The Buccaneers improved to 5-7 with a 21-18 victory over the visiting Panthers. In the high-stakes Week 13 divisional matchup, the Bucs' defense played a vital role in securing the team's victory. Tampa Bay's defense held the Panthers to 282 total yards of offense, including 149 net passing yards. The Panthers only had one drive in the first half that gained over 20 yards, and they converted juts three-of-15 third-down tries. Panthers' rookie quarterback Bryce Young completed 15 of 31 passes for 178 yards, threw no touchdowns and had one interception. Young was sacked four times by the Bucs' menacing crew on Sunday afternoon as Antoine Winfield Jr., rookie Yaya Diaby and J.J. Russell each had one and another sack was credited to the team on a backward pass that was ruled a fumble. Winfield lined the stat sheet with a team-high eight tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, one interception and three passes defensed. He flew sideline-to-sideline patrolling the back end and iced the win in the fourth quarter.
With just over two minutes in regulation from fourth-and-one, Young tried to redirect traffic and motioned where he wanted Adam Thielen to be. He faced pressure from a fast-closing Calijah Kancey and released the ball. Winfield charged downhill, undercut the pass and managed to get both feet down. That sideline play stalled the Panthers' drive and put Baker Mayfield and company back on the field.
"I was reading the quarterback, peeked over to see that one of the receiver's was open and I broke towards him and ended up making a play on the ball," said Winfield.
The Buccaneers started the game with only two inside linebackers, as starters Lavonte David (groin) and Devin White (foot) were both sidelined by injury while rookie SirVocea Dennis was out with an illness. That thrust J.J. Russell and K.J. Britt into starting roles, but Britt was injured 10 minutes into the game, forcing the Bucs to play safety Ryan Neal up in the box as a linebacker the rest of the way alongside Russell. Russell finished with seven tackles to pair with a sack, the first of his career. Neal, who worked at linebacker for a single practice and a walkthrough leading into the Week 13 matchup, was put into an every-down role in the team's predominant nickel and dime packages. He finished with four tackles, including one for a loss, and was awarded a game ball along with Mike Evans following the game.
"J.J. did a heck of a job, he even got a sack just coming up – he gets very little reps and to come in and play like he played today – and Ryan [Neal] came in early for K.J. [Britt], Ryan played linebacker all of one day of practice so that was huge for him, and he did some of those things in Seattle and we saw it," said Todd Bowles. "He had a walk-through and he had a couple reps and he went in there and he played a hell of a game and he got a game ball as well as Mike [Evans]."
Players stepped up in critical roles for the Buccaneers on defense against the Panthers and served as catalysts in the victory. The unit made timely stops to keep the Bucs in the game early on and continued the momentum in the second half to set the tone.