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.
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 – 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 – 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.
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: email@example.com
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