The defense continued to look strong as they stopped Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey to less than 33% of the offensive output he produced in Week 1. On top of that, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense looked improved from their own opening performance which directly led to the team’s 0-1 start.
This time, the Bucs came out with the win. And here are some of the most important moments that got them there.
SETTING THE MOOD
The Carolina Panthers defense forced Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers offense to punt after four plays to open the game.
Then, after getting their own offense onto the field, Cam Newton and company gained three first downs with their first five plays of their first possession. On the final first down of the possession, Christian McCaffrey gained six-yards, giving his team a very manageable 2nd-and-4 situation with the ball on the 50.
Let’s just say, things weren’t going well for the Bucs defense right away. Then, after the six-yard gain by McCaffrey, Tampa Bay rookie inside linebacker Devin White came out of the tackle with a left knee injury.
But then an unusual thing happened. In years past, a drive starting this way surely meant the opposing offense was going to cruise into the end zone for a touchdown and take an early seven point lead.
Not this year though. Instead, the Buccaneers defense not only rallied, but they absolutely stonewalled the Panthers offense. First, William Gholston came through with a tackle of McCaffrey behind the line of scrimmage. Then, on 3rd-and-7, Carlton Davis stopped Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright dead in his tracks not allowing him to gain even an inch more of forward progress and bringing up fourth down.
In typical Ron Rivera fashion, the Panthers went for the conversion, and on 4th-and-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Jordan Whitehead brought Newton down short of the first-down marker.
It was a mood setter. Outside of the three first downs surrendered on that opening drive, the Buccaneers defense averaged fewer than two first downs surrendered per drive for the rest of the game. Playing a big role in forcing the Panthers to settle for four field goals while scoring zero touchdowns.
Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III had a great training camp and preseason leading into the regular season.
Then, he kicked off his own 2019 campaign with a pick-six in Week 1 for the only touchdown scored in the first half of the first game of the year.
Things have been looking up. Nobody is perfect however, and on the Panthers’ second-drive of the game, Hargreaves got caught with his eyes in the backfield and his back to the receiver which resulted in Carolina wide receiver Curtis Samuel getting free and clear behind the fourth-year defender.
However, Newton misjudged the throw and forced Samuel to give up momentum and ground on Hargreaves to make the catch. At one point, Samuel had a good six or more feet on the cornerback and has the speed to gain even more separation if the ball is thrown out in front of him.
Instead, the ball was underthrown and Samuel was forced to completely turn back towards the Panthers’ line of scrimmage to make the catch. This allowed Hargreaves to recover enough that he actually made a play on the ball as it came into Samuel’s body.
Carolina got 44-yards on the play, but could have had another 31-yards to the end zone had the pass been thrown to the correct spot.
Seven plays later, Carolina was forced into a field goal for their first points of the night. It was a missed opportunity for the Panthers to take an early lead. Instead, they settled for tying the game after gaining just seventeen more yards after the big play got them into scoring position.
CAN’T MAN MIKE
Mike Evans is known for his ability to win one-on-one match-ups, and this ability has made him a nightmare for defenses since arriving to the NFL from Texas A&M.
Carolina double-covered Evans for much of the night, as they should, but on one occasion with the home team up three they gambled and allowed cornerback James Bradberry to cover the Bucs’ star receiver one-on-one.
This proved to be a bad decision, as Evans got a clean outside release and forced Bradberry back towards the inside of the field giving Winston enough room to drop the deep pass perfectly into the far left portion of the field.
The result was a 41-yard completion to the Carolina 31-yard line, nearly matching the exact result Newton and Samuel had achieved earlier in the game.
While the Panthers wasted their own big play and settled for a field goal, the Buccaneers capitalized on theirs and four plays later Winston found wide receiver Chris Godwin in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game, and a late first-half lead.
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE
Lebron James once famously speculated he’d win not one, not two, not three...….you remember.
Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett didn’t go as far as predicting championships or anything, but he specifically came to Tampa Bay for the opportunity to play more than he was allowed to with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in Denver.
Not only did he play, but he got to Newton not once, not twice, but three times. All coming in the third quarter, and all but killing any hopes the Carolina Panthers offense was going to come out of the locker room with much more fire than the offense had displayed in the first half.
Standing up after giving up big plays is not what Bucs fans have come to expect from their defense, but two weeks in things look a little different.
Barrett’s first sack came just one play after the unit gave up a 33-yard completion to Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. Three plays after the sack, Carolina punted the ball with Tampa Bay’s third quarter lead intact.
His second and third sacks came on consecutive plays closely following another big completion to Olsen, this time for 41-yards. The sacks led to fourth down and another Panthers field goal.
The kick gave Carolina the lead (12-10), but it was another opportunity squandered for the Panthers while the Buccaneers defense continued to refuse admission into the end zone on their end of the field.
A touchdown by Peyton Barber regained the lead for Tampa Bay with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter. Some back-and-forth football coupled with a missed Matt Gay field goal and a safety for the Panthers made the game 17-14 Tampa Bay as the division rivals entered the final act of their Week 2 contest.
For the Bucs, their first possession of the quarter ended in a punt which was returned 21-yards by Chris Hogan to midfield. Great starting field position for a team trying to tie the game or take the lead.
Tampa Bay’s defense hadn’t made anything easy on Carolina up to that point, and had no plans to start doing so then.
With under 12 minutes left in the game, and after burning the first of their three second-half timeouts, the Panthers came out with a confident play call there were sure would get them the one yard they needed on fourth down to keep their drive alive.
As Newton dropped back to scan the field looking for an open receiver, he was met by linebacker Shaquil Barrett once again. Barreling down on the Carolina quarterback for what he was surely hoping would be his fourth sack of the game, Barrett rushed in towards the quarterback and lowered his shoulder into Newton’s midsection just as he started his throwing motion.
Barrett recognized this and in the heat of the moment, on one of the most crucial downs of the night, the off-season free-agent acquisition made the best play of his night pulling up and preventing himself from taking Newton to the ground. Had he gone through with his tackle, it would’ve been a bang-bang play which could have resulted in a penalty and a new set of downs for the Carolina Panthers.
Instead, the ball sailed harmlessly into the Charlotte night, and two Panthers possessions later Hargreaves snuffed out Carolina’s last hope of coming away without their second consecutive home loss to start the 2019 NFL season.