Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Top Three Takeaways from Buccaneers vs. Panthers

The Bucs clinched the division for the first time since 2007 behind a convincing divisional win over Carolina.

TAWk16

1. The defense dominated

For the second-consecutive game, the Buccaneers didn't allow a single touchdown. The defense held Carolina to just two field goals on the day, while allowing them just 273 total yards on 67 offensive plays. That was just 206 yards through the air and 67 on the ground. The Panthers converted only seven of 18 third-down attempts and were 0-for-2 on fourth down. They converted none of their three trips inside the red zone with the Bucs' defense clamping down even after they gave up a couple plays.

The pass rush worked seamlessly, registering 7.0 sacks – the most in a single game since 2013. It perhaps had a lot to do with the overall health of the Bucs' secondary, considering what they had been dealing with earlier in the year. They had all of their top corners and though they're still missing Antoine Winfield Jr., they had Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards at safety. Whitehead had himself a game, too. He recorded a team-high seven combined tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. He single-handedly wrapped up quarterback Cam Newton and was just a general menace to the Panthers' offensive plans.

The Bucs were also without Lavonte David but Kevin Minter stepped in nearly flawlessly, even registering one of those aforementioned 7.0 sacks himself. Minter has been in and out of the lineup with injuries to David and Devin White this season and is as reliable as they come. He's always ready for his opportunity and it significantly reduces the impact of injuries to the middle level.

We're finally seeing what a relatively healthy defense is capable of and spoiler alert: it's a lot.

2. Offense adjusted amid injuries.

It figures that as the defense is getting healthy, the offense is bitten by the injury bug. Against the Saints, the Bucs lost Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette and Mike Evans in the game. The former two were places on injured reserve, though Fournette could come back in the postseason. Evans' hamstring injury wasn't thought to be anything that would keep him out of the postseason but he did miss the game against the Panthers. The good news was that the Bucs knew this ahead of time and were able to gameplan all week to make up for the absences.

We saw a few different things from the Bucs' offense against Carolina. There were more two and three tight end sets, with Rob Gronkowski, Cam Brate and O.J. Howard all more than capable of catching the ball. The Bucs' most common personnel grouping on Sunday was 12 personnel, with two tight ends, one running back and two wide receivers. They ran that on 43.5% of plays against the Panthers, which equated to 27 of their 62 total offensive plays. The next closest grouping was 11 personnel, which they ran on 17 plays. Then there was the run game, which went for 159 yards as both Ronald Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn split carries. Quarterback Tom Brady even got in his own 11-yard scramble. I wish he'd stop doing that.

The increase in run production was helped by bringing in an extra blocker. They fielded six offensive linemen on 11 plays, bringing in swing tackle Josh Wells to help create holes for the Bucs' backfield.

That was a significant departure from their normal groupings. They are an 11 personnel team and it isn't a secret. 66.7% - or two thirds of all offensive plays this season – have been ran with one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers for the Bucs' offense. But when your available personnel changes, so does your gameplan – and it worked in Charlotte.

View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 16 matchup against the Carolina Panthers.

3. Bucs need to be sure to capitalize on opportunities headed into the playoffs.

That being said, the Bucs' offense needs to finish a bit more and capitalize on the opportunities they're given. They scored a touchdown on two of four trips inside the red zone but things like the interception by Whitehead only resulted in a field goal on the ensuing drive. The Bucs, in fact, settled for four field goal attempts, all of which were made by kicker Ryan Succop, including matching his season-long of 48 yards. But a couple of those came in situations that should have resulted in six points and a point after, instead.

That's being nitpicky, sure. But the Bucs are getting ready for the postseason after clinching the division and a playoff berth, the latter of which for the second-consecutive season. These guys know what it takes to win in the playoffs and any one of them will tell you: field goals ain't gonna cut it (even when your defense is playing absolutely lights out).

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