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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers Recap: Bucs Hold Off Panthers, 20-14

The Bucs’ first win of the season is a big one.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never easy to win on the road in the NFL. Especially when you play on Thursday night.

But the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to pull off a major win on Thursday night with a 20-14 win over the Carolina Panthers. Led by a ferocious defense, the Bucs were able to muster just enough offense and overcome some major mistakes to win the game.

The Bucs’ offense was able to get off to a good start, thanks to a 22-yard reception from Chris Godwin, but they couldn’t get anything done after that and had to punt the ball away.

Fortunately, McCloud muffed the punt and the Panthers took over at their own 10, leaving the Bucs’ defense with excellent field position.

But the Panthers were able to move the ball thanks to some good plays from Christian McCaffrey. They were able to get into Tampa Bay territory, but the Bucs’ defense made a huge stop on a 4th-and-1 at their own 47-yard line and gave the ball back to the offense. Carolina attempted a run with Cam Newton, but an excellent tackle by Jordan Whitehead stopped him before he reached the first-down marker.

Carolina threw a challenge flag on the play, but it was upheld.

Immediately after the review, the field was vacated due to lightning strikes in the area. Play resumed after the 27-minute delay and the Bucs got off to another quick start with another 22-yard reception from Godwin. The drive stalled after Winston missed Mike Evans on third down in the end zone, but Matt Gay drilled a 40-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead with 5:36 left in the first quarter.

Newton was able to find a streaking Curtis Samuel down the left sideline for a 44-yard gain to start the Panthers’ next drive. The pass took the Panthers all the way down to Tampa Bay’s 31, but the Bucs were able to force a field goal attempt after a 3rd-and-8 pass to Greg Olsen sailed out of bounds. Joey Slye nailed the 32-yard attempt to tie the game, 3-3 with 2:52 left in the first quarter.

A key penalty on the Bucs for having 12 men in the huddle stalled the next drive. They would’ve been faced with a 3rd-and-1, but instead faced a 3rd-and-6 after the penalty. Cameron Brate made a diving attempt to reach the first down, but came up about a yard short.

Consecutive penalties on Taylor Moton left the Panthers with a 3rd-and-19 on their next drive. The Bucs were able to force them to punt and would’ve had great field position thanks to a great Bobo Wilson return, but it was called back after Jamel Dean was called for a block-in-the-back. Instead of starting deep in Carolina territory, the Bucs were left with 1st-and-10 from their own 22 with 12:32 left in the first half.

Both Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith committed false starts on the next drive and the end result was a Brian Burns sack on 3rd-and-14.

McCloud finally came through with a good punt return. He was able to take Bradley Pinion’s 61-yard punt back 37 yards and the Panthers now had a 1st-and-10 at the Bucs’ 42.

The drive got off to an ominous start after Olsen picked up 16 yards on an out pattern, but Tampa Bay’s defense held through and forced a 37-yard field goal attempt. Slye knocked it through, breaking the tie to give the Panthers a 6-3 lead with 8:26 left in the first half.

Penalties continued to haunt the Bucs on their next drive. This time, it was an OPI call on O.J. Howard that left the Bucs in yet another 3rd-and-14. Tampa Bay couldn’t overcome the penalty and had to punt the ball away, again. It would be their fourth punt of the first half.

At least Pinion came to play. He nailed the punt and stuck the Panthers at their own 7-yard line. Could Tampa Bay’s defense come through with a big play?

There were no big plays, but there was a big stop. The Bucs allowed just one first down and forced the Panthers to punt from their own 20.

From his own 28, Winston unloaded a perfectly-thrown deep ball to Evans for a 41-yard completion deep into Carolina territory. It was the Bucs’ third play of the game that went for more than 20 yards. All of a sudden, the Bucs were in business.

Brate converted a 3rd-and-5 that set up a beautiful 20-yard strike to Godwin in the end zone. Gay hit the PAT and the Bucs led, 10-6 with 1:20 left in the first half. The scoring drive lasted 5 plays, 72 yards and took 2:27 off the clock.

The Panthers were able to move the ball into Tampa Bay territory thanks to a great throw-and-catch from Newton to D.J. Moore, but the defense was able to hold and force a 54-yard field goal from the Panthers.

The kick was good, but the Bucs were able to keep the lead at 10-9 heading into halftime. Tampa Bay finished the first half with 171 total offensive yards after finishing the first quarter with just 64 total yards. Winston was excellent, completing 11/14 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. If the Bucs could get their running game going (just 25 yards in the first half), then they could really start to make life hell for the Panthers.

The Panthers received the ball to start the second half and didn’t waste any time on offense. The drive started with a 33-yard completion to Olsen, but Shaq Barrett came through with his second sack of the season on the next play, which forced the Panthers back into their own territory. Before they knew it, the Panthers were faced with a 3rd-and-15 that they couldn’t convert.

But Tampa Bay couldn’t capitalize thanks to another false start, this time it was on Howard. The penalty was just enough to screw the Bucs, leaving them with a punting situation inside of their own 10.

A holding call on the Panthers’ return team messed up a good opportunity for good field position. Instead, they had to settle for 1st-and-10 at their own 38.

Newton and Olsen connected for the fifth time of the game a couple of plays later. This time, it was a 41-yard reception that took the ball down to the Tampa Bay 21. Consecutive sacks by Barrett (for a total of three sacks so far) pushed the Panthers all the way back to their own 34, but Slye banged the 51-yard field goal attempt off the right upright to give the Panthers a 12-10 lead with 7:51 left in the third quarter.

It was gut-check time for the Bucs. They started their next drive at their own 25, but were able to get midfield quickly due to a 24-yard reception from Godwin. Winston avoided disaster on the next play as Luke Kuechly dropped a sure interception, but it would’ve been negated anyway as Gerald McCoy was called for unnecessary roughness on Ryan Jensen. That penalty would end up becoming the catalyst for Barber’s 16-yard touchdown run that put the Bucs up, 17-12 with 4:20 left in the third.

For a second, it looked like Kevin Minter would come up with an interception on third down, but a defensive holding call on Carlton Davis negated the pick and gave the Panthers a fresh set of downs at their own 41.

Anthony Nelson was able to come through with the biggest play of his young career just a couple plays later as he forced the ball out of Newton’s hands, allowing Ndamukong Suh to recover the ball at the Panther 45.

The Bucs were given a perfect opportunity to go up two scores on their division rival. Could they pull it off?

Things were looking good after a 10-yard reception from Evans took the Bucs down to the Panther 21, but Breshad Perriman let one go right through his hands in the end zone and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal.

Gay would miss the 42-yard attempt, rekindling old memories of past Bucs’ kickers, and the Panthers took over at their own 32 with 15:00 left in the game.

Todd Bowles’ defense held strong and forced the Panthers to punt. Winston and the offense now had another shot to go up by two possessions and possibly put this game away.

It wouldn’t be easy, however, as Michael Palardy buried the Bucs at their own 3. The situation automatically worsened shortly after the play when Barber was stopped in his own end zone for a safety. The Bucs’ lead was cut to 17-14 and Chris Hogan returned the subsequent punt to the Panther 46.

Newton and co. now had great field position with 13:21 left in the game. It’d be up to the Bucs’ defense to come up with another big drop.

That nearly happened as Whitehead dropped a potential interception on 1st-and-10, but Barrett committed a boneheaded offside penalty on the next play that gave the Panthers a 2nd-and-5.

The Bucs were able to stop McCaffrey on a 3rd-and-1 for a loss, but it wasn’t enough to deter the Panthers from going for it on 4th-and-1. More pressure from Barrett forced Newton to unload one before he was ready, and the end result was an incompletion. The Bucs would take over at their own 45 with 11:39 to go.

Jermaine Carter Jr. and Mario Addison came crashing through the line on first down and sacked Winston for a loss of about eight yards, forcing the Bucs into a 3rd-and-16. Winston bit the dust again in the backfield and the Bucs were forced to punt the ball away.

Tampa Bay’s defense was able to return the favor and the Panthers punted the ball away on the next drive. Barber was able to lead the offense to midfield and a clutch catch-and-throw from Winston to Godwin for 14 yards on 3rd-and-8 put the Bucs at the Panther 32 with 6:17 left in the game.

Barber continued to pound the rock, but it could only last so long before the Bucs ran out of steam at the Panther 14. Gay drilled the 31-yard attempt to put the Bucs up 20-14 with 2:26 left to go.

The defense had played lights out all game long. Now, it needed just one more stop. It would be up to them to stop a Panthers offense starting at its own 25. They also had two timeouts remaining in their back pocket.

Things did not start out in Tampa Bay’s favor. Newton found a wide-open Samuel for a 24-yard gain on the first play of the drive, pushing Carolina up to their own 49. The Bucs were able to force the Panthers into a 3rd-and-4, but Moore came up with a clutch catch across the middle for a first down right before the two-minute warning.

Davis was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty on Moore soon after, giving the Panthers the ball at the Bucs’ 11. Moore was able to haul in an 8-yard reception on 3rd-and-10, leaving the Panthers with a 4th-and-2 from the Bucs’ 3-yard line.

This would easily be considered the biggest play of the game. Bruce Arians and his staff needed just one more stop from the defense.

But the Bucs made it harder on themselves after they called consecutive timeouts to cut it from a 4th-and-2 from the 3-yard line to a 4th-and-1 from the 2-yard line.

The Panthers lined up with McCaffrey in the backfield and Newton on the wing for the final attempt to at least tie the game. McCaffrey took the snap and tried to beat the Bucs to the outside, but sound defense saved the day again and the Bucs stopped him short of the first down marker.

The Bucs would go on to kneel out the clock and win a nail-biter, 20-14. They move to 1-1 on the season and will host the New York Giants at home on September 22. Kickoff is set for 1PM EST.