The Buccaneers are your 2021 NFC South champions.
Things have been pointing in that direction for some time and they made it official with Sunday’s 32-6 rout of the Panthers in Charlotte. The win moves the Bucs to 11-4 on the season and keeps them on the heels of the Packers in the race for the top seed in the NFC. They’ll face the Jets in Week 17.
Injuries left the Buccaneers without several key offensive pieces, but things were never in much doubt over the course of the afternoon. Tom Brady completed 18-of-30 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown while the Ronald Jones/Ke’Shawn Vaughn backfield duo produced 135 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Vaughn’s 55-yard touchdown opened the scoring for Tampa and Jones added a seven-yarder to put the game out of reach in the second half.
Antonio Brown took on a leading role at receiver with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin out and produced 101 yards and 10 catches in his return from a three-game suspension for providing the team with a fake vaccination card. Cyril Grayson also had three catches for 81 yards, including a 62-yarder that set up a Cam Brate touchdown catch.
Le’Veon Bell made his Bucs debut in garbage time and lost a yard on two carries.
The Bucs added another player to their long injury list when edge rusher Shaq Barrett departed with a knee injury, but he was able to record his 10th sack of the season before departing. Will Gholston had 2.5 sacks and the Bucs rolled up seven sacks against a totally overmatched Carolina offense over the course of the afternoon.
Cam Newton and Sam Darnold both took turns running that offense and the results underscored the need for the Panthers to address the quarterback position this offseason. Newton was 7-of-13 for 61 yards and an interception while Darnold was 15-of-32 for 190 yards in his return from a shoulder injury, although Darnold got a chance to pad his stats in the final minutes of the lost cause. Newton added 42 rushing yards in what will be his final home appearance of this season and may be the final Panthers appearance in any location of his NFL career.
Reporters in the press box passed along word of “Fire Matt Rhule” chants at Bank of America Stadium as the Panthers’ fifth-straight loss wound down. Finding a way to show some promise in the final two weeks would help ensure that doesn’t happen, but more days like this could lead to change of plans for Carolina.
Buccaneers thrash Panthers to clinch NFC South originally appeared on Pro Football Talk