CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first NFC South title since 2007 on Sunday when Tom Brady threw for 232 yards and a touchdown and Antonio Brown made a grand return to the NFL in a 32-6 route of the Carolina Panthers.
In his first game since Oct. 13 after missing eight games, Brown saw a prominent role on offense with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin sidelined by injuries, catching 10 passes for 101 yards while being targeted 15 times by Brady. Brown has been plagued by an ankle injury and was suspended three games for breaking COVID-19 protocols prior.
Ronald Jones carried 20 times for 65 yards and a touchdown filling in for the injured Leonard Fournette. Tampa Bay also got big offensive contributions from unheralded players Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Cyril Grayson. Vaughn broke two tackles and rambled for a 55-yard first quarter touchdown. Grayson, a COVID-19 replacement player elevated to the active roster this week, hauled in a 62-yard reception to set up Brady’s only TD pass, a 4-yarder to Cameron Brate.
The Bucs (11-4) put up 391 yards on offense after being shut out 9-0 by the New Orleans Saints last week.
The Bucs’ defense had no problems shutting down Carolina’s dual-quarterback approach, even after Pro Bowl linebacker Shaquil Barrett left with a knee injury in the second quarter. Tampa Bay had seven sacks and limited the Panthers (5-10) to two field goals.
Cam Newton started the game but was replaced by Sam Darnold after throwing an interception on Carolina’s second offensive series. The two QBs split reps for the remainder of the game, as coach Matt Rhule had planned last week.
Newton was 7 of 13 for 61 yards and ran for 42 yards en route to losing his 13th straight game as a Carolina starter, a streak dating back to the 2018 season. Darnold, who was greeted by boos as he entered the game for the first time, finished 15 of 33 for 190 yards.
Buccaneers: Barrett injured his knee in the first half while trying to get to Darnold in the pocket and did not return.
Panthers: Stephon Gilmore became the latest Carolina cornerback to get hit by the injury bug, leaving in the second half with a groin injury. … WR Brandon Zylstra was placed on the COVID-19 list before the game.
Buccaneers: at the New York Jets next Sunday.
Panthers: at New Orleans next Sunday.