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Buccaneers Clinch Division As They Coast Over Panthers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers

Source: Jared C. Tilton / Getty

CHARLOTTE – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South with a divisional win over the Carolina Panthers, as the home team closed their slate at Bank of America Stadium with a 32-6 defeat.

Carolina lost for the fifth consecutive game and sixth straight at home, failing to win a game in Charlotte after the month of September.

Tom Brady managed the game without 57% of his team’s offensive skill position production, throwing for 232 yards and a touchdown. Tampa also earned two scores on the ground, rushing for 159 yards. Carolina has allowed nine teams to rush for more than 100 yards, all defeats.

Tom Brady has been to the Super Bowl ten times, they were able to run the football well at times,” Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule said. “[Brady’s] a really really special player, he’s got the right group in front of him and he’s got enough weapons outside so he can be successful.”

The Panthers tried to use a multi-quarterback system for the third time this season, with poor results.

Cam Newton started the contest, completing just seven passes for 61 yards, and rushing five times for 42 yards. His 33 yard run was the Panthers’ longest from scrimmage this season. Sam Darnold relieved Newton in the second quarter and in spots during the second half, completing 15 passes for 190 yards.

“I don’t think anyone wants to play two quarterbacks, we’re not winning, we’re trying to see who could spark us and move down the field,” Rhule said. “Neither one of them should be happy about what’s happening right now. It’s a targeted decision that I understand is not popular, but it feels like it’s what’s best for the Carolina Panthers right now and I hope both players respect it.”

Tampa’s pass rush overwhelmed Carolina, sacking Newton three times and Darnold four times. Carolina was without starting center Pat Elflein (COVID list) and left tackle Cam Erving (ankle) trotting out its 11th different starting offensive line in 15 games.

“We’ve been talking about the offensive line all year, there’s been games where we haven’t had sacks and I thought we had a chance to win those games,” Rhule said. “When you get behind in a game like this, and they’re able to tee off, and you’re having to throw it every down, we’re just not quite built for that, yet. It’s just where we are.”

Before the game, CBS Sports reported that Rhule should get a third season endorsement from ownership. After the team’s tenth loss in 12 contests, the head coach felt the need to defend his process.

“We have some key areas that we have to fix, but I believe it’s 1000 percent working and I know no one can see it and I can apologize,” Rhule said.

Much of the attention surrounded Newton, who was left standing on the sidelines watching Darnold during what was in all likelihood his final home game in Carolina.

“I want to be a part of this, for the future, but at the end of the day you have to accept whatever role that you get,” Newton said. “I take today’s performance very personal, and the poor performances in the past very personal.”

The loss for Carolina (5-10) mathematically eliminated them from playoff contention. The Panthers will play their final two games on the road, starting next Sunday in New Orleans.