TAMPA, Fla. -- — Mike Evans sprinted between two defenders into the open, snagged a pass approaching midfield, and took off for the end zone.
Tampa Bay's career receiving leader scored on a 75-yard pass play and later joined Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history to string together 10 consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus yards receiving while helping the Buccaneers beat the struggling Carolina Panthers 21-18 on Sunday.
“I don't know how much more you can say. He's been like this for 10 years now — 60 catches 10 years in a row, 1,000 yards 10 years in a row,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said.
“You know he's getting the ball. Everybody's trying to stop him and he makes plays over and over,” Bowles added. “It's a credit to him, his work ethic and the way he approaches the game.”
Evans finished with seven receptions for 162 yards, increasing his season totals to 61 catches for 1,012 yards and 10 touchdowns. Rice set the league record of 11 straight seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving from 1986 through 1996.
“Happy we got the win most importantly,” the 10th-year pro said. “I've had a lot of great quarterbacks and offensive coordinators that believed in me, so I really appreciate them. Hopefully I can keep that streak going for however long my career goes.”
The Bucs (5-7) won for only the second time in the past eight games, climbing into a tie for second place in the weak NFC South. Carolina (1-11) scored late to pull within a field goal, but No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young threw an interception with just over two minutes remaining, ending any chance of coming from behind to win the Panthers' debut under interim coach Chris Tabor.
“I love those guys. ... I feel for them," Tabor said. “Losing stinks and it's hard and it's frustrating. But at the same time, you can handle things two ways, and that's what we talked about. You can either handle it with character or you can handle it with compromise. So which is it going to be? I like our guys. We'll just keep working.”
Rachaad White scored an early touchdown and receiver Chris Godwin scored on a 19-yard run early in the fourth quarter, expanding Tampa Bay's lead to 21-10. Chuba Hubbard rushed 104 yards and two TDs for Carolina, and Young's 2-point conversion run trimmed Tampa Bay's lead to 21-18 with 5:02 left.
Despite losing six of seven games following a 3-1 start, the Bucs began the day trailing Atlanta and New Orleans by one game in the NFC South. The Falcons (6-6) beat the New York Jets to remain on top of the division, while the Saints (5-7) lost to the Detroit Lions to fall into a tie for second place with the Bucs.
The Panthers fired Frank Reich last Monday, 11 games into the coach's first season leading the Panthers. Tabor was promoted to interim coach and said he encouraged players to “play loose, not reckless” and have fun moving forward.
It was the second time in a little more than a year that Carolina faced Tampa Bay shortly after the in-season firing of a coach. Matt Rhule was dismissed in October 2022, two weeks before the Panthers knocked off Tom Brady and the visiting Bucs 21-3.
Evans had 10 catches for 207 yards that previous time the division rivals met in Tampa. He had a 40-yard reception to set up White's 1-yard TD run in the first quarter, then turned Baker Mayfield's throw into the long TD that put the Bucs ahead for good — one play after the first of Hubbard's two TD runs put the Panthers ahead 10-7 late in the third quarter.
“We needed that,” said Mayfield, who completed 14 of 29 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown and an interception. “We needed a little spark, and he was the guy to bring it to us. Nobody is better than him.”
Young completed 15 of 31 passes for 178 yards and an interception, Antoine Winfield Jr.'s pick that ended the comeback bid. The rookie was sacked four times.
“Of course, no one's happy with how things have gone. We're all competitors, but ultimately we play for each other,” Young said.
“Each game is huge for us. We are of that mindset,” Young added. “So, I can't lie and say it's not frustrating. But ultimately what permeates the locker room is the desire to want to be better, desire to want to grow and play for each other.”
Panthers LB Brian Burns was ejected in the third quarter when he appeared to throw a punch in a scrum that ensued after Evans' touchdown.
“Emotions got the best of me. One of their offensive linemen said something he shouldn't say," Burns said. "Initially it wasn't even my fight. I got pushed, turned around and reacted. I take full accountability for my actions.”
Buccaneers: Three defensive starters — LBs Lavonte David (groin) and Devin White (foot) and CB Jamel Dean (ankle/foot) were inactive. LB SirVocea Dennis, who started in David's absence the previous week, also sat after being listed on the injury report as doubtful because of an illness. ... LB K.J. Britt (back) left in the first quarter and did not return.
Panthers: Travel to New Orleans to face the Saints.
Buccaneers: Continue a stretch in which they're playing four of five on the road, visiting Atlanta with first place in the division on the line.
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