Written by FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
Mike Evans ran past two defenders, caught a pass near midfield, and raced towards the end zone.
The top receiver in Tampa Bay’s history caught a 75-yard pass for a touchdown and also joined Jerry Rice, a Hall of Famer, as the only players in NFL history to have 10 consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. This helped the Buccaneers defeat the struggling Carolina Panthers 21-18 on Sunday.
Todd Bowles, the coach of the Bucs, stated that he is unsure of how much more can be said about the player’s consistent performance over the past decade. This includes 60 catches and 1,000 yards each year for 10 years.
“His teammates are aware that he will receive the ball. Despite their efforts to hinder him, he consistently excels,” Bowles praised. “This is a testament to his strong work ethic and approach to the game.”
Evans ended the game with seven catches for 162 yards, bringing his total for the season to 61 receptions for 1,012 yards and 10 touchdowns. Rice holds the record for the most consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards, achieving this feat from 1986 to 1996.
“I am extremely happy that we were able to secure the win,” the professional athlete, who has been in the industry for 10 years, stated. “I have been fortunate to work with many talented quarterbacks and offensive coordinators who have had faith in my abilities. I am grateful for their support and hope to continue this success throughout my career.”
The Buccaneers (5-7) emerged victorious for only the second time in their last eight games, tying for second place in the lackluster NFC South. Near the end of the game, Carolina (1-11) managed to score and narrow the gap to a field goal. However, their hopes of a comeback were dashed when No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young threw an interception with just over two minutes left, sealing the Panthers’ loss in their first game under interim coach Chris Tabor.
Tabor expressed his admiration for his team, stating that he empathizes with their struggles. He acknowledged the challenges of losing and the emotions it brings, but emphasized the importance of handling the situation with either character or compromise. He showed confidence in his team and their ability to handle adversity, and reassured that they will continue to work hard.
Rachaad White found the end zone in the beginning of the game, while Chris Godwin also scored a touchdown on a 19-yard run in the fourth quarter, giving Tampa Bay a 21-10 lead. Chuba Hubbard had a strong game with 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns for Carolina. A 2-point conversion run by Young narrowed Tampa Bay’s lead to 21-18 with just over 5 minutes remaining.
Even though they only won one out of their last seven games after starting 3-1, the Bucs were still only one game behind the Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South. The Falcons (6-6) stayed in first place in the division by defeating the New York Jets, while the Saints (5-7) lost to the Detroit Lions and are now tied for second place with the Bucs.
Last Monday, the Panthers made the decision to let go of Frank Reich, who had only been coaching for 11 games. Tabor was then chosen to take over as interim coach and urged the players to enjoy themselves and play freely going forward.
This was the second instance within a year where Carolina played against Tampa Bay after their coach was fired during the season. Matt Rhule was let go in October of 2022, just two weeks before the Panthers defeated Tom Brady and the Buccaneers with a score of 21-3.
During their last meeting in Tampa, Evans made 10 catches for 207 yards against their division rivals. He played a crucial role in setting up White’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter with a 40-yard reception. Later on, he also caught a long touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield, which ultimately secured the win for the Buccaneers. This came right after Hubbard’s two touchdown runs had briefly given the Panthers a 10-7 lead in the third quarter.
Mayfield expressed the importance of the play, stating that it provided much needed momentum. He completed 14 out of 29 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. He credited the player with being the one to ignite the team, emphasizing that no one is superior to him.
Young threw for 178 yards and 1 interception, with Antoine Winfield Jr. making a crucial interception to halt the comeback attempt. The first-year player was sacked 4 times.
Young expressed disappointment in the outcome, acknowledging that as competitors, they have a desire to win, but ultimately they are a team and play for each other.
Young expressed that every game is significant and holds great importance for their team. He acknowledged that it can be frustrating at times, but the team’s main focus is on improving and playing together for each other.
During the third quarter, Panthers linebacker Brian Burns was removed from the game after he seemed to have thrown a punch during a scuffle that broke out after Evans scored a touchdown.
“I let my emotions get the better of me. One of their offensive linemen made an inappropriate comment,” stated Burns. “At first, it wasn’t even my altercation. I was pushed, turned around, and reacted. I fully accept responsibility for my behavior.”
The Panthers were missing both S Vonn Bell (shoulder) and TE Hayden Hurst (concussion), as they were not able to play due to being inactive.
The Buccaneers were missing three key players on defense due to injuries: linebackers Lavonte David (groin) and Devin White (foot) and cornerback Jamel Dean (ankle/foot). Another linebacker, SirVocea Dennis, who had filled in for David the week before, was also unable to play due to an illness. Additionally, linebacker K.J. Britt left the game in the first quarter with a back injury and did not return.
The Panthers will be journeying to New Orleans to take on the Saints.
The Buccaneers are in the midst of a stretch where they will play four out of five games on the road. They will be visiting Atlanta and the outcome of the game will determine first place in their division.
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