What looked like a developing shootout in the first half Saturday at Bank of America Field turned into a one-sided fight, as the Carolina Panthers scored 28 straight second-half points en route to a 48-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The first half featured two very sharp quarterbacks, no punts and a total of seven scores on eight combined possessions. However, the Buccaneers committed three of their four turnovers after the intermission and Carolina turned them into 21 points and a runaway win. That gave the Panthers, who did not commit a single turnover, a season-sweep of the intra-divisional series after their 38-19 win in Tampa in Week 13.
However, Cam Newton, the Panthers’ prolific rookie quarterback, had another big day against the Buccaneers, throwing for 171 yards and three touchdowns and adding a 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. In two games against the Bucs, Newton accounted for a total of eight touchdowns, four each on the ground and through the air. In the process, he set NFL single-season records for passing yards by a rookie and touchdown runs by a quarterback of any variety.
The Buccaneers fell into a quick hole after RB
Unfortunately, things got out of hand quickly in the second half, as the tipped-pass interception by S Jonathan Nelson and fumbles by
While Freeman ended up with significantly more passing yards than Newton, he did not have anywhere near the ground support his rookie counterpart enjoyed. Carolina ran 31 times for 270 yards, with three different players – Newton and primary backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams – all racking up at least 65 yards on the ground. Stewart was the lead back, with 88 yards on just seven carries, but Williams punched the ball in for the Panthers with touchdown runs of eight and 22 yards. Stewart did find the end zone in the third quarter on an 11-yard catch on fourth-and-one that made the game 34-10.
Blount didn’t return to the game until the third quarter after his early fumble and finished with just two carries for 11 yards. Carolina finished with an overall yardage edge of 433 to the Bucs’ 317. Tampa Bay’s defense did manage to keep WR Steve Smith contained for the second straight game, as he caught just one pass for nine yards, and indeed Newton rarely tried to get the ball downfield. The one exception came just two plays after Benn’s touchdown catch had made it 10-7 in the second quarter. With Carolina backed up inside its own 10, the Bucs brought a big blitz and left their cornerbacks in man coverage downfield. Newton stood in against the pressure and threw deep down the middle to WR Brandon LaFell, with
Obviously, eight runs of more than 10 yards, including five of more than 20, made up for that lack of downfield passing and also allowed Carolina to control the clock for 33 of the game’s 60 minutes. Despite getting bigger than usual contributions from the likes of Stroughter (4 catches for 52 yards), rookie RB
The Panthers and Bucs got completely different results out of their respective opening possessions, and that didn’t work in the visitors’ favor. Newton drove the home team 80 yards on nine plays on the game’s first march, never having to convert a third down. Most of it was on the ground, including a drive-opening 13-yard run by Stewart and a 14-yard dash by Williams. After a facemask penalty on DT
In contrast, the Bucs’ first drive lasted one play, as Blount failed to get a handle on a first-down handoff and fumbled at his own 17. The ball rolled backwards and was recovered at the Bucs’ eight. Tampa Bay’s defense did come up with a nice stop after that turnover, forcing the Panthers to settle for Olindo Mare’s 21-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead just six minutes into the game.
The Bucs went to a hurry-up no-huddle attack when they got the ball back but paradoxically ended up with their most time-consuming drive of the season. It covered 80 yards on 15 plays and took 9:20 to complete, including one third-down and one fourth-down conversion along the way. Freeman completed six of seven throws on the drive, including a 16-yarder to WR
Unfortunately, Carolina answered immediately. Backed up to their own eight, the Panthers got out of trouble and much more with the longest passing play in franchise history. It was relatively well-defended by the Bucs, with good pressure on Newton and CB E.J. Biggers right on LaFell deep down the middle, but LaFell made a leaping catch over the defender and landed on his feet. He got back up to top speed right away and wasn’t touched on his way to the end zone for a 91-yard score.
The Bucs once again mounted an extended drive in answer, though they had to settle for three points this time. Sammie Stroughter’s leaping 29-yard catch converted an early third down and rookie RB Mossis Madu made several nifty plays out of the backfield to get the ball down to Carolina’s 30. An offensive pass interference penalty on Winslow eventually killed the drive but ultra-reliable K Connor Barth banged home a 42-yarder.
The Panthers mounted one more extended drive before the end of the half, much of it on runs of 32 and 24 yards by Stewart. However, the Bucs’ defense got another stop inside the 10-yard line, this one thanks to a hard tackle by LB
(Click here for a detailed report on the first half of Sunday’s game.)
The Bucs’ first drive of the second half, just like their opening possession, ended in a turnover. In this instance, Freeman tried to zip a pass in to Winslow down the left seam but it was tipped by a diving Anderson and intercepted by S Jonathan Nelson.
Nelson got the ball back to the Bucs’ 32, and Newton started the drive with an option play, keeping it for a gain of six. After using a timeout, Newton shuttled a pass to TE Richie Brockel for four yards and a first down, and a pitch to Williams on the next play finished the drive as he shot through a seam for a 22-yard score.
Blount returned for the first time since the Bucs’ initial offensive snap and pushed up the middle for a gain of three to start the next drive. A false start and Benn’s unsuccessful attempt to make a dazzling diving catch downfield left the Bucs in a third-and-12 and a deep attempt to Williams was well-defended by CB Darius Butler. A booming 59-yard punt by Koenen and a great open-field tackle by LB
After a false start moved the ball back five yards, Stewart got them back with a sweep left. LB
A personal foul on
The Panthers responded with an end-around to Smith that gained 23 yards, and Williams then found the left end for another 18. Three plays later, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-one at the 11 and chose to go for it. Stewart started out in the backfield but dashed out to the right and Newton hit him for the Panthers’ fourth touchdown.
Freeman looked to Williams on the left side on each of the first two plays on the next drive, hitting him for 11 yards and then drawing a pass-interference flag out at the Bucs’ 47. A short pass to WR
Two plays later, Newton showed off his athleticism, faking a handoff and then keeping it to run around right tackle. An open-field move froze one Buc defender and nobody else was able to catch him before he ran 49 yards for the score.
It immediately got worse. Stroughter brought the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone but ran into a head-on collision with RB Josh Vaughan. The ball came loose and was recovered by CB Josh Thomas at the Bucs’ eight. After switching sides to start the fourth period, Newton threw to Shockey, who reached the ball over the goal line for another touchdown.
After a touchback, Freeman operated out of the shotgun and converted a third-and-five with a short pass that Lumpkin turned into a 15-yard gain by shaking off a tackler. Martin was then flagged for pass interference on a downfield throw to Stroughter, and a release pass over the middle to Lumpkin got eight to the Carolina 22. An underneath pass to Williams gained 13 yards and made it first-and-goal at the four, and Lumpkin’s first-down run came up a yard short. Freeman’s first sneak attempt was marked inches short but he got it over the line by simply extending his arms on the next play. The Bucs went for two, though they had to do it from the seven after false-starting, and Freeman was dropped in the backfield before he could throw.
The Panthers brought in backup QB Derek Anderson and RB Josh Vaughan for the next drive and looked to run out the clock, giving it repeatedly to Vaughan. The Panthers got one first down but had to punt with seven minutes left in the game.
Freeman completed a series of underneath passes to start the next drive, including a 15-yarder to Stroughter, and Madu got it into Carolina territory with a 15-yard run. Freeman faced a third-and-15 three plays later after a sack shared by DT Jason Shirley and DT Frank Kearse. A pass in the flat to Winslow got half the needed distance, but Freeman’s fourth-down toss in Williams’ direction didn’t hit the mark.
The Panthers were able to gain one first down on their next possession and therefore run out the clock. The Buccaneers fell to 4-11 with the defeat while Carolina improved to 6-9.
Game Notes: CB
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive prior to Sunday’s game: QB
The Panthers declared these seven inactives: QB Jimmy Clausen, K Adi Kunalic, WR Seyi Ajirotutu, S Charles Godfrey, LB Omar Gaither, C Jeff Byers and DE Eric Norwood. Godfrey was out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, WR Preston Parker sustained a head injury in the second quarter and did not return.
For the Panthers, WR Legedu Naanee suffered a foot injury in the third quarter and did not return.