Lavonte David returned from injury, but Tampa Bay was left short-handed in the secondary. Brent Grimes, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart were all inactive, essentially leaving the defense to its fifth, sixth and seventh corners. The Panthers won the coin toss, but decided not to test that banged-up secondary early by deferring to the second half.
The Bucs took advantage of receiving the opening kickoff by scoring on their opening possession. Jameis Winston ran for 26 yards, hit Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin on some intermediate passes and Peyton Barber picked up some solid yardage, resulting in an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that lasted 5:14. Winston finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Humphries, which tied him with Josh Freeman for the most touchdown passes in franchise history.
Winston & Humphries strike first! Bucs +7 pic.twitter.com/hvcATAMspH— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
Tampa Bay kept the momentum going when its defense took the field. Cam Newton was stopped for just a two-yard gain on the first play before Kevin Minter dropped him with a sack to force a third down and long. Newton’s first passing attempt of the day was then tipped and intercepted by Andrew Adams.
Andrew Adams: "This is mine" ...probably. pic.twitter.com/YZwLAvFQe5— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
Starting from the Panthers’ 20-yard line, the Bucs were unable to move the ball. Three plays resulted in just three yards, which brought on Cairo Santos for a 35-yard field goal that extended the early lead to 10-0.
The Carolina offense responded quickly, getting a first down on a pass interference call before Christian McCaffrey took off for a 53-yard run to the Tampa Bay eight-yard line. On the next play, he caught a touchdown from Newton to cut the Panthers’ deficit to 10-7.
Christian McCaffrey is having an amazing season. Some Marshall Faulk stuff pic.twitter.com/68zFtWehUL— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 2, 2018
The two teams traded stops before Tampa Bay got itself in scoring position again. A 48-yard pass on a slant from Winston to Godwin highlighted the drive, but it ended in disappointment as Peyton Barber fumbled at the goal line. Upon review, it looked as if he broke the plane for a touchdown, but the ruling on the field of a fumble was shockingly confirmed.
After Carolina did nothing with its turnover, Tampa Bay was stopped again due to Winston being sacked on back-to-back plays. As the half neared its end, the Panthers saw a promising drive end in another turnover. This time, it was Javien Elliott intercepting Newton before taking off for a 50-yard return.
Javien Elliott after seeing Andrew Adams earlier: "THIS one is mine" ...probably. pic.twitter.com/MbdUtKfTjQ— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
A short while later, Winston found Godwin for a 13-yard touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 17-7 lead with 13 seconds left in the half. That touchdown pass was the 81st of Winston’s career, which is a new franchise record.
Jameis finds Godwin in the back of the end zone for 6! pic.twitter.com/46rYY8qZzq— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
After halftime, the Panthers quickly closed the gap. A couple of big plays offset a Ryan Smith pass breakup and a Vinny Curry sack, but Carolina had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Graham Gano to cut the deficit to 17-10.
The Bucs responded right away, with help from a 52-yard pass interference penalty on Donte Jackson. On the next play, Barber scored from one yard out to extend the lead to 24-10 halfway through the third quarter.
Peyton putting points on the board! Bucs ⬆ 14 pic.twitter.com/XEeKjebjIb— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
After a Carolina miscue on the ensuing kickoff, the Tampa Bay defense had a chance to really put the pressure on. However, the Panthers started clicking. Newton led a 10-play, 92-yard scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess.
Tampa Bay’s offense stalled on its next possession, which gave Carolina a shot to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. After moving the ball well, Newton threw his third interception of the day, getting picked by Andrew Adams for the second time. Gerald McCoy put heavy pressure on Newton to force the pick.
Andrew Adams is a greedy man. pic.twitter.com/rcuLguoAlR— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
The turnover set the Bucs up at their 29. They picked up a first down, but had to punt a few plays later. Josh Shaw almost had a remarkable special teams play to pin the Panthers deep in their own territory, but he just missed it. Going from their own 20, Carolina quickly crossed midfield. Newton got the offense all the way down to the 32, but Adams was there again for his third interception of the day (Tampa Bay’s fourth overall). Just like he was on Adams’ second pick, McCoy was in Newton’s face as he threw.
ANDREW ADAMS IS VERY HUNGRY AND VERY VERY GREEDY. pic.twitter.com/CvBq2DHYl7— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 2, 2018
But once again, the Bucs didn’t do anything with the turnover. Newton and the Panthers got the ball back with just over four minutes left. After Ryan Smith nearly came up with Tampa Bay’s fifth interception of the day, Jason Pierre-Paul came up with a sack to set up a fourth down and long. Following a timeout, Newton overthrew Funchess, giving the ball back to the Bucs.
From there, the Bucs drained the clock down to just over one minute before having to punt. Anger got a tough bounce, setting the Panthers up at the 26. Newton came up with a few quick completions, but his receivers failed to get out of bounds on two of them. On one last chance, Newton threw incomplete on a deep ball. However, a Tampa Bay flag gave one more shot. Due to an injury, Taylor Heinicke had to relieve Newton. His pass fell incomplete, leading to Tampa Bay’s second straight victory.
- Jameis Winston finished the first half 12-of-16 for 160 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterback rating in the first 30 minutes was 145.8. Overall, he finished 20-of-30 for 249 yards and the two scores. He played another clean game, finishing without a turnover. He added 48 yards on the ground.
- Chris Godwin caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. It was his third career 100-yard receiving game.
- Andrew Adams became the fourth player in franchise history to intercept three passes in one game. He is the first to do it for Tampa Bay since Aqib Talib did it in 2009.
- Lavonte David led the team in tackles with 12 (10 solo), had one sack and a pass defended.
- David, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and Kevin Minter all tallied sacks.
- The Bucs were outgained 444-315, but only had one turnover to Carolina’s four.
- The Panthers were flagged seven times for 104 yards. The Bucs got hit with 69 penalty yards on nine flags.