Tampa Bay 17, Carolina 16
When: 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, January 1, 2017
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jameis Winston threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Mike Evans with 3:13 to play and Cam Newton missed on a two-point conversion attempt with 17 seconds left as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held on for a 17-16 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Newton nearly pulled off the comeback, twice converting on fourth down inside the Buccaneers' 20-yard line in the final two minutes, before he threw a 5-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin.
Rather than play for overtime, Carolina went for two and the win, but tight end Greg Olsen slipped and Newton's pass fell incomplete, giving Tampa Bay the victory.
"We didn't come to do anything but win," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "I'm real proud of the way they fought to the very bitter (end). I thought the guys did things that gave themselves a chance to win the game."
Winston went 5 of 6 for 73 yards on the winning drive, hitting Evans for a 10-yard touchdown after the Tampa Bay offense had mustered only three points in the first 57 minutes. The throw gave Winston the team record for touchdown passes in a season (28) and Evans tied his own record for touchdown catches in a season (12).
Tampa Bay (9-7) ended a two-game losing streak and completed a season sweep of Carolina (6-10) to finish second in the NFC South.
"It feels good to end the year on top," Winston said. "We want to make the playoffs, and that's going to be our norm. ... There's room for improvement. We'll get better next year."
The Buccaneers seized momentum on the second play of the second half, when cornerback Brent Grimes intercepted Newton's pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. The Panthers tied the score on Graham Gano's 54-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
"We finished the season on a good note," said Grimes, who also had four passes defensed. "It's a big win, as big as it can be. We wanted to get a win and end the season with a winning season. That's a big deal for the organization and the fans."
Carolina marched 75 yards in six plays on its opening drive, getting a 2-yard
touchdown run from Jonathan Stewart for a 7-3 lead.
Tampa Bay's only points in the first half came on their first drive, when rookie Roberto Aguayo kicked a 33-yard field goal.
Winston had two turnovers, one a deflected interception and the other a fumble as he was sacked after a drive to the Carolina 29-yard line.
Tampa Bay missed a chance to cut into the lead late in the first half, but Aguayo's 46-yard field goal attempt missed wide left.
Carolina attempted a 58-yard field goal by Gano, who missed short, and receiver Adam Humphries fielded the kick and returned it 76 yards to the Carolina 33, falling short of a rare NFL kick-six.
"We just didn't play well enough to win," Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. "At the end of the day, they ended up making more plays than us. They came away with one more point than we did."
NOTES: The Buccaneers played without former Pro Bowl RB Doug Martin, who began serving a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy. ... Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. ... Carolina played without LB Luke Kuechly, who missed a sixth game with concussion symptoms.
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