Buccaneers @ Panthers
Final Score: Buccaneers 32, Panthers 6
Writer: Matthew Bevins (@MattQBList on Twitter)
It seems like every single year we talk about the potential for the Panthers to trounce their way into playoff contention, only for them to flame out in a barrage of injuries or “what ifs”. This year has been no different. The Panthers had a slightly torn, but ultimately regifted present in the form of a half-healthy Buccaneers squad, and they still couldn’t do anything to take advantage. Cam Newton continued his enigmatic “why is he still in the league” tour, and Tom Brady continued to make Michelin-star level meals from leftover ingredients.
Just a quarter into this game, Newton had already made two glaring mistakes, a missed pass to a receiver with a clear path to the endzone (a pass that likely almost every writer for QB list could have made), and an interception tip drill that ended up slinking to the ground, only to see a second tip-drill pass make it into Jordan Whitehead‘s hands. I’m sipping a stiff holiday drink, so let’s dive into this one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady: 18/30, 232 yards, TD | 1 carry, 11 yards
Blaine Gabbert: 0/1, 0 yards
If you drafted Tom Brady, congratulations, you likely made the fantasy playoffs. The unfortunate part of the scenario is he has had a rough month at the worst possible time for your lineups. One fantasy game finishing with 4 fantasy points, and now as we write this, he’s without Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (for the rest of the season), and Leonard Fournette. So he’s left with the world’s oldest football diva, Antonio Brown and…Tyler Johnson? Again, as per usual, it does not matter, as Brady treats these scenarios more as statements than he does challenges.
With just 30 passes thrown in this game, half of those were targeted to Brown. Brady predictably leaned on his rushing game, even without Fournette, and the results were stout and uplifting. Ronald Jones and Ke’shawn Vaughn were forces against the Panthers and helped to allow Brady to give his offensive weapons a week to rest. While Brady wasn’t worth much value for his fantasy managers this week, it likely wasn’t enough to have him tank you, either.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn: 7 carries, 70 yards, TD | 1 target, 0 receptions
Ronald Jones: 20 carries, 65 yards, TD | 3 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards
Le’Veon Bell: 2 carries, -1 yard
Your first rushing/game touchdown today was from none other than…Ke’Shawn Vaughn. A 55-yard burst, Vaughn can be seen below turning on the afterburners on a seemingly winded/stuck in motion Panthers defense.
That’s not RoJo😭
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 26, 2021
It’s not surprising that, while many of us stacked our Rojo’s near the chimney with care with the hope that our DFS points would soon be there, the Bucs zigged on our zag, using both rushers to keep the running game fresh and to not overwork Ronald Jones. Both finished their game with roughly thirteen fantasy points, and after the year we’re having, we’ll welcome that every single time.
Jones was…fine in this one. He averaged just over three yards a carry, barrel rolling off tackles at times for extra yards. He also looked a lot like the back that ceded his opportunity to Fournette on others, going into the line with a LeGarrette Blount-like force, as if almost magnetically charged to any Panther in his way.
With Fournette out for the rest of the regular season and heading into free agency, as will Ronald Jones, maybe the whole showcasing of Vaughn makes more sense as he’s the only active back on this squad who is actually signed past this season. Vaughn only averaged a minuscule 2.5 yards on his six carries that weren’t attached to the 55-yard touchdown rush, so it wasn’t all daffodils and puppy dogs for Vaughn.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Antonio Brown: 15 targets, 10 receptions, 101 yards
Cyril Grayson: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 81 yards | 1 carry, 14 yards
Rob Gronkowski: 2 targets, 1 reception, 23 yards
Cameron Brate: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards, TD
Scotty Miller: 1 target
The Antonio Brown and Tom Brady love affair can’t be dulled by any amount of silliness Brown endure us to, as Brown was just reactivated this week from his suspension and immediately climbed to the top of the target lead. While there wasn’t much left to pass to otherwise, it really didn’t matter. Brown gobbled up half of Brady’s targets, while seven of the others were split between “Great Value Gronk” Cameron Brate and “sprinter guy” Cyril Grayson.
Grayson actually looked pretty dynamic, looking like a younger version of DeSean Jackson at times and flashing the speed he’s known best for. While he looked like a younger version of Jackson, since I am humbled to say I hadn’t heard of Grayson before today (odd, I have some pretty deep fantasy leagues), my eyes hit the ground when Spotrac confirmed to me he is 28 years old and in short, a career journeyman.
Tyler Johnson saw no targets today besides a failed two-point conversion, and Scotty Miller, whose lone target was not caught today, was also a non-factor.
Cam Newton: 7/13, 61 yards, INT | 5 carries, 42 yards
Sam Darnold: 15/32, 190 yards | 1 carry, 11 yards
I don’t know what kind of messed up, “lump of coal” nonsense the Panthers are trying to pull, but forcing us to watch not one, but two of the league’s bottom 5 starting quarterbacks in the very SAME NFL game, in Week 16 is something that none of us should have to be privy to. Cam Newton started the game first behind center and did nothing to keep the role, misfiring early and often. With zero methods to the madness, the team swapped out between Newton and Sam Darnold at a moment’s notice, keeping the Buccaneers on their toes not knowing WHICH of the two would be overthrowing their receiver at any given moment.
This Panthers’ team has a lot to look inwards on when this season is over, as Newton is likely playing his very last professional snaps this regular season, and while Darnold had found himself in a nice little run early on in this season, that is all but ghosts of Christmas past at this point. It’s a shame to see, I have no ill will towards the man, but there’s not much to be said for his game, and there isn’t much of a quarterback landscape in the 2022 NFL Draft class. I hope for D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson that a quarterback is found, and quickly.
Chuba Hubbard: 6 carries, 9 yards | 1 target
Reggie Bonafoon: 1 carry, 4 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 12 yards
Ameer Abdullah: 2 carries, 1 yard | 6 targets, 3 receptions, 8 yards
WOOF. I hope you didn’t have any reliance on a Panthers running back to save your playoff hopes this week. Chuba Hubbard has shown flashes, in a three-week stretch in October he showcased an over 4 yards per carry rushing average and a 100-yard game. The Hubbard seen then seems like it was all but smoke and mirrors, however. 6 carries for 9 yards on Sunday is not good. With the passing game all but nonexistent, Tampa Bay loaded the box early and often and none of these backs had any room to run.
Hubbard, a fourth-round pick, wasn’t much to write about today, and luckily for him and his role as the leading rusher, neither was Reggie Bonafoon or Ameer Abdullah. This team has a totally deflated, emotionless offense, going through the motions with absolutely no rhyme or reason to its playcalling. This may be less an issue with their rushers, but either way, you’re not going to win any fantasy games using any of these names.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Shi Smith: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 86 yards
Robby Anderson: 10 targets, 5 receptions, 58 yards
D.J. Moore: 11 targets, 5 receptions, 55 yards
Tommy Tremble: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 22 yards
Terrace Marshall, Jr.: 1 target, 1 reception, 6 yards
Ian Thomas: 1 target, 1 reception, 4 yards
Alex Erickson: 1 target
Giovanni Ricci: 2 targets
Stephen Sullivan: 1 target
Considering the source of their passes, it’s not a shock that receiving crew was a mostly quiet resource in this one. Shi Smith led the crew with 86 yards receiving, most of it coming on one extremely long 63-yard pass from Sam Darnold on a rollout while avoiding the blitz.
SHI SMITH! 🤙 pic.twitter.com/okU7gdyEzC
— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) December 26, 2021
Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore did their best with not much given, catching 10 combined passes over 21 combined targets, but they weren’t the problem in this game.
Anderson’s most notable play came with the game already out of hand. He caught a ball on the Bucs’ sideline, spun the ball, pointed to the sky, then jawed at the defender covering him.
Here's the play.. not the same situation as Chase Claypool, but still so silly. pic.twitter.com/GJsJBfvYmA
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 26, 2021
The old saying goes, play all 60 minutes, which is what Robby was doing here, but it’s still a bad look in a losing effort.
–Matthew Bevins (MattQBList-Twitter, /u/ TheLongSpring on Reddit)