Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes to Mike Evans and orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South by beating the visiting Carolina Panthers 30-24 on Sunday afternoon.
Brady, who also scored the clinching touchdown on a 1-yard sneak, was 34-for-45 for 432 passing yards as Tampa Bay (8-8) secured a home playoff game. Evans gained 207 yards on 10 receptions, reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth consecutive season.
The Panthers (6-10) held leads of 14-0 and 21-10, but their late-season surge under interim coach Steve Wilks hit a fourth-quarter rough patch. If they had beaten Tampa Bay and won next week at New Orleans, they would have made the playoffs.
Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold completed 23 of 37 passes for 341 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
With Carolina up 14-10, the Buccaneers drove 90 yards only to stall despite one fourth-down conversion along the way. Ryan Succop’s 26-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Yetur Gross-Matos.
The Panthers snatched momentum by going 91 yards in seven plays. Darnold threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Shi Smith.
The Buccaneers needed just 61 seconds to score on Brady’s 57-yard touchdown pass to Evans. A two-point conversion play failed, leaving the score 21-16 with 13:49 remaining.
On its next possession, Tampa Bay went 92 yards in eight plays. Brady threw 30 yards to Evans for the touchdown, giving the Buccaneers their first lead of the day with 6:47 to play. Brady’s two-point conversion toss to Chris Godwin extended the margin.
The Panthers punted on their ensuing possession, but Tampa Bay picked up only one first down before punting it back. Carolina took over at its own 13 with 2:32 left, but Darnold was sacked and lost a fumble on the next play. Two plays later, Brady was in the end zone.
Carolina added a field goal at the 59-second mark and had all three timeouts remaining. The Panthers got the ball back at its own 8 with 32 seconds left, but they couldn’t make anything happen on a lateral play as the clock hit zeroes.
The Panthers scored on the game’s opening possession when Darnold connected with Tommy Tremble for a 17-yard touchdown play.
It was 14-0 after Darnold hit DJ Moore for a 24-yard touchdown.
The Buccaneers got busy late in the first half, scoring when Brady and Evans hooked up for a 63-yard touchdown play with 2:10 to go before halftime. Then Tampa Bay turned a Darnold fumble into more points, settling for Succop’s 22-yard field goal.
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