Between the home shutout, the injuries, and the failure to beat their sworn rival, it was about the biggest nightmare one could possibly conjure. There were questions abound about how the team would respond this week.
Well, fans all luckily got something to feel good about as Tampa Bay hammered the Carolina Panthers in all facets of the game to secure a crucial 32-6 victory — as well as the franchise’s first divisional title since 2007.
The defense absolutely dominated Carolina’s derelict quarterback rotation of Sam Darnold and Cam Newton, and the offense did much better with the return of Antonio Brown to steady the ship.
We’ve got some top performers actually worth highlighting this week!
Offensive Top Performer: WR Antonio Brown
After the brutal news of Chris Godwin’s season-ending ACL tear and Mike Evans’s multi-week hamstring strain, Brown’s return after a 10-game absence couldn’t have come at a more necessary moment.
Whatever you think of him as person, there’s no doubt that he still produces results on the field. Brown dominated former Defensive Player of the Year Stefon Gilmore before the latter exited with a groin injury. Overall, AB finished with 10 catches on 15 targets for 101 yards. No other player had more than 3 receptions.
That said, Cyril Grayson took advantage of his drastically increased playing time by logging 3 catches for 81 yards, including a huge 62 gain, and 1 carry for 14 yards. The fact that he came up from the practice squad and immediately outdid roster stalwarts like Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller (both held catchless) is a testament to his work ethic and trust Brady has in him.
I didn’t shout him out last week since the offense scored zero points, but Ronald Jones does get props for solid back-to-back outings. He totaled 81 yards and a score with Leonard Fournette injured. And how about Ke’Shawn Vaughn making the most of his touches!? After a mistake-filled game against the Saints, Vaughn ripped off an impressive 55-yard TD run and finished with 7 carries for 70 yards.
Defensive Top Performer: S Jordan Whitehead
Wow, what a tear Jordan Whitehead has been on since returning last week. He played like a heat-seeking, tone-setting missile against the Panthers, making 7 combined tackles and grabbing an interception.
Those tackles included several stops at key moments, and he even logged a couple pressures on blitzes as well.
Speaking of pressure, the Bucs defense applied endless amounts of it. With seven combined sacks, it was a season-high and the most in a single game for Tampa since 2013 against the Buffalo Bills.
Will Gholston led the charge with his career-high 2.5 sacks, while Vita Vea, Kevin Minter, Anthony Nelson, Steve McLendon and Shaq Barrett all got in on the stat sheet. The latter had a particularly impactful game before he was forced to exit with a seemingly minor knee injury.
Barrett now has double-digit sacks for the second time in three seasons for the Bucs, so hopefully he’s able to recover just fine for the playoffs in a few weeks.
Special Teams Top Performer: K Ryan Succop
After everyone, including myself, lambasted the special teams last week, and Succop responded to the criticism in the best way possible.
Succop nailed all six of kicks, including 4 field goals, to play his part in burying the Panthers. A couple of them weren’t gimmes either, as he nailed kicks of 48 and 43 yards. Overall, a great bounceback game.