The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could still finish the season with a losing record, but they will host a playoff game.
Tampa Bay clinched the NFC South title with a 30-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Tom Brady and Co. bounced back from an early-season loss to their division rival with the comeback and improved to 8-8 on the campaign.
It seemed as if the Panthers were going to stay alive in the division race with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but Brady and Mike Evans went into takeover mode. The pair connected on two touchdown passes in a seven-minute span to take the lead for good and secure a second straight NFC South crown.
Brady, who threw for 432 yards and accounted for four scores, hit Evans for three touchdowns in the game and earned plenty of reaction on social media:
BRADY GOES DEEP TO EVANS. 63-YARD TD.<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CARvsTB?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CARvsTB</a> on FOX<br>📱: Stream on NFL+ <a href="https://t.co/iBHCs5kpjA">https://t.co/iBHCs5kpjA</a> <a href="https://t.co/5dJaGRe75j">pic.twitter.com/5dJaGRe75j</a>
Skip Bayless @RealSkipBayless
Did somebody say Brady has fallen off the cliff? Hit the 45-year-old wall? Lost arm strength? Looked like he threw that one 60 yards in the air right on the button to Mike Evans. NOTHING WRONG WITH BRADY'S ARM STRENGTH OR RELEASE QUICKNESS. He just needs 3 seconds instead of 2.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Tom Brady connects with Mike Evans for a 63-yard TD, cutting the lead to 14-7.<br><br>Evans now has eclipsed 1,000 Rec yds in 9 straight seasons, tied with Tim Brown for the 2nd longest streak in NFL history, only behind Jerry Rice who eclipsed 1,000 Rec yds for 11 straight seasons. <a href="https://t.co/OVa9FJbYJn">pic.twitter.com/OVa9FJbYJn</a>
Tampa Bay's offense managed just three points during the Week 7 loss to Carolina in a terrible showing in a season full of them for a unit that entered play 27th in the league in points.
It seemed to be more of the same this time around when the Bucs lost a fumble, missed a field goal and punted twice while falling behind 14-0 on their first four possessions. Yet Brady launched a deep ball to Evans for a 63-yard touchdown before the offense parlayed a Panthers turnover into a field goal to cut the halftime deficit to 14-10.
The second half followed a similar script with Tampa Bay stalling on multiple drives and even had a field goal blocked, but the Brady-Evans combination came through again with 57- and 30-yard touchdowns with the game on the line.
A strip-sack of Sam Darnold in the final minutes fittingly set up a Brady touchdown on a quarterback sneak that provided some breathing room.
Tampa Bay will finish its regular season with a road game against the Atlanta Falcons but can now turn its attention to the postseason.