Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Rapid Reaction: Buccaneers 41, Panthers 17

The Buccaneers improve to a franchise record 13-4 on the last game of the regular season. 

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The Buccaneers won the toss and elected to defer to begin the game. It meant the Bucs' defense was up first as quarterback Sam Darnold took the field for the Panthers. Carolina would span the field on a 14-play drive that ended in a two-yard touchdown pass from Darnold to Chuba Hubbard that put the Panthers up 7-0 with 7:22 left in the first quarter.

The Bucs wouldn't be able to answer as quarterback Tom Brady was sacked on first down, putting Tampa Bay behind the chains. They'd end up punting their first possession away and the Panthers took back over at their own 25.

Carolina would get across midfield despite a first down sack by outside linebacker Anthony Nelson that forced the Panthers to have to overcome a second and 20 situation. They'd get across midfield before being faced with fourth and six and after going for it, the ball would fall incomplete and the Bucs took over on downs at the start of the second quarter at their own 39-yard line.

The Bucs would gain some ground but it wouldn't be enough to get into the end zone. They'd be forced to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Ryan Succop, who made the score 7-3 with 11:09 left in the second quarter.

The Panthers' next drive would take them all the way to the one-yard line before a big fourth-down stop would stop them cold. The Panthers were inches away from a first down inside the one-yard line and decided to go for it with a Darnold-sneak. The Bucs' defense stood up and the spot was ruled short. Head Coach Matt Rhule challenged the spot but the call stood and the Bucs' took over on downs yet again at their own one-yard line with 4:56 to play in the first half.

Tampa Bay wouldn't be able to do anything with their next offensive series and ended up punting from their own end zone. It went out of bounds at the Panthers' 48 and Carolina had good field position for their next drive with 3:32 on the clock.

They wouldn't get anywhere with it, though, and ended up punting it from midfield after a couple penalties had knocked them back. The Bucs' offense took over with 1:48 to go at their own eight-yard line after the punt.

Thanks to a huge completion from Brady to Mike Evans and a couple tosses to Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs got down the field in a hurry, finding themselves in first and goal at the four-yard line. The quick drive was thanks in part to a 42-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski. A couple plays later and Ke'Shawn Vaughn was in for the score to make it 17-7 Buccaneers with 11:57 remaining in the third quarter.

The defense, undoubtedly feeding off the strong second-half start by the offense, forced a punt after outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka batted down a pass at the line on third down. It gave the Bucs' offense the ball back after just about a minute.

The next drive was significant, but not because it resulted in any points. Before the Bucs punted, Brady was able to complete a five-yard pass to Evans, putting him over 1,000 yards on the season for the eighth-straight year to begin his career. That is a new NFL record. The Bucs then punted the ball away and Carolina took over at their own 31 with 9:26 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers would get into Bucs' territory on the next drive but would ultimately settle for field goal, making the score 17-10 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.

The Bucs took their time on their next drive, facing second and goal at the four-yard line as the third quarter expired. In what was another eventful drive, Gronkowski surpassed 100 yards on the day, giving him the most 100+-yard games of any tight end in NFL history, surpassing Tony Gonzalez's previous record of 31. Then, as the final play of the drive, Brady hit Evans for a three-yard touchdown pass, giving #13, 13 touchdowns on the year, which ties his single-season career-high set last year. It put the Bucs up 24-10 with 14:56 left in the game.

The Panthers got all the way into the end zone on a pass from Darnold to Anderson that made the score 24-17 with 10:34 left in the game.

The Bucs answered again with a touchdown pass to Evans, which made his 14th of the season. That was a new single-season high for Evans and a new franchise record for the Bucs. It also isn't a bad tribute to Chris Godwin, I'd think. It put Tampa Bay up 31-17 with 7:34 to go in the game.

The next series was cut short for the Panthers by the first turnover of the game. Rakeem Nunez-Roches forced the ball out and Antoine Winfield Jr. picked it up. The Bucs took back over on offense with quarterback Blaine Gabbert at the helm at the Carolina 27. They'd ultimately settle for a field goal to make the score 34-17 with 5:04 to play.

The Panthers wouldn't get anything on their next drive, being forced to turn it over on downs for the third time in the game. It gave the Bucs the ball at the Carolina 28 and the next play, Scotty Miller ran the ball in from 33 yards out on a reverse to put the Bucs up 41-17 in a hurry.

There was still over four minutes to play as the Panthers got the ball back at their own 27 after the kickoff. The first play was a beautiful ball hurled downfield by Darnold... right into the hands of Bucs safety Andrew Adams for the second turnover of the night. He slid down at the Carolina 40 where the Bucs' offense took back over with just over three minutes to play. The first play was again a reverse handoff to Miller who took it 11 yards this time to the Carolina 29.

The Bucs would keep it on the ground to take them to the two minute warning. Though Carolina had all three timeouts remaining, they would not use them as the Bucs continued their drive inside two minutes. Succop slipped on a field goal attempt to keep the score 41-17 with 1:51 left on the clock.

A tackle for loss and a broken up pass made it third and 15 for the Panthers at their own 31 with 1:17 left. Darnold dropped back and threw a screen to Abdullah for four yards. They'd go for it again on fourth down with the clock winding down. It fell incomplete and Carolina turned it over on downs one more time. The Bucs then took a couple knees and the game ended with a score of 41-17, improving the Buccaneers to 13-4 on the season, a new franchise record for wins.

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