3 Takeaways from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 16 WinDecember 27, 2021
3 Takeaways from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 16 Win
Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl championship at the end of the 2020 season—the first year of the Tom Brady era—the team didn't accomplish one of its goals: win the NFC South title.
In 2021, the Buccaneers have crossed that accomplishment off their list for the first time in more than a decade. With a 32-6 win over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Tampa Bay clinched its first NFC South title since the 2007 season.
It was a bounce-back performance for the Bucs, who failed to clinch the division in Week 15 after losing 9-0 to the New Orleans Saints. On Sunday, Tampa Bay amassed 391 total yards and scored 22 unanswered points over the game's final 32 minutes and 40 seconds.
Here are three takeaways from the Buccaneers' Week 16 win.
Brown Provided a Much-Needed Boost to the Offense
Against the Saints, the Buccaneers lost wide receiver Chris Godwin for the rest of the season because of a torn ACL. Wide receiver Mike Evans and running back Leonard Fournette each suffered a hamstring injury in Week 15, causing both to miss Sunday's game against the Panthers.
However, Tampa Bay's offense got a major reinforcement. Antonio Brown hadn't played since Week 6 because of an ankle injury and a three-game suspension for presenting the NFL with a fake COVID-19 vaccination card. With Brown back in the lineup, he gave Brady a top wide receiver to throw to with both Godwin and Evans out.
Brown returned in a big way, recording 10 catches for 101 yards to lead the Buccaneers in receiving. He was targeted 15 times and was Brady's clear top option on the day.
"He's been itching to get back out there," Brady said, per Steve Reed of the Associated Press. "And he's just putting himself in a position to succeed. He makes a lot of critical plays. It was a great performance by him."
Running backs Ke'Shawn Vaughn (70 rushing yards and a touchdown) and Ronald Jones II (65 rushing yards and a touchdown) and wide receiver Cyril Grayson (three receptions for 81 yards) also had solid showings for Tampa Bay's offense. But Brown gives the unit the star power it will need moving forward, especially if Evans continues to be out.
Defensive Success Overshadowed by Another Injury
As expected, the Buccaneers defense made it a tough day for the Panthers offense on Sunday. Carolina, which played both Cam Newton and Sam Darnold at quarterback, had only 273 total yards and scored its six points on a pair of Lirim Hajrullahu field goals.
Tampa Bay's defense was playing short-handed, as linebacker Lavonte David was placed on injured reserve after he suffered a foot injury in Week 15. And the Bucs lost another key player Sunday, as linebacker Shaquil Barrett suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and couldn't finish the game.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Barrett's ailment is an MCL sprain and "nothing long term." However, it's still concerning that the Buccaneers continue to have so many health issues this late in the season, and it could negatively affect them in the postseason if things don't improve.
On defense, Tampa Bay is now without David, Barrett, linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (foot). Whether or not the Bucs can make a deep postseason run could depend on how many players they can get back by that point.
The Bucs Should Enter the Playoffs with Momentum
The 11-4 Buccaneers are the No. 4 seed, behind the Green Bay Packers (12-3), Dallas Cowboys (11-4) and Los Angeles Rams (11-4). Although it's possible Tampa Bay could climb to the top of the standings, it would take a lot of outside help for that to happen.
That doesn't mean the Bucs can't build momentum heading into the playoffs, though. In fact, there's a good chance that they could be on a winning streak as they enter the postseason, assuming they don't rest their starters in Week 18.
In Week 17, Tampa Bay goes on the road to take on the New York Jets. It then faces Carolina again at home in Week 18. The Jets and Panthers have a combined nine wins this season, so the Bucs have an opportunity to be on a three-game winning streak going into the playoffs.
As Tampa Bay showed in 2020, it can be important to be playing well when the postseason arrives. It ended last year's regular season with four consecutive wins before it made its run to a Super Bowl title.
Could something similar happen this season? It may depend on the Bucs' health, but it can't hurt to string together some wins to close the regular season.