With a 32-6 win over the Carolina Panthers over the weekend, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South Division title. This is the Bucs’ first division title since 2007 and their first back-to-back 11-win seasons in franchise history.
Coach Bruce Arians stated, “We wanted to hang three banners this year.” “We don’t have one of those division banners up there for a long time. It feels great. This is what we focused on to win our division. Our guys did it today. Can’t be more prouder of the group that played today.”
The Buccaneers were missing 60 % of their scoring offence due to injuries to wide outs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, as well as running back Leonard Fournette. Not only were defensive linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett absent from the offence, but also inside linebacker Lavonte David and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Brady led the club to win, connecting with Cameron Brate in the second quarter to put the Bucs up 19-6.
The Buccaneers leaned on Antonio Brown and Cyril Grayson in the passing game. Brown, who had 101 receiving yards on 10 catches for the first time since Week 6 (ankle injury, then a three-game suspension), was active for the first time since Week 6 (ankle injury, then a three-game suspension). Grayson, who had only one grab all season and two in his career before to Sunday, hauled in three catches for 81 yards.
“We had so many guys that stepped up and stepped in. We had a lot of trust in them ,” Arians said, citing Grayson’s quickness and “ferocious blocking.” “As a result of his ability to step up in critical circumstances, he was given the opportunity.
“He’s gotten so much better. If there was a ‘most improved player’ in the last two years, he’s worked harder than anybody we’ve had on our practice squad.”
On the ground, the Bucs went with Ronald Jones II, who was beaten out by Fournette for the starting running back job last season, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who had only ran for 50 yards all season before Sunday. On the second possession of the game, Vaughn took a handoff 55 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bucs their longest rushing score of the season.
Brady connected with Cameron Brate on a 4-yard slant route in the second quarter to make it 19-6, with the Bucs using their tight ends significantly more after one of their worst performances of the season last week. In the third quarter, Jones scored the team’s third touchdown on a 7-yard run.
Brady said of the injuries, “We lost a lot. We lost a lot. And I don’t think you just make up for it overnight. We’re gonna have to learn each other. We’re gonna have to do some different things for the guys that are in there…guys are gonna have to keep getting better and making improvements. Hopefully, we can get some guys back this week and then get a bit stronger at these positions .”
On offence, the Bucs had what many considered an embarrassment of resources throughout the season. They scored 30 points per game while missing Brown for nine games and Rob Gronkowski for five.
That was until last week, when the club could have clinched the division with a win against the New Orleans Saints, but instead lost 9-0. Godwin, who was two catches shy of 100 for the season, tore his ACL, while Evans and Fournette both sustained hamstring injuries. Evans’ chances of returning by the end of the regular season are slim after Fournette was placed on injured reserve. With a foot injury, David was placed on injured reserve, endangering the Bucs’ chances of winning another Super Bowl.
Brady stated, “I’m not taking anything for granted.” “Winning the division is hard to do. And we’ve earned it. We’re 11-4. It’s not the greatest record in the world, but it’s certainly not the worst either. So 11-4 — I’ll take it. We lost some tough games. I think we’ve learned from each of those tough losses .”
And they’re still learning.
On the Panthers’ first drive, the defence gave up a 33-yard designed run to Cam Newton. The Panthers would have scored a touchdown on their first drive if it hadn’t been for Ameer Abdullah tripping on one of his left tackle’s foot, but instead settled for a 24-yard field goal. Sam Darnold hit a wide-open Shi Smith for a 63-yard completion against broken coverage.
They did, however, keep the Panthers out of the end zone the whole game. On a Newton ball intended for tight end Tommy Tremble, safety Jordan Whitehead, who led the team with seven combined tackles, had an interception. Barrett, outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, defensive tackle Vita Vea, and inside linebacker Kevin Minter combined for a season-high seven sacks, with Gholston accounting for 2.5.
On third down, Brown was a game-changer.
“When I watched him practise this week, I knew he was in great shape,” Arians said of Brown, who had his 23rd game of 10-plus receptions, breaking a tie with Andre Johnson for the most in NFL history. “He was healthy this week and told me, ‘Whatever you need, I’m there.”
When asked what it meant that Arians stuck by his side despite the coach made it plain that there would be no second chances, Brown joked “next question” when speaking to media for the first time since his suspension.
Brown and teammate Mike Edwards used fraudulent COVID-19 immunisation cards, according to an NFL investigation.
“We just want to talk about this game. We don’t want to waste no time with you guys writing,” Brown said. “I don’t want to talk about that. You guys is all about drama. This is all about football. We just talk about Carolina or I don’t want to talk to you guys.