Tom Brady threw for a touchdown to punch his ticket to the playoffs as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers breezed to a 32-6 win over the host Carolina Panthers on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.
The Buccaneers (11-4) wrapped up a postseason berth by clinching the NFC South for the first time since 2007.
They relied heavily on defense in holding the Panthers (5-10) without a touchdown.
Carolina, which has lost five in a row, finished 2-6 at home. The teams have a rematch in two weeks to finish the regular season.
Tampa Bay, which was shut out a week earlier by the New Orleans Saints, didn’t score until 4:13 remained in the first quarter on Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 55-yard rush.
Brady, who was working in new primary receiving targets because of injuries, completed 18 of 30 passes for 232 yards. Ten of the catches were made by Antonio Brown, who gained 101 yards in his return from a suspension related to falsifying COVID vaccination information.
Ryan Succop made four field goals for the Buccaneers.
The Panthers used quarterbacks Cam Newton (7-for-13, 61 yards, one interception) and Sam Darnold (15-for-32, 190 yards).
Carolina scored first on new kicker Lirim Hajrullahu’s 24-yard field goal. He connected again from 29 yards out to trim Tampa Bay’s lead to 10-6.
The Buccaneers responded with two scoring drives that concluded in the last three minutes of the first half. A nine-play possession ended with Succop’s 43-yard field goal with 2:44 left.
Brady hooked up with tight end Cameron Brate on a 4-yard scoring pass with 1:22 to go in the first half. Brady’s 62-yard pass play to Cyril Grayson was the big play on the four-play possession.
Tampa Bay padded the lead in the third quarter on Succop’s 21-yard field goal and Ronald Jones II’s 7-yard touchdown run.
Darnold was taking snaps for a 13-play possession that bridged the third and fourth quarters but didn’t result in any points.
Panthers receiver DJ Moore caught five passes for 55 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the third season in a row.
–Field Level Media