Bucs’ depth pays off in win over Panthers

by Gary Shelton on December 27, 2021

in general

Ke'Shawn Vaughn had a 55-yard touchdown./Tim Wirt

Monday, 4 a.m.

Who says anything is wrong with leftovers?

The Tampa Bay Bucs turned to unfamiliar faces and not-ready-for-big-time players Sunday for a solid, playoff-clinching victory over the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs, minus several of their star players, won 32-6 over the Panthers to clinch the NFC South with some players low on their depth chart.

Let's face it. All coaches talk about the next man up, and about the importance of depth. But this team relied on its background singers to win.

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Grayson had a big day for Bucs./Tim Wirt


-- Wide receiver Antonio Brown, amid the indignation that the Bucs chose to keep him on the roster, caught 10 passes for 101 yards and took the spot of Godwin as Brady's favorite receiver.

-- Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who seemed to be in jeopardy after the Bucs picked up Le'Veon Bell, had a 55-yard touchdown and 70 yards rushing. He backed up Ronald Jones, who had 65 yards, although it took him 20 carries. Together, the two made sure Leonard Fournette was not missed.

-- Receiver Cyril Grayson had a 62-yard catch to set up a touchdown. For the day, he had three catches for 81 yards. Before Sunday, Grayson had two catches in his career.

-- With Shaq Barrett spraining an MCL, backup defensive tackle William Gholston had 2 1/2 sacks. As a team, the Bucs had seven sacks.

"We lost a lot," Bucs' quarterback Tom Brady said of the missing players. "I don't think you just make up for it overnight. We're gonna have to learn each other. We're gonna have to do some different things for the guys that are in there -- guys are gonna have to keep getting better and making improvements. Hopefully we can get some guys back this week and then get a bit stronger at these positions."

It was a satisfying win for the Bucs, coming one week after the team was shut out at home against the Saints. It gave Tampa Bay their first division title since the 2007 season.

"I was so proud of everybody," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians. "We had so many guys step up and step in.

“We wanted to hang three banners this year. We haven't had one of those division banners up there for a long time. It feels great.  That was what we focused on. I can’t be prouder of the group."

Quarterback Tom Brady, content to dink most of the day, threw for 232 yards in the win, but he actually threw fewer times than the Bucs ran the ball.

Grayson, in particular, was impressive. He made the finishing block on Vaughn's touchdown run, then caught the long one before halftime.

“Cyril is a ferocious blocker," Arians said. "He’s a speed guy, but he will block. That position you’ve got to be able to block. He’s gotten so much better. If there was a most improved player over the last two years ... he’s worked harder than anyone on our practice squad.  Every time he’s gotten an opportunity he’s flashed with it."

Tampa Bay's defense held the Panthers without a touchdown. Their field goals were set up by a 33-yard run by Cam Newton and a 63-yard pass by Sam Darnold, but both were controlled afterward. Aside from Newton's scramble, the Panthers ran for only 34 yards on the day. Aside from Darnell's long pass, the Bucs surrendered just 143 yards through the air (minus 45 on the sacks).

“The defense has stepped up all year," Arians said. "All the injuries (early) were on defense. They fought through it. Now everybody’s pretty healthy. Hopefully we don't lose Shaq. With the secondary healthy, we can do a lot of things."

For much of the day, the absence of receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans affected Brady. He completed 19 passes, and 10 of them were to Brown. Fifteen of his 29 targets were to Brown, who has faced heavy criticism after the Bucs did not cut him after he sought a fake vaccination card. Brown was needed, however, on a day when Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson both were shut out.

"It's a lot of drama," Brown said. "A lot of drama you guys create. A lot of drama that people create who want something from me. But that's just a part of life. It's a part of being in the position that I'm in. I can't control what people want from me. I can't control what people write about me. I can't control what people say about me. All I can do is get up every day and be the best person I can be and when I get a chance to do my job, do my job the best way I can do it, and that's what we had today."

The Bucs visit the New York Jets on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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