Buccaneers @ Panthers
Final Score: Buccaneers 41, Panthers 17
Writer: Matthew Bevins (MattQbList on Twitter)
The year is 2022. We’re playing a Week 18 game and discussing the NFL records that Tom Brady has either eclipsed or is on the verge of. What a crazy season we’re looking at, and it seems as we’re intent on gleefully watching an NFL game where both teams just take knees for the entirety of the game to reach a playoff spot, maybe this year can be “happy crazy” over “2021 crazy.” Entering this game, Brady was facing the likelihood of earning the NFL record for passing completions in a season (which he achieved). Intent to always outdo himself, he also earned a 5,000 yard passing season for the second time in his career.
Looking into this game, there’s also certainly a lot on the mind of the Buccaneers as Antonio Brown ended up walking off during the middle of the game last week in a diva-sized tirade on the sideline, leaving the Buccaneers with basically no semblance of a wide receiver core to speak of. Going into this week, their second-best wide receiver healthy on the depth chart is Cyril Grayson, who pulled up with a hamstring injury within the first half, not to return to the game.
The game was the true definition of have and have not, as the Panthers took off to an early 7-0 lead, but the Sam Darnold of ole weaseled his way back onto the field just as soon as the good one arrived, again giving you the weekly frustration of maybe the leagues most “Jekyll and Hyde” quarterback. What did week 18 entail otherwise? Let’s dive in.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady: 29/37, 326 yards, 3 TD
Blaine Gabbert: 0/2 | 1 rush, -1 yard
Ho-hum. Another week, another 300 plus yard showing for Tom Brady, who is 44 years old and still breaking records. Passing 5,000 yards and a completion record wasn’t enough for Tom Brady, as he’ll likely continue on his yearly “Us Vs. The World” tour that has always suited him well. Brady didn’t have many of his weapons, but Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski were more than enough. Brady finished the game with only 8 missed passes, but his passing zip was on full display in this game.
On the edge of a safety opportunity for the Panthers, Mike Evans ended up ripping off a 37-yard passing reception, bouncing off the defenders in pinball-like chaos. Evans has remained the true love of Brady’s life since “Shipping out of Boston” just two years ago, and the partnership is still solid as a rock. Evans helped clear up Brady’s partnership issues after the losses of Chris Godwin and proverbial jet-setter Antonio Brown, and that joy was very much needed in a week where most teams weren’t putting their best talent on the field if they’re in playoff scenarios.
Tom Brady and Mike Evans are smashing pic.twitter.com/Pj8NeUcETv
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 10, 2022
Ke’Shawn Vaughn: 10 carries, 29 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 12 yards
Le’Veon Bell: 3 carries, 14 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 1 yard, TD
Kenjon Barner: 4 carries, 0 yards
The running game, to be quite honest, was an afterthought this week. With Leonard Fournette still on injured reserve, the team has stated that Ronald Jones is in no chance of being traded when Lenny is healthy or not. The issue seems to be that when healthy, Fournette is the bellcow, but the team knows just how much of a luxury having a backup so able to burst like Jones in waiting is. Jones was both ineffective, THEN injured early on in this game, which led to a healthy dose of third and fourth stringers going by the names of Le’Veon Bell, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and practice squad member Kenjon Barner. There wasn’t much need for a rushing game, and that was more than fine for Brady, as their rushers combined for 41 yards on the ground.
Rob Gronkowski: 10 targets, 7 receptions, 136 yards
Mike Evans: 7 targets, 6 receptions, 89 yards
Breshad Perriman: 6 targets, 5 receptions, 44 yards
Tyler Johnson: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 22 yards
Cameron Brate: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 12 yards
Scotty Miller: Target, Reception, 9 yards | 2 carries, 43 yards, TD
Jaelon Darden: 1 target, 0 receptions
The receiving game in Tampa Bay is paramount, and with no rushing game to be found, they were relied on even more in Week 18. Brady fired off his passes early and often, connecting with his ol’ reliable, Rob Gronkowski, and at times looked to fit himself in with some finesse plays, partaking in a more smooth transition for yards after the pass instead of seeking out defensive contact. Of his 37 passes, 17 of the targets were fired between either Rob Gronkowski or Mike Evans way. Gronkowski, prior to even the end of the third quarter, had already eclipsed 100 yards receiving and didn’t look much weathered for the wear.
The ascension of Mike Evans into the league is a thing of beauty and something that was bound to happen, with or without Tom Brady in his graces. Per Next Gen Stats, Evans has 13 more targets, and 5 more receptions than any other player since 2016 in the end zone. The first touchdown pass from Brady saw Evans with a slight shiver towards the middle of the end zone, where he then leaned out to the corner for a picture-perfect reception from Brady, and it seems like Evans almost has a second home in the end zone. With a late-game nightcap just 7 minutes later in clock time, Evans finished off a second reception into the end zone, with a fade route into the corner of the endzone. Congrats are in order for Evans, who finishes the season with his 8th-straight 1,000 yard receiving season and the franchise record for touchdown receptions.
The unfortunate early loss of Cyril Grayson to a hamstring injury early in the game led to a very top-heavy squad of Evans/Gronkowski, with a smattering of targets ceded to Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller, and Breshad Perriman. Perriman has shown some top-end upside, but unless someone the likes of Evans or Gronkowski either moves on or retires, we likely won’t see him as more than a DFS hedge bet.
— NFL (@NFL) January 9, 2022
Sam Darnold: 29/42, 212 yards, 2 TD, INT | 8 carries, 19 yards
Sam Darnold was mostly Sam Darnold on Sunday again. Moments of greatness. Moments of ineptitude. Moments of infuriating performance. For Panthers fans, I’m sure there’s a lot of moments of “Oh jeez, this again?” Darnold took the team down the field while up 7-3 with about 8 minutes remaining in the second quarter, only to end the drive with an oddly performed shovel pass that ended on the two-yard line, followed by a quarterback sneak that not only didn’t end in a touchdown score but also burned off a coach’s challenge. Watching a team that is 5-11 but also has so much potential, the wasted points left on the field by any one of these Panthers’ quarterbacks is something this team will desperately need to focus on if Matt Rhule is still the head coach in the year 2022. The number of mistimed passes, overthrows, or general three-and-out wasted seems to be the prevailing look for Carolina. While they’re without some talent, including arguably the best player in the NFL in Christian McAffrey, it’s tough to not think this team is missing that oomph that will ever make them more than a sub .500 team hoping to get bounced in round one of the playoffs.
Chuba Hubbard: 9 carries, 48 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 8 yards, TD
Ameer Abdullah: 7 carries, 26 yards | 11 targets, 9 receptions, 56 yards
With no McCaffrey to speak of, the coaching squad went back to what they’ve done best over the past month, focusing on making Chuba Hubbard the lead “Rusher” while giving Ameer Abdullah the passing role out of the backfield. While Abdullah had a tough time latching on to a pro role since his waiver from the 2018 Lions squad. Abdullah is being used primarily for his great hands and ability to make space outside of the backfield and may have earned himself some additional looks from either the Panthers or another professional team next season. The fact of the matter is that while both Abdullah or Hubbard could have benefited from being given the chance to rush in the 2-yard play early on in the first half that Darnold botched and gave up, there wasn’t much of a rushing game benefit to be seen from this game. Both ended the game under 50 yards on the ground, and while the numbers were pretty minimal, both Hubbard and Abdullah showed they may just have a role in Carolina depending on how open the Panthers really are to trade offers for McCaffrey. Just a rookie, Hubbard attacks the hole with some power, and is willing to take on contact, and has shown during the course of the season the ability to do well in a good rushing situation/game plan.
D.J. Moore: 10 targets, 7 receptions, 87 yards | 1 carry, 13 yards
Robby Anderson: 9 targets, 7 receptions, 50 yards
C.J Saunders: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards
Tommy Tremble: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 7 yards | 1 carry, 4 yards
Keith Kirkwood: 1 target
Brandon Zylstra: 2 targets
With 87 yards off of 10 receptions, not including the yards of an almost immense touchdown just out of his reach in the end zone, we can now say with certainty, D.J. Moore deserves better. While Moore received 10 targets and managed to secure seven of them, the pace, ability, and sheer way he carries himself is proof that Moore could be a top five wide receiver if he wasn’t continuously placed in the league with a bottom five quarterback. Moore and Robby Anderson took down 14 receptions off of 19 targets, and are clearly the share leaders of this wide receiver core, but there’s so much opportunity if there could be a good quarterback drafted here in the near future. Just after the second half, Moore started to break off on a route to the endzone where he almost made an absolutely amazing reception on a bobbled pass that ended up with him landing on it, leaving him winded. The pass itself would have gone down as the play of the game, but unfortunately in a game of inches, it was just another notch in the tree of “What If’s” that Carolina just cannot seem to get chopped down.
Robby Anderson is also a victim of a stagnant offense that doesn’t know what it wants to become when it grows up, and while it seemed that potentially Carolina would be a solid landing spot, the end result has become a frustrating situation where Anderson is seen as a wide receiver that is a few yards further out than their “check-down” back but offering nothing to him otherwise of value. Signed through 2023, it’s certain this team will look to get more out of their signing of Anderson, but so far, with an offense so anemic, and without their high-powered weapons, there is a lot of uncertainty for them going into 2022.
— Matthew Bevins (@MattQbList on Twitter)