The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came out victorious over the visiting Carolina Panthers, 21-18. With the win, the Bucs improve to 5-7 and stay in the hunt for a third-straight NFC South title. With five weeks remaining in the regular season, the Bucs are currently one game behind the 6-6 Atlanta Falcons. In the round-robin tournament in the division, every game is critical with playoff implications and Tampa Bay got a key tally in the win column on Sunday afternoon against a divisional foe. With a historical performance by Mike Evans, an interception for Antoine Winfield Jr. and an improved run game, the Bucs outlasted the Panthers in a battle at Raymond James Stadium.
In Week 13, Tampa Bay limited Carolina to just 282 net yards of offense, the fourth-fewest the unit has allowed in a game this season. The Buccaneers improved to 4-0 on the year when holding an opponent to fewer than 300 net yards of offense. Carolina's average of 4.1 yards per play is the third-lowest mark that Tampa Bay has yielded in a game this season. In addition, the Bucs held Carolina to 149 net passing yards, the second-fewest they have allowed in a game in 2023, behind only the 127 net passing yards they allowed in the Week Four victory at New Orleans. The Buccaneers held Bryce Young to a season-low 48.4 completion percentage, as he went 15-for-31 with no touchdowns and one interception.
Tampa Bay limited the Panthers to just 3-of-15 (20%) on third downs, the second-lowest third-down conversion rate they have allowed in a single game this season, trailing only Week 12 at Indianapolis (18.2%). Antoine Winfield Jr. spearheaded the attack and finished with a game-high eight tackles (two for loss), three passes defensed, 1.0 sack, one quarterback hit and one interception. He became just the third player since data became available (1999) to record that stat line or better in a single game, joining Cleveland's Joe Schobert in Week 11 of the 2019 season against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati's Vincent Rey in Week 10 of the 2013 season against Baltimore.
With just over two minutes in regulation from fourth-and-one, Winfield made his presence felt. Adam Thielen initially gained separation out of his stem, but Bryce Young did not release the ball and rolled to his right, motioning Thielen to a specific depth. His vision was disrupted by Calijah Kancey, who was charging with elite closing burst. Young threw the ball late to Thielen, and Antoine Winfield Jr. took advantage. He read Young's eyes, flew downhill, jumped the route and undercut the pass to put the ball back in Baker Mayfield's hands. When the Bucs needed a timely play on third down, Winfield showed up, whether a tackle for loss, sack or pass breakup.
One of the Panthers' first shots over the middle on a crosser came in the fourth quarter because of the Bucs' effectiveness at getting pressure in the interior on Young, limiting his vision. 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, however, Britt was injured 10 minutes into the game, forcing the Bucs to play safety Ryan Neal down in the box – similar to what he played in Seattle - as a linebacker the rest of the game alongside Russell. Russell finished with seven tackles to pair with a sack, the first of his career. Neal, who worked at linebacker for a walkthrough leading into the Week 13 matchup, was put into an every-down role in the team's heavy 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]."
Mike Evans Historical Outing
Mike Evans showcased why he is one of the best receivers in the NFL against the Panthers and shattered records in the process. His 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown energized the team and sparked the victory over Carolina. The score came one play after the Panthers had taken the lead on a Chuba Hubbard one-yard touchdown rush. Evans used a stutter-step maneuver to bait the defensive back into believing he was going to run a corner route, then Evans broke inside at the stem, gaining leverage. From there, Evans used his deceptive long-stride speed to race to the end zone. He was chased by Panthers' C.J. Henderson and in order to cross the goal line, Evans went airborne to cross the pylon. With his body parallel to the floor, Evans provided the Bucs with a 14-10 cushion.
Evans concluded the game with highs in receptions (seven), receiving yards (162) and receiving touchdowns (one). His 162 receiving yards put Evans at 1,012 yards on the season, extending his own NFL record of consecutive seasons with 1,000-or-more receiving yards to begin a career to 10. His streak of 10-consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards became the second-longest such streak in league history, trailing only Jerry Rice (11). With 61 receptions so far this season, Evans has become the first player in NFL history with at least 60 receptions in each of his first 10 seasons.
Evans is in an esteemed class of receivers and has cemented his legacy in the NFL with a first-ballot Hall of Fame-worthy career. He has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark every year he has been in the league, all with a revolving door at the quarterback position and multiple offensive systems/coordinators in Tampa Bay. Despite the fluctuations, Evans has been the poster child for consistency and longevity. His sensational play against the Panthers invigorated the offense and provided the home team with a spark. He accounted for over half of the Bucs' 322 total yards of offense and reached another career milestone in the process. The touchdown catch was the 91st of Evans' career, moving him into a tie with Davante Adams and Isaac Bruce for the third-most in the NFL record books. He is not only one of the greatest Buccaneers who has ever played, but one of the best receivers in NFL history.
"I don't know what more you can say. He's done this for 10 years now," Todd Bowles said. "Over 60 catches 10 years in a row. Over 1,000 yards 10 years in a row. You know he's getting the ball and everyone is trying to stop him, and he makes plays over and over. It's a credit to him and his work ethic. The way he approaches the game, it's unbelievable."
Evans extended his decade-long sensational career on Sunday, once again crossing the jaw-dropping stat threshold.
Both offenses found themselves in a lull in the first half with an inability to sustain drives as the defensive units for each club stepped up and a steady rainfall forced modifications. The Buccaneers only had one touchdown drive of the half, with a 40-yard Evans' catch that culminated in Rachaad White's one-yard touchdown run on the team's second possession. Evans hit an effective inside release that left the defensive back trailing and White took advantage a couple of plays later with a score. The Bucs held a 142-130 edge in total yardage at the half mark, but the Panthers' defense had the lone takeaway on a Xavier Woods' interception in the second frame.
The Bucs' found continuity in the game's final 20 minutes. Following back-to-back touchdowns by Chuba Hubbard and Mike Evans, the Bucs were able to continue the momentum. The club put together a methodical 67-yard scoring drive that provided a 21-10 lead on Chris Godwin's 19-yard touchdown run under the 12-minute mark. With Cade Otton as the lead blocker in space, Godwin came on a reverse and bounced to the right edge for the score. Overall, the Buccaneers recorded a season-high 128 rushing yards against Carolina, as Rachaad White surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage. White finished the game with 84 yards and a score on 20 carries, along with 22 receiving yards on three receptions, marking the seventh time in 12 games that White has reached 98 or more yards from scrimmage.