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Panthers vs. Buccaneers final score: Defense destroys Cam Newton

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their final game of the 2016 regular season by beating the Carolina Panthers, 17 to 10. The Bucs defense played their hearts out, while Jameis Winston and company did just enough to grab the win in a close, low-scoring game that was decided on a two-point conversion.

The Bucs picked off Cam Newton three times, had another three dropped interceptions (one of which probably should have been ruled complete), and generally played some stifling defense. Newton completed just 18 of 32 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown on the day. Brent Grimes was especially dominant, with a pick six and another three defensed passes.

Meanwhile, Jameis Winston struggled, but not nearly as much as Newton did. He had just two turnovers, one of which was arguably not his fault, and got a fourth-quarter touchdown to give the Bucs their final lead.

Weirdly enough, this was also a game of missed field goals. Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed three, while counterpart Roberto Aguayo missed one from 46 yards, and had a 48-yarder blocked when the Bucs were forced to turn to their backup longsnapper. Aguayo has yet to make a kick beyond 43 yards in an entire season of NFL kicking, though he’s only had handful of opportunities to do so.

With that win, the Bucs finish 2016 9-7, their first winning record since 2010. They came close to the playoffs, but were eliminated today when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys. Still, this season was a massive improvement over the past five years and something the Bucs can build on going forward.

Recap

The Bucs did not get off to a great start. They scored a field goal on the opening drive, but then immediately allowed a touchdown. Jameis Winston struggled to get the offense going despite stellar work by Jacquizz Rodgers, with Winston completing just three of nine passes for 37 yards and an interception in the first quarter.

The Panthers weren’t doing too hot either, though, somehow turning an interception in the Bucs’ red zone into a missed field goal, after giving up a long sack to Lavonte David and an offensive pass interference penalty. Oops.

That foreshadowed the rest of the first half. The Bucs defense played some outstanding football, despite an offense that turned the ball over (a Jameis Winston lost fumble), and kept punting it away. Tampa Bay’s defense was stifling, though, and Keith Tandy grabbed an interception of his own midway through the second quarter.

The Bucs also dropped a pair of interceptions, including one in the two-minute warning. Three missed field goals, including a Roberto Aguayo 46-yarder, kept the halftime score at 7-3 Panthers.

The second half was just as defined by turnovers as the first was. Cam Newton threw two more interceptions, including this one which Brent Grimes turned into a touchdown. Chris Conte saw an interception ruled incomplete, likely incorrectly.

Despite all those turnovers, the Bucs still couldn’t score or finish off the Panthers until deep in the fourth quarter. At one point they were at least in position to kick a short field goal, but a sack, a false start, and then a blown up backup long snapper led to a blocked field goal. Oops.

Eventually, the Bucs did take the lead on a Mike Evans touchdown (who else?), The Bucs did allow the Panthers to come back with just 17 seconds left in the game, but Ron Rivera decided to go for two. Greg Olsen slipped, the Panthers got stuck at 16-17, and lost.