TAMPA – The Buccaneers rolled in the New Year on a winning note at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon, rallying late to beat the Carolina Panthers 17-16.
The victory allowed the Bucs to finish their first season under new coach Dirk Koetter with a 9-7 record, making 2016 the first winning season for Tampa Bay since 2010.
A Bucs offense that struggled to keep the ball and gain ground all day completed its only touchdown drive of the game to decide this one with 3:13 left on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Jameis Winston hit Mike Evans with a 10-yard touchdown pass to complete the drive for the Bucs, who finished a season sweep of the defending NFC Champion Panthers.
It was Bucs defense, however, that did a lot of the heavy lifting in this one, taking the ball away three times, all on interceptions, and recording two sacks of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
The biggest play, though, may have been a pass breakup at the goal line by safety Bradley McDougald, who prevented the Panthers from taking a lead on a two-point conversion with 17 seconds left.
It looked at first as if it was going to be a long day for the defense, which allowed the Panthers to march 75 yards in just six plays for Carolina’s first score, a 2-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart.
The defense tightened up immediately, however, and soon began to shut the Panthers down, limiting them to just 53 yards the rest of the first half.
The only takeaway that resulted in points for the Bucs, though, was the 31-yard interception return for a touchdown that cornerback Brent Grimes produced at the start of the second half.
The other two resulted in failed field-goal attempts by Roberto Aguayo, who made his first of the day to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead but missed a 46-yard try and had a 48-yard try blocked in the fourth quarter.