Bucs clinch division in sputtering win

by Gary Shelton on January 8, 2024

in general

McLaughlin kicked three field goals./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

Hooray, I guess. Yippee, I imagine. Congratulations, I suppose.

Also: Whee.

The Tampa Bay Bucs snuck into the NFL post-season Sunday, winning an less-than-impressive game to survive the less-than-inspiring NFC South. The Bucs beat them -0 to tke their third straight division title.

It was an ugly eyesore of a game, one the Bucs won only because the Panthers fumbled away one touchdown and had another called back by a formation penalty. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who seemed uncomfortable because of injuries all day, threw for just 137 yards.  The Bucs ran for just 113.

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So start up the world’s shortest parade, and throw the smallest amount of confetti. The NFC South isn’t much, but the Bucs are kings there.

No, this wasn’t a kick-the-door-in and daring all comers kind of win.  The Panthers, despite their record, play pretty good defense, and they made the Bucs scrap for everything they got. Yeah, if it helps, you can point out that will get tougher in the post-season.

But it’s hard to be happy with the Bucs’ offense, which won without scoring a touchdown, Mayfield struggled in one of his worst days.

And it’s hard to be satisfied with the defense despite the shutout. The punchless Panthers were a finger-snap from scoring twice, after all.

That said, you could argue that the Bucs haven't had enough good seasons to throw any back. They have only nine division titles in 48 seasons, and only 22 playoff games (11 wins).

It was enough to make you wonder if the Bucs could have beaten anyone else in the NFL Sunday. Then again, they didn’t have to. In the big moments, the Panthers kept turning into the Panthers, missing on potential turnovers, missing scoring chances, and continuing their streak as the league’s worst offense. They penetrated the Bucs’ half of the field just three times. 

Still, the Bucs won, which is the bottom line in the NFL. Chase McLaughlin kicked the Bucs into the post-season, kicking three field goals that totaled 132 yards.

Mayfield did pass the 4,000 yard plateau. Receiver Chris Godwin passed 1,000 yards. Running back Rashaad White missed 1,000 yards by 10 yards.

The Bucs will be home against a slumping Philadelphia team next week.

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