offer other than just good blocks (which is still super useful)

Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
10 days ago

Leveon Bell 14yds on your list just invalidates your entire list. How about showing some love for an offensive line that has been working hard all season. Brady broke Winston’s record because he’s not depending on somebody named Caleb Benenoch or Demar Dotson.

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
Reply to  Captain Sly
10 days ago

You’re right about that Captain. The lone sack was due to Brady holding the ball a bit longer, waiting for someone to get open. Offensive line has been stellar.

Guess we are going to ignore the fact that Succop hit all of his kicks and Pinion did a better job punting and kicking off. For the brief time K.J. Britt was on the field, he looked a lot better than Minter. Perriman had a heck of a catch.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  scubog
10 days ago

Actually, Succop missed one of his three FGA, while hitting on all five of his XPA.

Dman
Dman(@dman)
10 days ago

Bell on this list? C’mon man.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  Dman
10 days ago

You’re ignoring several pertinent facts here. Bell was just in his third game as a Buc as a late season replacement, who had to learn the whole playbook more or less overnight; he may have had only 14 yards but he was only given 3 rushing attempts, meaning a YPA of 4.67 which is pretty good; he caught his one pass target, for a touchdown no less; and he did a super job blocking for Brady.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
10 days ago

The defense didn’t play great? Well, maybe not all time greatest, but the defense still held the Panthers to almost four points less than the team’s season long average of 20.8 PPG, which itself was good for fifth best in the league. For all of the talk, deservedly so, of how well our Tom Brady offense has played, earning second best in the league in scoring and offensive yards, we tend to forget how well our defense has played this season, despite suffering more game-out injuries amongst its starters than any other defense in the league. And despite that still… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Naplesfan
chefboho
chefboho(@chefboho)
Reply to  Naplesfan
10 days ago

I agree that the defense has played very well considering the absurd amount of injuries. The thing that irks me is that they could be so much better if they’d stop missing so many tackles and sacks. It seems like every play someone is whiffing on a chance to make a play. There was at least three possible sacks and a whole lot of rushing yards they could’ve saved if these guys did their job. Still, they’ve played well with the given injuries

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