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Tom Brady, Mike Evans put together monster performances to lift Bucs to NFC South-clinching win

Tom Brady reminded the Carolina Panthers and the rest of the NFL world why he’s considered the greatest football player of all time with a monster performance in the team’s win Sunday.

Brady had three touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown to lift the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 30-24 victory over the Panthers and clinched the NFC South title.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion found Mike Evans twice in the fourth quarter. The first touchdown came with 13:49 left and answered a Sam Darnold touchdown pass to Shi Smith. The Brady-Evans touchdown was for 57 yards and cut the deficit to five points.

The Buccaneers took the lead with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Evans. Tampa Bay went up three points after the two-point conversion. The defense would then force a Darnold fumble and Brady would get set up at the goal line on Tampa Bay’s second play following the turnover and score on a sneak.

Brady finished the game 34-of-45 with 432 passing yards and had three touchdown passes – all to Evans. It was the first time he’s gone over 400 yards passing since Week 16 against the New York Jets.

Evans and Godwin each had 100 or more receiving yards. Evans finished with 10 catches for 207 yards. Godwin had nine catches for 120 yards.

The Buccaneers’ defense also played strong.


Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is sacked by Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Tampa.

Despite allowing 24 points, Tampa Bay’s defense kept the offense in the game and allowed Brady to strike at the most opportune moments. The team recovered two fumbles and picked off Darnold once.

Darnold finished 22-of-36 with 316 passing yards with three touchdown passes and an interception to Sean Murphy-Bunting.

D.J. Moore led the way with six catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Smith had four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Tommy Tremble had three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown.

Three Panthers were in double digits in tackles – Frankie Luvu (13), Jeremy Chinn (12) and Shaq Thompson (12).

All Tampa Bay needed to do in Week 17 was win and they would be in. They did just that. It’s the third straight season the Buccaneers will be in the playoffs and it’s the second consecutive time the organization can call itself an NFC South champion.

For Brady, the victory allowed him to avoid missing the playoffs. He’s made every postseason since 2008, when he missed the entire year with a devastating knee injury.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by Carolina Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Tampa.

The division title puts a cap on a wild regular season in which it didn’t appear Tampa Bay was going to pull it off as injuries piled up and the offense looked out of sync for most of the year. But now, the Buccaneers are getting hot entering the most important part of the year.

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