The Panthers, coming off of a 34-30 home loss to the Raiders last week, arrived in Tampa looking far different than they did the last time the Bucs saw them (which was actually in London last October). Former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule is now leading the way for Carolina, and he brought former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady along with him as a key part of his staff. The offense now features a new quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who joins a talented core led by Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore. As evidenced by their 30-point output in Week 1, the Panthers have plenty to work with on offense. But on defense, there’s plenty of work to do, especially with Luke Kuechly and James Bradberry gone.
Tampa Bay entered Sunday looking to take advantage of Carolina’s unproven defense, and with Tom Brady and co. unhappy with what went down in New Orleans last week, there was plenty of reason to believe that they could do so. Sunday marked the beginning of a run of games that should favor Bruce Arians’ team, Chris Godwin (concussion protocol) was unable to suit up. The Bucs were 8.5-point favorites, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 72.5% chance to win.
The game ended up being a tale of two halves for Tampa Bay. It got out to a 21-0 halftime lead, with the offense clicking and the defense firing on all cylinders. But the second half was more of a struggle, with the Panthers coming back within 21-14 early in the fourth quarter. It was just 24-17 late, but a long touchdown run by Leondard Fournette sealed the deal for Tampa Bay’s first victory of the year.
The Panthers won the coin toss and elected to defer, so Brady and the boys got to take the game’s first snap. After a touchback, the drive got started at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line. On the first play, Brady went through his progressions and ended up finding—who else?—Scotty Miller for a gain of six near the sideline. But after no gain on second down by Ronald Jones II and an incompletion on 3rd & 4, the Bucs had to punt. A 40-yarder by Bradley Pinion set Carolina up for its first drive at the 29.
Bridgewater and the Panther offense started fast, with the 27-year-old finding Moore for a six-yard gain and McCaffrey running up the middle for nine. Two plays later, Bridgewater withstood a Devin White blitz to find McCaffrey for 10 yards and another first down across midfield, then Bridgewater hung in again under pressure to hit Moore for 19 yards to the Tampa Bay 22. But just when the drive was humming, Bridgewater sailed a screen pass right into the arms of Jordan Whitehead. The Bucs defense had its first turnover of the season and a big stop after the Panthers had started to gain some momentum.
Starting from their own 22, the Bucs went to Jones on first down, and he picked up four to bring up a 2nd & 6. After an incompletion, Brady found LeSean McCoy on third down for a first down to the 33. The two linked up again on the next two plays, with the second going for 16 yards only to be called back due to an illegal block in the back call on Ryan Jensen. Tampa Bay overcame the penalty, however, with Brady and Mike Evans connecting for a gain of 50 yards down to the Carolina 21.
The Bucs soon forced a 3rd & 9, and Brady threw to McCoy again. He came up a few yards short, but a late hit on rookie defensive lineman Derrick Brown gave the offense new life. On the next play, Jones found the end zone from seven yards out. Ryan Succop’s PAT was good, giving Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead with 5:42 left in the first quarter. First cannon fire of the season at Ray Jay, courtesy of RoJo.
The Buccaneer defense kept the momentum on the home sideline, and it didn’t take long to do so. Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. got to Bridgewater, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jason Pierre-Paul.
Tampa's defense has already forced two turnovers in two drives.— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) September 20, 2020
This one was all Antoine Winfield Jr.
Watch the rookie safety come screaming off the edge on the blitz, keeps working, punches it out. Lot of praise for Winfield Jr. early on. pic.twitter.com/viCXzbKZwV
On the very next play, Brady connected with Evans for a 23-yard touchdown. Another Succop PAT made it 14-0, with all 14 points coming off of turnovers. After Carolina started the game with a nice drive, Tampa Bay found a way to swing things in its favor in a major way.
From the very first play of the Panthers’ next drive, you could tell the Tampa Bay defense was feeling it. Carlton Davis picked up a tackle for loss and then after a first down, the Bucs kept swarming. Winfield pressured Bridgewater into an incompletion and Ndamukong Suh picked up his first sack of the year before McCaffrey was stopped on third down and long to force a punt.
Tampa Bay started its next drive by trying to get Leonard Fournette involved. A two-yard run and a two-yard catch by the team’s newest running back brought up 3rd & 6, but not before the end of the first quarter.
The Bucs converted on that 3rd & 6 to open the second quarter, with Brady finding McCoy for a first down. Fournette picked up a combined nine yards on his next two carries, then Brady and Evans hooked up again for another first down. After Fournette and Miller combined to run for five yards on the next two plays, Evans came up with yet another first-down catch. A couple of plays later, Brady finally found someone that wasn’t Evans or Miller, throwing to Justin Watson for a 12-yard gain to the Carolina 38. The promising drive ended there, however, with a bad exchange on the handoff between Brady and Jones leading to a fumble.
And the defense recovered the fumble!— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 20, 2020
: FOX pic.twitter.com/eSuaiIt08g
Going from their own 41, the Panthers continued to run into a wall. Vita Vea came up with a tackle of McCaffrey in the backfield before Shaquil Barrett came up with a nice stop after a short gain on second down. On 3rd & 9, Bridgwater hit Robby Anderson for a 13-yard gain to Tampa Bay’s 44. Todd Bowles’ defense prevailed from there, forcing a 4th & 2. Despite being at the 36-yard line, Carolina lined up to punt. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a fake. The Bucs didn’t blink, with Whitehead stopping Jeremy Chinn at the line.
A couple of plays into the next drive, Tampa Bay ran a flea flicker (!!!). Fournette took the handoff and pitched it back to Brady, who threw somewhat of a duck to Watson for a gain of 36.
A couple of plays later, Brady converted a 3rd & 6 with a 12-yard pass to Fournette. Then, from the one-yard line, Fournette punched it in for his first touchdown as a Buc. Succop’s extra point attempt made it 21-0 with 3:01 to go in the first half. And Bucs fans everywhere had to be thinking “this is more like it.”
The Panthers picked up a quick first down on their next drive, but before their second-down play, the Bucs called a timeout with 2:05 left in the half. That made it clear that Tampa Bay was looking to get the ball back one more time before heading to the locker room. And the defense set itself up for the stop, bringing Carolina to 3rd & 2. And after the two-minute warning, a false start backed it up to 3rd & 7 before Winfield came up big again, stopping McCaffrey short of the marker to bring up another punt.
Starting from their own 20 with no timeouts and 1:45 left, Brady and the offense looked to move quickly. Brady found O.J. Howard for 11 yards, but with Donovan Smith getting shaken up, a 10-second runoff hurt. McCoy then lost five and dropped a pass before a short pass to Jones brought up a Tampa Bay punt.
A 47-yard punt by Pinion set the Panthers up at their own 24 with 40 seconds to go before halftime. With a chance to double up, Carolina went to the air. An incompletion and a Pierre-Paul sack ended the drive, though, bringing us to halftime with the Bucs leading 21-0.
The start to the second half was wild, to say the least. Whitehead set the tone strong for Tampa Bay with a tackle for loss, while Lavonte David followed up with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. It took a video review for it to be called, but they ultimately got it right.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the ball went right back to Carolina. Brady threw high and the ball was intercepted by Donte Jackson. The long return to the Tampa Bay 47 set the Panthers up with great field position.
And that’s what it took for the offense to get going. McCaffrey, Moore and Samuel were key on the drive before a pass interference call on Davis in the end zone gave Carolina first down at the goal line. From there, McCaffrey punched it in to finally get the Panthers on the board. With the PAT, they had cut the Bucs’ lead down to 21-7.
The Bucs started their next drive at the 25, giving the ball to Jones on the first play for a nice gain of six. Jones didn’t get much on his next carry, but pass interference on Jackson gave Tampa Bay 23 yards and a first down on the next play. Facing 3rd & 11 a couple of plays later, an incomplete pass looked to end the drive, but a hands to the face penalty on Brown, the rookie out of Auburn, gave the Bucs another first down. The breaks ended there, though, with a holding call and a bad drop leading to a punt.
A block in the back call on Carolina was added on to the end of the punt, backing Bridgewater and the offense up to their own 7. Tampa Bay forced a 3rd & 6 at the 11, but Bridgewater converted with a 10-yard pass to Samuel. A couple of plays later, Anderson made a catch near the sideline that was originally ruled a catch, then called incomplete. Anderson juggled it, which made incomplete seem like the right call. But the Panthers challenged and won, giving the drive new life. A 30-yard pass to Moore and a couple of nice runs from McCaffrey and Samuel had Carolina threatening in the red zone when we reached the end of the third quarter.
The Panthers’ drive looked to have stalled in the red zone to begin the fourth quarter, with Barrett pressuring Bridgewater into an incompletion on 3rd & 2. But with the ball at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line in a 14-point game, Carolina kind of had to go for it. But before the snap, Matt Rhule called a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Panthers made it a one-score game. McCaffrey scored from seven yards out, with the PAT making it a 21-14 game early in the fourth quarter. The touchdown capped off a 13-play, 93-yard drive that lasted 6:19.
Can’t take it easy, he don’t know how— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 20, 2020
: FOX pic.twitter.com/xSitO9RU8h
With a crucial drive starting at the 25, Brady dumped the ball off to Jones for a short gain on first down before Rob Gronkowski drew a defensive pass interference call down the seam. That got the ball to the 37, but the offense continued to struggle from there. A five-yard pass to Miller was all it could muster, leading to yet another punt.
From their own 9, the Panthers immediately put pressure on the Bucs. Bridgewater found Anderson for a gain of 39, continuing the run of momentum for the visitors. William Gholston looked to stop the momentum there, picking up a sack on the very next play. The defense officially turned the tide from there, with a Davis picking off Bridgewater on a pass intended for Moore. First down, Tampa Bay at its own 40.
The Bucs got the offense going on the ensuing possession, with an 8-yard completion to Evans preceding a 25-yard run by Fournette. Two more Fournette runs resulted in another first down, with Tampa Bay entering the red zone. The Bucs kept going to No. 28, but with less success. Facing 3rd & 8 at the 15, Brady had McCoy in the end zone, but the veteran running back ended up with yet another drop on the day. Nonetheless, Tampa Bay was able to make it a two-possession game with 6:13 left thanks to a 33-yard field goal by Succop.
The kick is GOOD from 33 yards out— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 20, 2020
We're up 24-14 with 6:13 left. pic.twitter.com/sqD1QnRUt1
Of course, the Panthers weren’t going to go quietly. Two big gains in their first two plays of the next drive got them into Buccaneer territory as the clock ticked under five minutes. With McCaffrey sidelined and questionable to return, passes to Mike Davis, Moore and Anderson got Carolina inside the 10 with just under three minutes left. An intentional grounding call on Bridgewater backed things up to 2nd & Goal at the 19, but a slant to Anderson got 12 yards back, bringing up 3rd & Goal at the 7. A check-down brought up fourth down, leading to the two-minute warning. After the stoppage, Joey Slye nailed a 23-yard field goal to make it 24-17 with 1:57 to go.
Carolina attempted an onside kick, but none other than Rob Gronkowski recovered it on the hands team. Needing to burn some clock, the Bucs went ahead and scored on the very first play of their drive, with Fournette taking it 46 yards for a touchdown. Succop’s PAT made it 31-17 with 1:48 to go.
The Panthers picked up some garbage time yards on their next drive, although Suh picked up his second sack of the day with just over a minute left. There was no coming back from that Fournette touchdown run for Carolina, which meant a 31-17 home victory for the Bucs, bringing their 2020 record to 1-1.
Quick Notes & Stats
- Tampa Bay outgained Carolina 230-109 in the first half, but by the end, it was the visitors outgaining the home team, 427-339.
- The Bucs had just two penalties for 15 yards in the first half and finished the day with only five for 37 yards. It was a massive improvement from last week’s fiasco.
- Tom Brady was impressive in the first 30 minutes, completing 17 of his 23 pass attempts for 198 yards and a touchdown. He was less impressive in the second half, and he finished the game 22-of-35 for 217 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
- Mike Evans was much more involved this week, catching seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, leading all Tampa Bay receivers.
- With a big fourth quarter, Leonard Fournette finished the day with 103 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Ronald Jones II went for just 23 yards on seven carries, though he picked up his first touchdown of the season.
- Tampa Bay’s defense continued to look impressive early, shutting Carolina out in the first half thanks to three sacks and two turnovers. Antoine Winfield Jr., Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul each picked up a sack. William Gholston later added a sack in the second half before Suh grabbed another. The defense allowed plenty of yards in the second half, but giving up just 17 points on the day shouldn’t earn many complaints.
- Devin White was the Bucs’ leading tackler, totaling 15 (11 solo), with one going for a loss.
- Antoine Winfield Jr. was one of the defense’s stars, as he picked up 11 tackles (eight solo), a sack and a forced fumble.
- Jordan Whitehead was a big contributor for the Bucs as well, picking up his first interception of the year in addition to a tackle for loss.
- Ryan Succop was perfect on the day, nailing four extra points and a 33-yard field goal.