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Final Grades: Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Bucs come up with their biggest win of the season since Week 1

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jason Pierre-Paul added another pelt to his collection on Sunday.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

BOOM! Fire the cannons!

The Bucs beat their arch rival in the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday and man, was it sweet. Not only did they win, but they led for the entire game after building a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

Tampa Bay made enough plays for the remainder of the game to finish with a 24-17 victory. Not only did it snap a three-game losing streak, but it was one of Jameis Winston’s best performances against a team that usually gets the best of him.

That will surely help in this week’s grades, won’t it?

Offense

Let’s go ahead and talk about Winston.

Coming into this last week, Winston was 2-4 against Carolina. His stats during those six games reflect the poor record. He completed an average of 62% of his passes for 268 yards, but held a TD:INT mark of 5/9. The Bucs gave up an average of three sacks per game and were outscored by an average of 24-17.

How ironic is that they won 24-17?

But anyway, Winston had another turnover-free game and made great decisions with the ball for the second week in a row. He was great from the pocket once again, taking sacks when needed and running any chance he had.

It’s evident that he is using his legs more this year and it’s been more than effective. To put it into full context, he only carried the ball 33 times last season. This year, he already has 36 carries through just five and a half games.

This does nothing but help as the season goes on. It will force defenses to hesitate on sending extra blitzers and it will keep Winston from making those deadly mistakes he has been known for over his career.

Outside of the offensive line, who gave up four sacks on the day, the rest of the offense played pretty well. Adam Humphries recorded his fifth touchdown in as many games and the team finished just five yards shy of another 100-yard performance.

They went 6/13 on third down and were 66% in goal-to-go situations.

There were still issues with penalties (9/69) and the Bucs finished with only 18 first downs. After scoring on four of their first seven possessions, they punted the ball away four times in the fourth quarter.

And there was also the Peyton Barber “fumble”, but everyone with a set of eyes knows that was a BS call.

Overall Grade: 2.75 (C+)

Defense

Hot damn. Now that was Tampa Bay football.

Four turnovers. Four sacks. A huge fourth down stop in the fourth quarter.

Is this 2002?

In all seriousness, while the defense did give up a ton of yards (444), they also made a ton of impact plays that changed the outcome of this game.

Christian McCaffrey ran wild, but that was to be expected. That’s not an excuse, that’s just reality.

But considering how many players this team had out due to injury, it’s quite remarkable how effective the unit was against Cam Newton and co.

The Bucs were down Vernon Hargreaves, Brent Grimes, Carlton Davis, M.J. Stewart, and Chris Conte in the secondary coming into the game before Justin Evans reaggravated his toe injury and had to leave the game.

Andrew Adams and Javien Elliott - a free agent and a practice squad player earlier in the season - picked Newton off a combined four times between the two. Mike Minter came in with a big sack on the first drive of the game. He was signed just three weeks ago.

Tampa Bay held Carolina to just 3/8 on third down and as aforementioned, stopped them on a crucial 4th-and-9 late in the fourth quarter.

The team still had trouble with big plays, allowing five plays of 20+ yards. They also disappeared in the third quarter, giving up 10 points and 148 yards on 19 plays.

Considering what they were up against, it was a remarkable effort and one that should be treated as such.

Final Grade: 3.5 (B+)

Special Teams

I used to dread giving out this grade. Now, it’s one of my favorite topics to write about.

It only took the latter part of the decade, but Tampa Bay has finally found a kicker. Cairo Santos was perfect again, knocking down all of his extra points and the lone field goal attempt.

He still had some trouble getting the ball into the end zone on kickoffs (3/5), but the Bucs’ unit covered the two returns well, allowing an average of 17.5 yards per return.

Anger finished with a net of 40 yards on six punts. In all, it was another good day for the unit.

Final Grade: 4.0 (A)

Coaching

This was easily defensive coordinator Mark Duffner’s best game of the season. The fact that the Bucs were able to come up with so many plays using so few players was remarkable and he deserves every bit of credit he can get.

The offense, while it could’ve done more, did enough. A lot of what they were or weren’t able to do had to with injuries as well. But overall, Todd Monken and Dirk Koetter had a very effective game plan, taking advantage of the Panthers in the short-to-intermediate game.

It’s also encouraging to see the players still playing despite what this season has been so far. The staff deserves some praise for that.

Final Grade: 3.5 (B+)

Overall Grade: 3.43 (B+)

Considering the circumstances, it would be very fair to call this the biggest win of the season. A bad record, a plethora of injuries, turmoil, and a quarterback carousel is a deadly combination in the NFL. Teams can - and usually - mail it in after going through all of that for this long in a season.

But that wasn’t the case Sunday and now the Bucs still have life in the playoff race.

Overall Grade For The Season: 2.15 (C)