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Bucs beat Panthers 41-17, earn No. 2 playoff seeding in NFC

Once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of their own business, the defending Super Bowl champions permitted themselves to become scoreboard watchers.

Sunday’s 41-17 rout of the Carolina Panthers set a franchise record for regular-season victories, and the win — coupled with the Rams losing to the 49ers in overtime — also gave the Bucs (13-4) the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC.

Tampa Bay will host Philadelphia in the wild-card round next week. Earning the No. 2 seed ensures a second home game in two weeks if the Bucs beat the Eagles.

Tom Brady’s not looking ahead, though.

“It just felt good to win today. Whatever happened with other teams, you can’t ever control any of those things. Even for the next game. … you’re worrying about two games from now. I’m not worried about two games from now, I’m worried about one game from now, which is the Eagles,” Brady said.

“I don’t care if the Rams would’ve won … that’s alright, we’ve still got the Eagles and that’s going to be the biggest game of our season,” Brady added.

“If we win, whoever we play, wherever we play, we’re still going, and that’s what we want to do.” Brady topped 5,000 yards passing for the second time in his career, joining Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard seasons.

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“We had to do what we had to do,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had seven receptions for 137 yards.

“That’s what really matters,” Gronkowski added. “We did what we had to do, and the rest took care of itself.”

Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns before taking the last half of the fourth quarter off, finishing with a career-best 5,316 yards passing and a Bucs single-season record 43 TD passes for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Mike Evans caught two of Brady’s TD passes, giving him a club-record 14 scoring receptions this year.

He also became the first player in NFL history to start a career with eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving.

Tampa Bay broke the club record for victories in a regular season set in 2002, when the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl for the first time.

Carolina (5-12) finished on a seven-game losing streak that leaves coach Matt Rhule’s future in question. The Panthers are 10-23 in two seasons under the former Temple and Baylor coach, who signed a seven-year contract to move to the NFL in 2020.

The Panthers wasted a chance to go up by double digits, turning the ball over on downs at the Tampa Bay 1 before the Brady turned the game around with an eight-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half.

Completions of 37 yards to Evans, 19 yards to Gronkowski and 24 yards to Breshad Perriman helped Brady move into position to give his team a 10-7 halftime lead with a 1-yard TD pass to Le’Veon Bell.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter built the lead to 17-7. Evans caught TD passes of 3 and 20 yards, and receiver Scotty Miller scored on a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter for the Bucs.

Darnold completed 29 of 42 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Panthers, who fell to 0-4 against Tampa Bay under Rhule and have been outscored 150-63 by their NFC South rival in those matches.

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Russell Henley shoots lowest round in 2 years to lead Wyndham Championship

Russell Henley shot an 8-under 62, his lowest round in more than two years, to take the lead Thursday in the suspended first round of the Wyndham Championship.

Henley birdied three of his last four holes for a 2-stroke lead over Sung Kang, Ted Potter Jr., Chris Kirk, Hudson Swafford, Scott Piercy and Michael Thompson in the PGA Tour’s final regular-season event. Adam Hadwin also was 6 under but had two holes left when darkness ended play.

A storm halted play for 2 hours, 7 minutes, with 22 players unable to finish.

Past champion Webb Simpson and Kevin Kisner led a group of 10 another stroke behind at 65 at Sedgefield Country Club, where many competitors are scrambling to make it into top 125 to advance to the playoffs that start next week at the Northern Trust.

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Henley, at No. 46 in the standings, had no worries about the postseason but came out fast with a bogey-free round in chasing his first PGA Tour triumph in four years.

He moved in front with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th before closing with birdies on 17 and 18, the last with a 20-foot putt. He had with his lowest round on the tour since a career-low 61 at the John Deere Classic in 2019.

Henley has played some solid golf of late.

He was tied for the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open in June, then had two straight top-20 finishes before missing the cut at the British Open. He returned this week, hoping he can carry his strong play to the end.

“I haven’t won in years, so I feel like as well as I’ve been playing, I feel like I’ve underachieved a little bit,” he said.

“My mindset,” Henley continued, “is I feel if I can play my game, play my normal game, then I can maybe give myself a chance, and that’s kind of where I’m at.”

There are several big names competing to keep their season’s alive. Adam Scott, who started at No. 121, and Matt Kuchar, at No. 124, both had strong starts at 66.

“I would like to play well this week and get a chance to play next week and keep getting my game into place,” Scott said.

Rickie Fowler, who came in at 130th and needing a good week, didn’t help himself with a 71. Justin Rose, the Payne Stewart Award winner this week, has to finish in the top 10 to advance after coming in 138th. He opened with a 66, tied for 19th.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama was at 69, tied for 89th.

Olympic medalists Rory Sabbatini and C.T. Pan also are playing after the Tokyo Games. Sabbatini, who took silver for Slovakia behind U.S. gold medal winner Xander Schauffele, started with a 66.

Pan, from Taiwan, won a seven-man playoff for the bronze. He shot a 68.Louis Oosthuizen, the only top-10 player in the FedEx standings entered, withdrew due to a neck injury.

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