For about the fifth time this season, it was a tale of two halves for the Bucs.
They lost another tough on the road this week, this time to the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay is now 3-5 on the season with a (1-2) record in division play and a (2-3) record in conference play.
The defense couldn’t stop anyone in the first half and left the offense in a giant hole before finally putting together a respectable second half. But by then it was too little, too late.
A play fake on first down saw Ryan Fitzpatrick attempting a deep pass to Mike Evans on the left sideline. Great defense by James Bradberry denied Evans the reception, which led to a three-and-out on the first offensive drive of the game.
Just like last week against the Bengals, the Bucs held Carolina to a three-and-out on their first possession. Great coverage from the secondary forced Newton to go down just two yards shy of the first down.
Tampa Bay fans everywhere threw up in their mouths a bit on the next drive as they watched a Fitzpatrick pass inaccurately sail over Evans’ head and land comfortably in the chest of Panthers’ safety Eric Reid.
Eric Reid getting the first INT of the day pic.twitter.com/SwHMqnQdTs— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 4, 2018
Reid took the ball all the way down to the Bucs’ 10-yard line. The 39-yard return had the Panthers in business.
The Bucs’ defense made a great stop on Newton on a first-down option run, but a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty by Devonte Bond gave the Panthers a fresh new set of downs and the ball at the 4.
A couple of plays later, Alex Armah punched it in from a yard out to give the Panthers the first touchdown of the game, 7-0.
Tampa Bay found themselves in trouble again early after an illegal shift penalty put them in a 3rd-and-10 at their own 20. A great move by Jacquizz Rodgers on Luke Kuechly (I know, right?) allowed Rodgers to get the first down on a big run.
But Fitzpatrick almost made his second big mistake of the game after Bradberry almost jumped a slant pass to Evans. The ball fell lifelessly to the ground and it was time for another punt.
The Panthers began the next drive at their own 12, but that didn’t mean much. Back-to-back 32 yard plays had them inside the Bucs’ 10-yard line within moments. Carlton Davis looked like a rookie on both plays, getting hurdled by Christian McCafferey and then whiffing on D.J. Moore as he raced down the sideline off an end-around.
McCafferey finished off the drive with a three yard touchdown and the Panthers now led, 14-0.
Tampa Bay’s first three plays on the next drive resulted in 35 yards and three first downs. A roughing the passer call on defensive tackle Vernon Bulter gave the Bucs 15 more yards as they drove closer toward the end zone.
Fitzpatrick found Adam Humphries on 3rd-and-2 for a six yard gain and then found O.J. Howard in the flat - with a guy in his face - for the Bucs’ first touchdown of the game.
Chandler Catanzaro hit the extra point and Carolina’s lead was reduced, 14-7.
Any momentum the Bucs built up was just wiped from the face of the earth, however, as Curtis Samuel ran through the entire defense off a double reverse en route to a 33-yard touchdown run.
It was absolutely insane. Just check out the video below.
Tampa Bay needed an answer, but they couldn’t provide one on the next drive. Pressure up the middle forced Fitzpatrick to scramble out of the pocket into the waiting arms of Mario Addison. Two plays later, Donte Jackson came off the edge on a corner blitz and the end result was another Addison sack that forced another Buccaneers punt.
Jordan Whitehead missed a major opportunity to force McCafferey out of bounds on a first down run and the result was another 30+ yard run that put the Panthers in a goal-to-go situation. The Bucs attempted to challenge due to the fact that it looked like McCafferey stepped out of bounds on his own, but the ruling was upheld.
Carolina was forced into a 3rd-and-goal from inside the one and a great second effort from McCafferey pushed the lead all the way to 28-7.
The last thing Tampa Bay needed on their next drive was a three-and-out, but that’s exactly what they got as Evans dropped a pass on the sideline that would’ve resulted in a first down.
The Panthers could smell the desperation and it proved to be quite pungent. The Bucs attempted a fake punt in their own territory - a pretty baffling call - just to watch the Panthers sniff it out and shut it down.
An incredible throw and catch from Newton to Funchess for 23 yards put Carolina right back at the Bucs’ one-yard line.
But a couple of bad penalties, including an intentional ground call left the Panthers with goal-to-go at the 17-yard line.
Fortunately for the Panthers, they have a pretty good tight end named Greg Olsen. He was able to reel in a touchdown pass with one hand to put the Bucs further in their grave and extend the lead, 35-7.
Raining touchdowns in the Carolinas‼️‼️‼️ pic.twitter.com/RZ8Ce5pRei— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 4, 2018
The Bucs finally put together a good drive right before halftime. Fitzpatrick led the team on an 11-play, 75-yard drive and capped it off with another touchdown to Howard. The Panthers lead was cut to 35-14, but it was their turn to receive the ball after the half.
Carolina scored a touchdown on five straight drives and averaged 9.1 yards per play in the first half. They nearly tripled the Bucs’ rushing effort (136-51) and threw for more yards as well (127-94).
The defense came out and did their job, holding the Panthers to a three-and-out. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David combined on a sack that halted the drive. Now, it was time for the offense to come out and play some complimentary football.
They couldn’t get it done and Bryan Anger had to come out and attempt his fourth punt of the game.
But Carl Nassib came through and blew up Olsen for the defense’s second sack in as many series, leaving the Panthers in a 3rd-and-19. The Bucs were able to get another stop and give the ball back to the offense.
This time, the offense came through with a big drive that ended with a Humphries touchdown reception and cut the lead to two scores, 35-21.
A defensive pass interference call on rookie Donte Jackson helped move the Bucs inside the 10-yard line. Tampa Bay took advantage and all of a sudden, they were back in the game.
Carolina had some success early on, but Newton was stopped short on a 3rd-and-4 run in Buccaneer territory. The Panthers attempted to challenge the original spot of the ball, but it was upheld.
A huge illegal motion penalty turned a 4th-and-1 into a 4th-and-6, but that didn’t matter to Carolina - they were going to go for it regardless of the situation.
Newton found Funchess over the middle, but Davis was able to wrestle him down short of the first down marker. It was a hell of a play from Davis, who had definitely struggled at points throughout the game.
Fitzpatrick was reacquainted with Addison on the first play of the drive. He came crashing off the edge and was able to force a strip-sack that was fortunately recovered by Ryan Jensen.
Another big contribution from a rookie - this time Chris Godwin - came on 3rd-and-16. Fitzpatrick found him wide-open down the right sideline for a 25-yard gain. Fitz then hit Howard on a beautiful back-shoulder fade for a 31-yard gain.
The Bucs were back in business.
The train kept on-a rolling as Fitzpatrick and Humphries connected on a slant pattern. Humphries turned on the jets, making move after move all the way to the end zone.
It was arguably the best play of the day and one that usually coincides with a comeback.
After being down four scores, Tampa Bay was just down one touchdown - 35-28 - with a red-hot defense ready to take the field.
Carolina was put in an early 3rd-and-2 on the next drive, but this time they relied on their bread and butter in McCafferey. He was able to find room over the middle on a 20-yard reception that took Carolina down to the Bucs’ 47.
They were able to march into the red zone, but back-to-back penalties put them in a 1st-and-24 hole back at the Tampa Bay 28. The Bucs’ defense just couldn’t hold any more and Newton hit an open Samuel in the middle of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown that put the Bucs back down by 14.
Curtis got UP for that one pic.twitter.com/rSkR8nR8I4— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 4, 2018
Did Fitzpatrick have it him to bring the team back from the 42-28 deficit?
It would be a tall order, but if there is any offense in this league capable of scoring two touchdowns with just a little over nine minutes to play, this is the one.
The Bucs were able to get into Panther territory relatively easily, but a big false start on Caleb Benenoch put the team in a tough 3rd-and-12. Fitzpatrick was nearly sacked, but managed to find Rodgers and dump it off to him for an eight yard loss.
With just under five minutes to play, the Panthers needed just a couple of first downs to ice the victory.
The defense held strong with another three-and-out, but Fitzpatrick was intercepted on his first pass of the next drive. He tried to sail one to DeSean Jackson down the left sideline, but Donte Jackson came away with the ball instead.
A big run by Newton pretty much sealed the deal and Tampa Bay heads home with another loss on the season.