NFL Week 16 Game Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 32, Carolina Panthers 6

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown reception against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Despite missing six starters, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated from start to finish to easily handle the reeling Carolina Panthers on the road. The Buccaneers led by 13 at halftime and cruised the rest of the way to a 32-6 victory, clinching the NFC South title for the first time since 2007.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Tom Brady was without his top two targets but still conducted the offense with ease to finish with 232 yards and a touchdown on 31 dropbacks. Brady mostly operated in the short to intermediate range, as he finished with an average time to throw of 1.96 seconds. He still proved to be effective when forcing the ball downfield, connecting with his receivers three times on throws targeted beyond 20 yards.

Tom Brady by Target Depth

Target Depth Attempts Yards YPA Passer Rating
9 yards or less 18 83 4.6 95.4
10-19 yards 5 42 8.4 87.1
20+ yards 5 107 21.4 104.2
Running Back

Ronald Jones operated as the Buccaneers' lead back and finished with 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Four of his attempts gained a first down, but only one went for over 10 yards. Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran the ball seven times for 70 yards, with 55 of them coming on one attempt that scored the first touchdown of the game.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Antonio Brown returned from a three-game suspension and immediately became the No. 1 receiver for Tampa Bay. He led the team in targets (15), receptions (10), yards (101) and receiving first downs (8). Two of his receptions went for over 15 yards, and he finished with an 84.2 receiving grade on first review.

Rob Gronkowski ran the most routes on the team but caught just one pass on two targets for 23 yards.

Offensive Line

The Tampa Bay offensive line played a near-perfect game up front, finishing with three pressures allowed on 32 pass-blocking snaps. Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith each gave up a pressure in the game, but four offensive linemen graded above 81.0 in pass-blocking situations on first review.

Defensive Line

Vita Vea was the standout defender within a unit that nearly lived in the backfield. Vea generated one sack and four pressures on 28 pass-rush snaps while also forcing one tackle for loss against the run. He was the only defensive lineman to grade above 80.0 on first review.

The defensive line combined for 5.5 sacks, 20 pressures, seven defensive stops and two tackles for loss or no gain.

Player Pass-Rush Snaps Sacks Pressures Win %
Vita Vea 28 1.0 4 17.9%
Anthony Nelson 27 1.0 5 10.0%
Steve McLendon 21 0.5 3 12.5%
William Gholston 19 2.0 5 18.2%
Shaquil Barrett 17 1.0 3 16.7%

Devin White and Kevin Minter each played over 40 defensive snaps, but neither graded above 54.0 for their efforts. White created three pressures on 18 pass-rush snaps and forced three defensive stops against the run. Minter allowed three receptions for 11 yards, but none resulted in a first down.


Jordan Whitehead was a standout player from the get-go, as he recorded three tackles and an interception in the first quarter alone. In coverage, Whitehead earned an 89.8 coverage grade for allowing just four receptions on 12 targets while forcing two additional incompletions.

The secondary combined to allow 154 yards, with nearly half of them coming from one reception on a blown coverage.

Player Targets Yards INTs + Forced Inc. Passer Rating Allowed
Mike Edwards 0 0 0 0.0
Carlton Davis 6 46 0 89.6
Jamel Dean 5 73 1 87.5
Sean Murphy-Bunting 5 23 1 71.3
Jordan Whitehead 4 12 3 16.7

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Carolina Panthers


Cam Newton started the first two possessions before the offense moved to a two-quarterback system that was nothing more than erratic. Newton totaled 65 yards alone on the opening scoring drive but was neutralized the rest of the way. He finished with 103 total yards and one interception.

Sam Darnold completed one big-time throw on his first possession but crumbled under pressure to finish with 190 yards on 32 attempts. Most of his yards came in the second half when the Panthers were down multiple scores.

Player Snaps Offensive Grade Completion % YPA Passer Rating
Cam Newton 25 50.9 53.8% 4.7 34.5
Sam Darnold 36 45.6 46.9% 5.9 65.9
Running Back

It was another disappointing outing for the Panthers' rushing attack. Chuba Hubbard carried the ball six times for a measly nine yards and two first downs. He was hit at the line of scrimmage on nearly every attempt, as he finished with more yards after contact than actual rushing yards. He broke just one tackle, and his longest attempt went for four yards. 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson were each targeted 10-plus times, but neither was able to establish a rhythm with either quarterback. Moore finished with five receptions for 55 yards and two explosive receptions, while Anderson caught five passes for 58 yards. Shi Smith led the team with 86 receiving yards. Outside of those three, nobody else went for over 25 receiving yards.

Offensive Line

Newton and Darnold were sacked a combined seven times, and three of them were credited to the offensive line. Pass protection was an issue all game, as the unit gave up 18 pressures and one quarterback hit on 42 pass-blocking snaps. Every starter allowed at least two pressures, and all five graded below 66.0 on first review.

Player Pass-Blocking Snaps Sacks Pressures Allowed Pressure %
Brady Christensen 53 0 5 9.4%
Sam Tecklenburg 53 0 2 3.8%
Michael Jordan 53 2 6 11.3%
Taylor Moton 53 0 2 3.8%
John Miller 53 1 3 5.7%
Defensive Line

The Panthers' pass rush generated virtually zero pressure on Brady. Haason Reddick and Brian Burns were the only ones to create pressure among the team's defensive linemen. The defensive line played significantly better against the run, combining for eight defensive stops and four tackles for loss or no gain.


Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu played significant roles in run defense, and both graded above 75.0 on first review. The two linebackers combined for five defensive stops and four tackles for loss or no gain against the run. Thompson also played well in coverage, conceding just one reception on three targets for 13 yards.


Stephon Gilmore lined up against Brown for most of the game and conceded 75 yards on five receptions, three of which resulted in a gain of 15-plus yards. If it stands, his 51.0 coverage grade would be his lowest outing of the season. The secondary combined to allow 15 receptions for 209 yards, one touchdown and 12 first downs.

Player Targets Yards Yards/Cov. Snap Passer Rating Allowed
Jeremy Chinn 2 17 0.68 141.7
C.J. Henderson 5 17 0.71 49.6
Myles Hartsfield 5 15 0.63 64.6
Stephon Gilmore 8 75 3.57 93.2
Keith Taylor 3 85 5.67 118.8

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