The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are NFC South Champions for the first time since 2007.
The Buccaneers dismantled the Carolina Panthers 32-6 in Charlotte as the defense throttled the Carolina attack.
The defense sacked Sam Darnold and Cam Newton a combined seven times, and Jordan Whitehead was my defensive player of the game as he brought energy and passion to every snap.
Shaq Barrett recorded a sack giving him ten on the season, and this is his second season with ten sacks. Barrett joins Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Lee Roy Selmon, and Simeon Rice as the only Buccaneer defenders with multiple seasons of ten-plus sacks.
Antonio Brown, back from his three-game suspension and seeing his first game action since October 14th, had ten catches for 101 yards.
Brown had a good week of practice, and Arians sensed Brown was ready to play. “When I watched him practicing this week, I knew he was in great shape. He was healthy and told me, Whatever you need, I’m there.” Brown then went out and had one of his best games as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
Another surprise on offense was the play of Ke’Shawn Vaughan. Vaughan has languished on the bench for most of the season and struggled in his limited opportunities. Sunday afternoon, he ripped off a 55-yard touchdown run to put the Bucs early, a lead they would never give up.
Vaughan would finish the afternoon with 70 yards on seven carries and a touchdown.
Another receiver promoted from the practice squad Cyril Grayson had an excellent game filling in the slot for the ailing Chris Godwin. Grayson had a significant block on Vaughan’s 55-yard touchdown, caught three passes for 81 yards, and even had one carry for 14 yards.
Tom Brady talked about the block on the touchdown run in his post-game press conference. “That was a great block. You know, that’s why I’m happy. It’s a team game, you know? Nothing is accomplished without everybody doing their job. It was a great effort by Cyril. He wouldn’t have scored without Cyril’s effort. I love seeing that. That’s what great team football is all about, and that’s what we’ve got to become. We’ve all got to fight for each other.”
Could Grayson find a permanent spot in the crowded Bucs receiver room? Maybe. “Cyril is a ferocious blocker,” Bruce Arians said. “He’s a speed guy, but he will block. And that position, you’ve got to be able to block. I mean, he’s gotten so much better. If there was a most improved player the last two years, he’s worked harder than anybody on our practice squad, and every time he’s gotten an opportunity, he’s flashed with it.”
With Leonard Fournette out, Ronald Jones saw his most extensive action of the season so far, running for 65 yards on 20 carries for a touchdown.
In the last few weeks, the message from Bruce Arians has been next man up as the injuries have piled up on both sides of the ball. Sunday afternoon, the next man up delivered and helped the Bucs win a football game.
Tom Brady continued his assault on the Tampa Bay record books, and it is just a matter of time until he will own all Buccaneer passing records. Sunday Brady passed Vinny Testaverde to become number three in Buccaneers history all-time for passing touchdowns with 77. Next on the list is Josh Freeman with 80, and Brady should pass him in the next two games to become number two.
Jameis Winston holds the all-time passing touchdown mark with 121, and Brady could eclipse that next season.
In the locker room after the game, Coach Arians reminded everyone that this is only one of three banners that the team hopes to hang this season.
The Bucs will have to win the next two games without Linebacker Shaq Barrett, who strained his MCL and ACL. Barrett will be sidelined the rest of the season but is expected to be back for the playoffs.
The Buccaneers are 11-4, NFC south Champions, and currently hold the number four seed in the playoff rankings, guaranteeing at least one home game.
The Bucs will play in New York against the Jets next Sunday before wrapping up the regular season at home in a rematch with the Carolina Panthers.