Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers marked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s 19th division title and 14th straight playoff appearance, which comes as no surprise given his unprecedented career.
What’s shocking is that Brady and the Bucs won the NFC South by a mediocre 8-8 record in the final week of the 2022 campaign, meaning Brady is in danger of falling to a losing record for the first time in his illustrious 23-year career to complete .
Despite the Bucs’ troubles, Brady took to Instagram Sunday night to congratulate his teammates while calling out receiver Mike Evans’ performance with three touchdowns and 207 yards.
Brady took to Instagram Sunday night to congratulate his teammates while calling out receiver Mike Evans’ performance with three touchdowns and 207 yards
“If you benched Mike Evans in your fantasy football playoffs, you should go home and take a long look in the mirror,” Brady said. “It was an incredible game. NFC champions, we did it the hard way. So proud of our team, our coaches, our organization and you the fans.
“But we know we have more to come,” added Brady. “LFG [Let’s f***ing go] until 2023. I can’t wait.”
Brady threw for 432 yards and three long touchdowns to Evans, and Bucs erased a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter for the second straight week to win their second straight NFC South championship with a 30-24 win over the Panthers in Tampa .
“Every year you try to win the division and we won the division. It doesn’t matter how you win the division. My heart doesn’t have much left but it feels great,” said coach Todd Bowles. “We’re at a point where we need to be. We can’t get where we want to be if we don’t win the division. We won the division.’
Evans finished with 10 catches for 207 yards, scored on 63, 57 and 30 yard receptions and became the first player in NFL history to begin a career with nine consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) runs off the field after they defeated the Carolina Panthers
The TDs were the first for Evans since Oct. 2 — a 12-game stretch — taking his overall season to six after he scored 14 goals in 2021 and 13 two years ago when Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl.
“We’ve battled through a lot of tough things this year,” Brady said. ‘Happy to win the division. It’s always hard to do. NFL games are tough to win, and we always find a way to keep them exciting in some way. I wish they weren’t as exciting as we made them.”
The Panthers (6-10) led 14-0 early and 21-10 after Sam Darnold’s third TD pass of the day 10 seconds into the fourth quarter.
It was all Bucs from there, with Evans beating cornerback CJ Henderson twice for touchdowns and Darnold losing a fumble on a sack in his own 10. That turnover set up Brady’s 1-yard TD sneak that put the game out of reach with 1:58 left.
The Bucs can end the regular season with a winning record by beating Atlanta on the road next weekend. As division champions, they are sure to start the playoffs with a home game in two weeks.
“The playoffs start with a clean slate for everyone,” Bowles said. “You have a three-game elimination tournament. No matter where you are. … At least we know we’re going to be in the games. We just have to reduce the mistakes to win them.’
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaves the field at the end of Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla
The Panthers, who won four of six to get back into the playoffs after firing coach Matt Rhule and trading star Christian McCaffrey, could have claimed their first NFC South title since 2015 by beating the Bucs and then in New Orleans would have won.
Instead, they missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Priorities entering the offseason include determining the future of interim coach Steve Wilks as well as Darnold, who will be a full free agent.
“Obviously we knew what we were playing for. … We were right there,” Darnold said. “In the end we just didn’t make it.”
Darnold threw for 341 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also lost two fumbles while falling to 3-2 since becoming Carolina’s starter on Thanksgiving weekend.
A week after rushing for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-23 win over Detroit, the Panthers rode Darnold’s arm to their early 14-0 lead and were in complete control until Brady found Evans on the right Sideline for a 63-yard catch ran -and-run to get the Bucs running.
Mike Evans celebrates after scoring in the second half of Sunday’s win against Carolina
Two plays later, Darnold mishandled a snap in the shotgun formation and compounded the error by huffing as he tried to pick up the ball and leaving linebacker Devin White to fix the fumble on the Carolina 13.
Ryan Succop’s 22-yard field goal cut Tampa Bay’s deficit to 14-10 just before halftime, but the Bucs missed an opportunity to get closer — or possibly take the lead — when a 90-yard drive in the Panthers 10 faltered and Succop had a 26-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Darnold completed 23 of 37 passes with TDs of 17 yards to Tommy Tremble, 24 yards to DJ Moore, and 19 yards to Shi Smith, the last of which gave Carolina a 21-10 lead. The Panthers, meanwhile, ran for just 74 yards while D’Onta Foreman was limited to 35 yards on 13 carries and Chuba Hubbard was held to 20 yards on five tries.
‘Very frustrating. We worked hard to get to this position. Nobody would hand us anything or give us anything,” Foreman said.
“We fought hard. Nobody gave up. Everyone knew what the job was,” Foreman added. “Unfortunately, that’s part of the NFL. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”