While it once again started ugly, the Buccaneers rebounded in the second half to secure a happy ending to their most successful regular season in franchise history.
Tampa lit up the Carolina Panthers in the final two quarters, outscoring them 31-10, to post the team-best 13th win. They got a little help from the San Francisco 49ers just a few minutes after the clock hit zeroes, as the latter knocked off the Los Angeles Rams and helped the Bucs into the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Some players got well-deserved individual accolades, too, and we’ll address those guys and a few other standouts right now:
Offensive Top Performer: WR Mike Evans
Buccaneers fans should never take watching Mike Evans for granted. He’s the best offensive player in franchise history by a massive margin, if we’re being honest, and he only continues to make that easier to argue.
With 6 catches for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns, Evans extended his streak of 1,000-yard seasons to begin a career with eight. That’s also the longest active streak in the NFL, and it’s tied for 3rd best all-time with Cris Carter.
Those two scores also gave him 14 for the year, which breaks his old franchise record of 13. As the team must throw back to a time where Evans was their only major threat at wideout, he showed that he’s still ready to hold that mantle.
Tom Brady finds Mike Evans in the end zone for a 3-yard TD.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 9, 2022
Evans has 13 more targets (98) and 5 more receptions (39) in the end zone than any other player since 2016.#CARvsTB | #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/bU5srcSZis
We’ll of course recognize Tom Brady, who shredded the Panthers once again. Completing 29 of 37 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns accomplished several feats. He became the franchise leader for yards and touchdowns in a season, and it basically guaranteed that he’ll be the NFL leader in completions, yards, and touchdowns. He’s 44 years old, folks.
Rob Gronkowski didn’t break any notable records, but he made some valuable money through incentives by catching 7 balls for 137 yards. Getting him in peak form for this playoff run will be indispensable.
Let’s recognize Scotty Miller for scoring his first touchdown of the season on a 33-yard end-around. It’s been a disappointing campaign, but hopefully that can build some positive momentum for him. Breshad Perriman’s insane toe-tap catch during the 92-yard two-minute drill also deserves respect.
Defensive Top Performer: S Antoine Winfield, Jr.
What a tear the younger Winfield has been on this season. He’s ascended to the upper echelon of safeties, and the Tampa defense is notably different without his versatility.
He anchored the secondary with 8 total tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. He should add one or two more career highlights to his growing reel during the postseason.
Anthony Nelson continues to grab everyone’s attention, as he recorded yet another sack to finish with 5 on the season. While Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul should both be back for Wild Card Weekend, Nelson has earned the right to keep getting snaps.
Andrew Adams nabbed the team’s only pick late in the game, while Rakeem Nunez-Roches forced the fumble and recorded a couple QB pressures.
Special Teams Top Performer: KR Jaelon Darden
Darden finally showed another glimpse of the plus potential he offers as a kick returner with a nifty 34-yard scamper that put the Bucs in good position for a key scoring drive in the 4th quarter. The team needs more consistent performances like this come playoff time to avoid losing the field position battle, which can make a massive difference in win-or-go-home contests.
Shout out to Ryan Succop as well for nailed all 5 of his extra points and 2 out of 3 field goals. He did miss one because he slipped, so we’ll give him a pass there.