Winston throws late TD pass, Buccaneers beat Saints 31-24

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston threw for 363 yards, including a 39-yard scoring pass to Chris Godwin with nine seconds remaining, to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snap a five-game losing streak with a 31-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The playoff-bound Saints (11-5) entered the day hoping to clinch their first NFC South championship in six years. They wound up winning the title anyway, with Carolina (11-5) losing its regular season finale at Atlanta.

Trailing 24-23 with 1:58 remaining, Winston moved the Bucs (5-11) 95 yards in 11 plays for the winning TD.

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He converted a fourth-and-10 from his own 5 yard line with a 12-yard completion to Cameron Brate and threw 9 yards to Mike Evans on third-and-1 to keep the drive going at the Tampa Bay 35.

The fourth-year pro, who was intercepted three times, found Godwin racing up the right sideline just ahead of Saints cornerback Ken Crawley to put the Bucs ahead for good.

Alvin Kamara scored on a 106-yard kickoff return and had a second touchdown rushing for the Saints, who took a 24-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter when Zach Line caught a 3-yard TD pass from Drew Brees.

Patrick Murray, whose missed an extra point in the second quarter was the difference on the scoreboard when Winston launched the winning drive, made a 42-yard field goal to help the Bucs pull within 24-23 with four minutes left.

Kamara, who’s teamed with Mark Ingram to give New Orleans the only tandem in NFL history 1,500-plus scrimmage yards and more than 10 TDs in the same season, wiped out an early 7-0 deficit with his kickoff return.

The rookie’s 7-yard TD run on the Saints’ first offensive possession made it 14-7.

The touchdowns were the 13th and 14th of the season for Kamara, who has eight rushing and five receiving in addition to the second 100 yard-plus kickoff return for a TD allowed by Tampa Bay in two weeks.

Winston led a pair of 75-yard scoring drives in the opening half, but was also intercepted twice before halftime.

Brees turned one of the mistakes into the Saints’ first touchdown, throwing 43 yards to Michael Thomas to set up Kamara’s TD run that finished a 65-yard drive. The New Orleans finished 22 of 30 for 245 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Godwin has seven receptions for 111 yards. Adam Humphries had seven catches for 102 yards.

INJURIES

Saints: None reported during the game.

Buccaneers: S T.J. Ward left with a knee injury and did not play in the second half. … T Caleb Benenoch injured an ankle during the first half but returned. He limped off for good a sore knee in the second half.

UP NEXT

Saints: First playoff appearance since 2013.

Buccaneers: Coach Dirk Koetter, who’s 13-18, was told before the finale that he will return for a third season.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Panthers clinch playoff spot with 22-19 win over Bucs

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining to lift the Carolina Panthers to a 22-19 win over the upset-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers (11-4) trailed most of the second half, but Newton drove the Panthers 59 yards completing 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards in the final 3 minutes before scoring on a what could have been a disastrous play. Newton fumbled the snap from the shotgun, alertly picked it up and then raced across the goal line for the go-ahead score.

Newton celebrated the score by using the football as a prop, pretending to light a candle on a cake in celebration of his son Chosen’s 2nd birthday.

Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay.

The Panthers sealed the game when Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston on Tampa Bay’s final drive, and forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered. Winston threw for 367 yards and a touchdown but was sacked six times and fumbled three times. The Bucs are 4-11.

The Panthers offense struggled all day.

Newton threw for just 160 yards and ran for 52 yards on 14 carries. Carolina’s only touchdown in the first three quarters came on a 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd.

Tampa Bay’s defense set the tone early, limiting the Panthers to just 78 yards in the first half – the fewest in an opening half since Newton took over as Carolina’s starting QB in 2012.

SLOW START: The Panthers finished the first quarter with 7 yards of offense – their fewest yards in a 1st quarter since gaining 5 total yards in a 38-17 loss to the Packers in Week 7, 2014.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Danielle Kalil, the sister of Panthers offensive linemen Ryan and Matt Kalil, sang the national anthem. The crowd gave her a huge ovation and she was greeted by hugs from her brothers as she walked off the field.

UP NEXT

Buccaneers: Host Saints next Sunday.

Panthers: Visit Falcons next Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Freeman runs for 126 yards, Falcons hold off Bucs 24-21

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Devonta Freeman rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown to help the Atlanta Falcons stay close in the tight NFC South race with a 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

Freeman scored on a 32-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, restoring a 10-point lead for the Falcons (9-5), who then barely hung on to win for the fifth time in six games and remain one game behind New Orleans and Carolina in the division standings.

Freeman also caught five passes for a team-high 68 yards and had a first-half fumble recovered in the end zone by teammate Levine Toilolo for a touchdown. Matt Ryan threw an early TD pass to Justin Hardy and finished 17 of 31 passing for 212 yards and no interceptions.

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Jameis Winston threw for 299 yards and three TDs for the Bucs (4-10), including a 16-yarder to Adam Humphries that trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 24-21 with 3:51 remaining.

Winston, who also threw TD passes of 30 yards to O.J. Howard and 42 yards to Mike Evans, got the ball back with a minute left and nearly sent the game into overtime.

The third-year pro completed three straight passes to move the ball from his 29 to the Atlanta 36. Patrick Murray came on to try a 54-yard field goal to tie it, but the kick sailed wide right as time expired.

The Falcons play at New Orleans next Sunday, then close the regular season at home against Carolina – the two teams they’re chasing in the division race.

The Bucs have lost nine of 11 following a 2-1 start, taking a step back after finishing 9-7 a year ago in their first season under coach Dirk Koetter.

RING OF HONOR

Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who’s spent the past nine seasons as ESPN’s game analyst on Monday Night Football, was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium during a halftime ceremony.

Gruden was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft pick and $8 million before leading the 2002 Bucs to the club’s only Super Bowl championship in his first season in Tampa Bay.

Gruden was fired after the 2008 season and moved into the broadcast booth the following season. The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and don’t have a postseason win since their Super Bowl run 15 years ago.

The coach’s sons – Deuce, Mike and Jayson – led the Bucs out of the tunnel before the game as the team’s honorary flag runners.

Gruden is the 11th member of the Ring of Honor, joining Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, as well as Doug Williams, John Lynch, John McKay, Mike Alstott, Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber and Malcom Glazer.

INJURIES

Falcons: RB Tevin Coleman (concussion) and G Andy Levire (triceps) did not play.

Buccaneers: Played without their top two players, DT Gerald McCoy (biceps) and LB Lavonte David (hamstring), who were inactive. … Howard (ankle) limped off the field after being hit near the goal line on his TD and did not return. … G J.R. Sweezy suffered what was described as a lower body injury in the second quarter and did not return. The second half took a heavy toll, too, with LB Adarius Glanton being carted off with a leg injury, S T.J. Ward evaluated for a concussion, and S Justin Evans and WR DeSean Jackson lost to ankle injuries.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Travel to New Orleans to face division-leading Saints on Sunday.

Buccaneers: Play final road game of season at Carolina.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL.