The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won four times Sunday—including once themselves—and now sit alone atop the NFC South Division, tied for the best record in the NFL.
Quarterback Brad Johnson passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns, Martin Gramatica kicked three field goals and the Bucs’ defense ravaged on in a 23-10 beating of the Carolina Panthers before 65,527 at Raymond James Stadium.
The workmanlike effort came after Tampa Bay (8-2) learned that South co-leader New Orleans and Green Bay—now tied for the best record in the league—had fallen earlier in the day, leaving both titles there for the taking, at least for a week.
And as if achieving the best 10-game start in the franchise’s 27-year history wasn’t enough, the Bucs got the added bonus of an overtime loss by San Francisco, which began the day with the same record as Tampa Bay.
“I’m proud of our team,” Coach Jon Gruden said after a third consecutive victory. “Granted, some of them aren’t the most beautiful things, but there are a lot of ways to win in the NFL.”
— Chris Harry, The Orlando Sentinel “Surging Buccaneers alone in first place in NFC South”
Ultimately, the Philadelphia Eagles claimed the top seed in the NFC, with the Bucs finishing second. The Packers and 49ers finished third and fourth, respectively, while the 9-7 Saints missed the playoffs entirely after losing 5 out of their final 7 games.