The Buccaneers certainly haven’t been strangers to adversity in the last week-plus, that’s for sure. They were absolutely dominated by the Saints last Sunday night en route to losing their NFC South lead, and things haven’t gotten much better since.
Tampa Bay sorely missed Ali Marpet (concussion protocol) in last week’s loss and looked to be on the right track in terms of getting him back this week, but he was ruled out on Saturday. That meant starting A.Q. Shipley at center and sliding Ryan Jensen to guard for the first time this season. Along with that news, the team also announced that it was placing wide receiver Jaydon Mickens, as well as practice squad receiver Cyril Grayson, on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. And just to make things even worse, the team’s flight to Charlotte for Sunday’s game was delayed seven-plus hours due to a mechanical issue, meaning an 11:27 p.m. arrival the night before a 1:00 p.m. game. That’s not the ideal situation to be in when you badly need a bounce-back win ahead of games against the Rams and Chiefs.
The Panthers, for their part, have dealt with some issues of their own this season. Last week, they got All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey back for the first time since Week 2, but he ended up injured again and was ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Bucs. Add that to the fact that they had lost four straight coming into Week 10 and were sitting at the bottom of the division, and that gives you the recipe for a matchup of two weary teams badly in need of victories.
The Bucs, despite all of their issues, came into this game as 6.5-point road favorites, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 64.5% chance of winning. Of course, they beat the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium back in Week 2, so they entered Sunday with a chance at picking up a season sweep of Carolina for the first time since 2016.
The Bucs got out to somewhat of a slow start in this game, especially on defense. Carolina quickly took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter and Tampa Bay was fortunate to tie things up at 17-17 before halftime. But in the second half, we saw the Bucs of a few weeks ago. The offense clicked and the defense stood tall, leading to a 46-23 victory to get the team to 7-3. The big second half also meant that the season sweep of the Panthers was officially completed.
The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to defer, which gave Todd Bowles’ defense a chance to set the tone early after a disastrous performance a week ago. Bradley Pinion’s opening kickoff went for a touchback, meaning a start at the 25-yard line for Teddy Bridgewater and the Carolina offense.
Bridgewater opened the game with two short completions, bringing up a 3rd & 5. He completed his third straight pass on third down, but it was well short of the sticks thanks to a tackle by Lavonte David. The three-and-out was a huge start for Tampa Bay’s defense, as it gave the offense a chance to strike first. Antonio Brown was back to receive the punt, but he didn’t get a chance to return it. He called for a fair catch at the Bucs’ 24-yard line, so Tom Brady and the offense began their day from there.
A short run by Ronald Jones II on the first play of the drive led to an injury timeout for a Carolina defender, and after the break, Brady completed a pass to Jones, who had the ball punched out. The Panthers recovered at the Tampa Bay 33, making for a bad start for the Buccaneer offense.
With great field position, the Panthers gambled despite gaining just seven yards on the first three plays of their drive. That decision by Matt Rhule paid off, with Bridgewater finding Robby Anderson for a gain of nine on 4th & 3. Runs of four and six yards by Mike Davis and Curtis Samuel, respectively, set up a 1st & Goal from the 7-yard line. On the next play, Bridgewater connected with former Tampa Bay Viper Colin Thompson for a touchdown. Joey Slye’s PAT made it 7-0 early, all because of a turnover by the offense on its own half of the field.
The Bucs started their next offensive drive with a big play, as Brady found Chris Godwin for a gain of 23 to get the ball near midfield. After an incompletion deep to Brown, Tampa Bay went back to Jones, who picked up eight yards to set up a 3rd & 2. On that third down, Brady and Mike Evans teamed up for a beautiful throw and catch that gained 19 to the Carolina 25. A short run by Jones and then an incompletion intended for the running back forced a 3rd & 7, which Brady converted with a 14-yard pass to Godwin. It was a heck of a throw into a tight window, and Godwin made a nice adjustment to make the catch and get the ball down to the 8.
A run for no gain by Jones and a short catch by Leonard Fournette brought up another third down. The Bucs converted again, with Brady finding Cameron Brate for a five-yard touchdown. The receiving score was the 29th of Brate’s career, which helped him surpass Joey Galloway for fourth-most in franchise history. And with the PAT, the game was knotted at 7-7.
The Panthers started their next drive with Bridgewater’s eighth straight completion and a first-down run by Davis before a ninth consecutive completion went for 38 yards to D.J. Moore. Carlton Davis was injured on the play for Tampa Bay, adding to its continued defensive woes. With Davis sidelined, Ross Cockrell entered the game and got blown up by a blocker on the next play, which helped Carolina find the end zone again. A 24-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Moore put the Panthers up 14-7 with 1:45 left in the first quarter.
Moore life— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 15, 2020
We want Moore pic.twitter.com/RMJIzpFJPd
A couple of catches for Brown with a Jones seven-yard run mixed in got the Bucs down to their 44, and they faced a 3rd & 1 from there as the first quarter came to an end with Carolina up 14-7.
To start the second quarter, Jones powered forward for three yards and a first down at the 47. Fournette got more involved after that, gaining one yard on first down before an eight-yard catch on second brought up 3rd & 1 at the Carolina 44. He picked up the conversion as well, taking a pitch 14 yards to the 30 for another first down. After another four-yard run, Brady connected with Brate for a first down and got a roughing the passer call added on to it. That put Tampa Bay inside the 10, but the offense stalled there. A two-yard run by Fournette and a two-yard catch by Brown preceded a third-down incompletion on a ball intended for Evans. That led to a 23-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, who brought the game within 14-10 five minutes into the second quarter.
On the Panthers’ next drive, Carlton Davis returned to the game for Tampa Bay, which was a huge development. Bridgewater continued his perfect start with passes to Ian Thomas and Anderson, getting to 12-of-12 on the day. A couple of plays later, Kevin Minter burst through untouched and sacked Bridgewater. But instead of getting the benefit of a big play, Minter was questionably called for roughing the passer. The Tampa Bay defense did stand tall after that, though, with Bridgewater finally throwing his first incompletion of the game. The Panthers still got points out of the drive, with Slye connecting on a 46-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-10 with just under four minutes left in the first half.
The Bucs came dangerously close to going three-and-out on their next drive, but a 15-yard pass from Brady to Godwin on 3rd & 11 extended the drive as the clock ticked under three minutes in the second quarter. A couple of plays later, Brady and Brown linked up for a 16-yard gain to Carolina’s 45-yard line. Brown got a carry on the next play, but was dropped for a loss as the two-minute warning hit.
After the timeout, the Bucs struck for a big play. Brady threw deep for Rob Gronkowski, who got away from Jeremy Chinn and picked up 44 yards to the 4-yard line. Two plays later, Brady and Evans linked up for a touchdown. Evans made a fantastic catch to bring the Bucs within one, then Succop delivered on the PAT to tie the game at 17 with 27 seconds to go before halftime.
Without much time to work with and the Bucs set to get the ball back at the start of the second half, the Panthers went deep on the first play of their next drive. Bridgewater initially looked to connect with Moore for 42 yards, which would’ve been enough to be in field goal range. Plus, Mike Edwards was called for delay of game after being slow to get up while on top of Moore. However, a timeout by the Bucs forced a booth review of the catch and the officials got it right, overturning it to rule it an incomplete pass. That also negated the penalty on Edwards, so no damage was done. The game went to halftime with the score tied at 17.
The Bucs started the second half strong, with a few six-yard gains and a 31-yard catch and run by Godwin that was helped by a nice Evans block. A defensive holding call on the next play gave Tampa Bay another five yards, then Jones broke free for an 11-yard gain to the Carolina 7. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the drive stopped there. Brady missed Evans twice and then unsuccessfully tried to scramble. That led to a 24-yard field goal by Succop, which gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the day.
The Panthers continued to move pretty well on the Buccaneer defense on their first possession of the second half, but yet another third down miss—thanks to strong coverage by Davis—forced a punt. It was a big stop for the Tampa Bay defense, as it got the ball back to Brady with a chance to extend the lead. However, a Joseph Charlton punt was downed at the Bucs’ 2, giving them a long field to work with.
That long field proved to be no issue at all for the Bucs. In particular, it wasn’t anything to Ronald Jones and the Buccaneer offensive line. On the first play of the drive, Jones broke through the line and went 98 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest run and longest offensive play in franchise history. The Bucs’ PAT was blocked, but they still had all the momentum and a 26-17 lead.
Tampa Bay continued its third-quarter domination on the very next play from scrimmage, with Jason Pierre-Paul intercepting Bridgewater to get the ball back to Brady and the offense.
The Bucs got backed up to a 3rd & 19 on their next offensive drive, but a 19-yard pass from Brady to Brate got a first down to the Panthers’ 23. A couple of plays later, Brady found Evans for a gain of 22 yards to the 4. Unfortunately, it led to another goal-to-go miss. But a 21-yard field goal by Succop extended the lead to 29-17 with 3:10 left in the third.
We extend our lead to 29-17 pic.twitter.com/AVegWRAJkO— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) November 15, 2020
The Buccaneer defense continued to step up on the next series, forcing a 4th & 5 and a desperation fake punt attempt by the Panthers. It didn’t go anywhere, though, giving the ball back to Brady and the offense at the Carolina 35.
Tampa Bay almost failed to take advantage of the solid field position, with a six-yard pass to Godwin on 3rd & 9 falling short of the sticks as the third quarter came to an end with the Bucs on top 29-17.
On heading into the fourth. pic.twitter.com/iRiSvmmiW8— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) November 15, 2020
The Bucs faced a 4th & 3 to begin the fourth quarter and they elected to go for it. That paid off with a 14-yard pass from Brady to Evans, but the end zone eluded them once again. Instead, Succop came out to connect on a 40-yard field goal to extend the lead to 32-17.
The FG extends our lead 15 points pic.twitter.com/niitvA0hC2— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) November 15, 2020
The Panthers regained some momentum on the ensuing kickoff to keep the game from getting too far away from them. Trenton Cannon found space and came up with a 98-yard kick return to Tampa Bay’s 4-yard line, which set up an eventual three-yard touchdown run by Bridgewater. The two-point conversion attempt by Carolina failed, keeping it a two-score game. Nonetheless, the Panthers were still in it thanks to Cannon’s massive return.
When it’s your time, give 'em something to watch pic.twitter.com/uCquzAaBYS— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 15, 2020
Tampa Bay started its next drive—which needed to at least eat some clock—with runs of four and five yards from Jones. On 3rd & 1, Brady found Brown near the sideline for eight yards and a first down. A quick three-yard pass to Godwin and a four-yard run by Jones set up another third down, which Brady converted again with a 25-yard pass to Brown. Jones ran for another 12 yards on the next play to pick up a first down at the Panthers’ 14. Next came yet another first down, with Brady finding Evans for a gain of 13 yards to the 1. There was no failure inside the 10-yard line this time for Tampa Bay, with Brady sneaking it up the middle for a touchdown to extend the lead to 39-23 with 6:18 to go.
Carolina’s next drive went nowhere and ultimately ended about as bad as it could have. Pierre-Paul sacked Bridgewater on third down and the signal-caller had to leave the game, giving way to P.J. Walker. On 4th & 9, Walker completed a pass to Alex Armah, but Lavonte David dropped him for a loss of five. That gave the ball back to the Buccaneer offense at Carolina’s 21 with under five minutes to go.
A couple of six-yard runs by Jones got Tampa Bay to another 1st & Goal, causing the Panthers to burn through their timeouts. On 2nd & Goal from the 7, Brady faked to Jones and threw to a wide-open Gronkowski for six. With Succop’s PAT, the Bucs had a 46-23 lead with 4:24 left in the game.
Walker stayed in the game for Carolina on its next drive, connecting with Moore for a gain of 17 on the first play before back-to-back incompletions and a Shaquil Barrett sack. That led to a Panthers punt, which Brown called for a fair catch. He was tackled anyway, leading to a personal foul call and an extra bit of yardage. Blaine Gabbert entered the game from there, with 2:56 standing between the Bucs and a 7-3 start.
Jones kept running hard on his next two carries, pushing his total for the day to 192 yards. His first-down run brought us to the two-minute warning, with the ball at midfield. After the break, Gabbert took a few knees to finish things off, with Tampa Bay coming out on top, 46-23.
Quick Notes & Stats
- Teddy Bridgewater started the game with 13 consecutive completions, helping the Panthers get out to a 14-7 lead early on. He finished the first half 14-of-17 for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
- Tom Brady was just as good, if not better, than Bridgewater in the first half. The GOAT completed 16 of his 21 passes for 181 yards and two scores, connecting with eight different receivers in opening two quarters.
- The Bucs outgained the Panthers 222-152 in the first half, but the game remained tied at 17 after two quarters thanks in part to one Tampa Bay turnover to Carolina’s zero.
- A massive second half for the Buccaneer offense and a strong finish for the defense led to a more significant yardage gap, with the visitors outgaining the Panthers 543-187.
- Brady finished the game 28-of-39 for 341 yards and four total touchdowns.
- Ronald Jones II had a career day, thanks in large part to his 98-yard touchdown run (which was the longest offensive play in franchise history). The third-year back ran for 192 yards on 23 carries, rebounding nicely after losing an early fumble.
- Chris Godwin (six catches, 92 yards), Mike Evans (six catches, 77 yards and a touchdown), Antonio Brown (seven catches, 69 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (two catches, 51 yards and a touchdown) all had impressive days.
- The offensive line, even without Ali Marpet, played well. The unit’s run blocking was obviously fantastic, plus it allowed just one sack on the day.
- Shaquil Barrett totaled two tackles for loss and a sack in the game, while Jason Pierre-Paul came up with a sack, two quarterback hits and an interception.
- Ryan Succop was 4-of-4 on field goals and made four extra points in the game.
- Third downs were a huge part of the game, with Tampa Bay going 10-of-16 while Carolina finished 1-of-9. As a result, the Bucs ran 77 plays to the Panthers’ 47. Time of possession also favored the visitors—obviously—with the Bucs holding the ball for 36:05 of the game’s 60 minutes.
- The Bucs continued to get better in terms of discipline, getting flagged just three times for 30 yards.
- Tampa Bay scored on its final nine possessions of the game and didn’t punt once.
- The Bucs outscored the Panthers 29-6 in the second half.