The Bucs hit Carolina with a blocked punt and two interceptions in the first half, including a pick by S Tanard Jackson
A blocked punt returned for a touchdown, 10 points from the offensive unit and two interceptions forced by the defense carried the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 17-3 lead at the break over the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina had the first offensive possession of the game, yet it was the Buccaneers who scored on the drive. After the Bucs forced the Panthers' punt unit on to the field, rookie LB Geno Hayes burst through the line, blocked P Jason Baker's punt, scooped up the loose ball and raced untouched 22 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bucs an early 7-0 lead.
The Tampa Bay offense scored some points of its own later in the first quarter, as QB Jeff Garcia found a wide-open TE Alex Smith from three-yards out to cap a five-play, 26-yard drive. The defense did have an impact on the score, however, as the excellent field position the offense enjoyed was set up by S Tanard Jackson's interception of Panthers QB Jake Delhomme.
The Panthers were able to cut into the Bucs' lead early in the second quarter on a 20-yard John Kasay field goal. The Bucs defense very nearly had another turnover, as RB Jonathan Stewart coughed up the ball inside the Bucs' five-yard line, but the officials ruled Stewart was down by contact when the ball popped loose.
The Bucs got those three points right back, however, marching 52 yards in eight plays to set up a 38-yard Matt Bryant field goal with 8:58 left in the half. With FB Byron Storer sidelined with a knee injury, RB Earnest Graham filled in at fullback while RB Warrick Dunn took the majority of the carries. Dunn made a number of excellent runs on the drive, including an 18-yard jaunt.
The Panthers looked like they were going to get on the board late in the half, but Delhomme's deep pass was tipped by CB Aqib Talib and intercepted by S Jermaine Phillips. With just over a minute to work with, the Bucs moved down the field and got in position for a 51-yard field goal try. Bryant's kick was no good, but the Bucs still headed to the locker room at the half leading 17-3.
In the half, the Bucs' defense limited the Panthers to 151 total yards, including just 32 rushing yards. Garcia looked sharp in his return to the starting lineup, completing 10-of-15 passes for 125 yards and a score, while Dunn led the way on the ground with five carries for 32 yards.
- Carolina won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. RB Jonathan Stewart returned K Matt Bryant's kick to the 24-yard line. QB Jake Delhomme completed his first pass of the day over the middle to WR Steve Smith for a 10-yard gain and a first down. RB DeAngelo Williams was stuffed for a two-yard gain, and on second-and-eight, DE Gaines Adams very nearly picked off Delhomme after dropping into coverage. Before the third-and-eight play, the Bucs burned their first timeout of the half. On the play, Delhomme was only able to complete a short pass over the middle to FB Brad Hoover for five yards. P Jason Baker came onto the field and promptly had his punt blocked by rookie LB Geno Hayes, who scooped the ball up and ran it in 22 yards for a touchdown. Bryant's extra point made it 7-0 in favor of the Bucs. * WR Mark Jones returned the ensuing kickoff back to the Panthers' 25-yard line. The Panthers backed up five yards on a false start penalty, and Williams was then wrapped up after picking up only a yard. S Jermaine Phillips then laid a monstrous hit on Williams for a one-yard loss. Facing third-and-15, Delhomme felt the pressure and threw quickly, but his pass intended for WR Muhsin Muhammad was short and incomplete. Baker came on to punt again, and blasted a 56-yard punt that WR Dexter Jackson was only able to return to the Bucs' 13-yard line. * On the Bucs' first offensive play of the game, QB Jeff Garcia hit TE Alex Smith down the seam for a 29-yard gain. Garcia then found TE John Gilmore for an eight-yard gain. An errant pitch intended for RB Earnest Graham was pounced on by Garcia, but the Bucs took a seven-yard loss on the play. Garcia made up for it though, hitting WR Antonio Bryant for a 13-yard gain and a first down. RB Warrick Dunn then ran ahead for five yards. Dunn then caught a swing pass from Garcia but was only able to gain two yards. On third-and-three at the Carolina 40, Garcia connected over the middle with WR Ike Hilliard for a first down, but a pass interference penalty on TE Jerramy Stevens negated the play and moved the Bucs back 15 yards. Now facing third-and-13 at midfield, Garcia threw deep down the left sideline for Bryant, but tight coverage forced an incomplete pass and the Bucs were forced to punt. P Josh Bidwell's punt landed right on the goal line, but bounced into the end zone for a touchback. * Stewart got the carry on first down but was wrapped up for a gain of only one. Delhomme's second-down pass was tipped by DT Jovan Haye and fell incomplete on second down. Facing third-and-nine at the 21, Delhomme's threw a pass for TE Dante Rosario that tipped off his fingertips and into the hands of S Tanard Jackson. Jackson returned the pick inside the Panthers' 20, but a 15-yard penalty on CB Ronde Barber moved the Bucs back to the Carolina 26. * Graham picked up short yardage on first- and second-down carries, but a holding penalty on the Panthers on second down moved the Bucs to the 11-yard line and gave them a first down. Graham got the call again, but was held to a gain of one. Garcia then hit Stevens for a seven-yard gain, setting up third-and-two at the three-yard line. On a play action pass, Garcia found Smith all alone in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point made it 14-0 Buccaneers. * Jones fielded Bryant's kickoff and returned it to the 28. Delhomme was nearly sacked on first down, but stepped aside and launched a deep ball for Smith that picked up 48 yards. Now at the Bucs' 24-yard line, Stewart took a handoff and picked up four yards. Delhomme then hit Muhammad for a gain of five, setting up third-and-one at the 15. Hoover got the call and picked up a yard, giving the Panthers a first down as the first quarter came to a close. Williams took a direct snap and ran ahead for seven yards, then picked up another three yards on second down to move the sticks. On first-and-goal at the four, Williams got to the one-yard line but was stopped short of the end zone. On second down, Stewart was tripped up and lost the ball, which was recovered by the Bucs. However, the officials ruled that Stewart was down before fumbling. The Bucs decided to challenge the ruling, but the call was upheld. On third-and-goal at the two, Delhomme's pass to the back of the end zone was very nearly snagged by LB Barrett Ruud but fell to the turf. K John Kasay's 20-yard field goal was good, cutting the Bucs' lead to 14-3 with 12:31 to go in the half. * Jackson fielded the kickoff and returned it to the Tampa Bay 29-yard line. Dunn took the handoff on first down and ran right for a pickup of seven. Dunn then darted forward on second down for another six yards and a first down. Garcia then threw a beautiful play action pass to WR Michael Clayton on a crossing route that picked up 22 yards and moved the Bucs into Carolina territory. Dunn then sliced up the middle for another big run, this time for 18 yards. Now at the Carolina 18, Graham was swallowed up for a loss of one. On second down, Garcia was forced to throw quickly and his pass for Dunn was incomplete. Facing third-and-11, the Panthers brought a blitz and Garcia's screen pass for Dunn was deflected incomplete, bringing Bryant on the field for a field goal try. His 38-yard attempt was good, making it 17-3 in favor of the Bucs. * Jones took a knee in the end zone on the kickoff, setting the Panthers up at their own 20. On first down, Williams was sniffed out by a host of Bucs and picked up just a yard. Williams didn't find much more room to run on second down up the middle, picking up three. On third-and-six at the 24, Delhomme was flushed out of the pocket and misfired for Smith, throwing incomplete out of bounds. Jackson fielded Baker's punt and brought it back to the Tampa Bay 35-yard line. * Dunn took a handoff to the left on first down but was dragged down for a loss of four. Garcia's pass on second down was batted down at the line, setting up third-and-14. On the play, Dunn took a shovel pass and nearly reached the marker, but the nine-yard play came up short of a first down. Bidwell's punt was angled beautifully to the Carolina six-yard line, where the Bucs downed the ball. * Stewart got the handoff on first down and was dropped after a gain of only one. On second down, Delhomme was nearly sacked in the end zone and threw deep incomplete. A holding penalty on the Panthers was offset by two penalties on the Bucs, so the play was done over again. This time, Stewart ran ahead for four yards, setting up third-and-five at the 11. Delhomme had plenty of time to throw and found Smith across the middle for a 22-yard gain. Delhomme then found Smith again, this time on a quick pass that picked up six yards. Another quick pass to Smith went for 14 yards as the Panthers moved the sticks again. Williams picked up five on first down, then Delhomme connected with Smith yet again for six yards and another first down as the clock wound down to the two-minute warning. Delhomme was hit as he threw on the first down play, but completed his pass to Williams for a gain of two. On second down, Delhomme lofted a deep pass to the end zone for Muhammad. CB Aqib Talib had excellent coverage and went up for a jump ball, deflecting it right into Phillips' hands. Phillips then returned the pick all the way to the Bucs' 49. A 15-yard taunting penalty moved the Bucs back to their own 36, however. * A swing pass to Hilliard went for no gain on first down, but Graham took a dump-off pass on second down and rumbled ahead for 24 yards. Garcia then threw incomplete on a short pass to Graham after facing some pressure. On second-and-10 at the Carolina 40, Garcia hit Clayton on a slant that picked up seven yards, and the Bucs then used their third and final timeout of the half with 14 seconds left. On third-and-three at the 33, Bryant came on for a 51-yard try. After the Panthers burned a timeout in an effort to ice the Bucs' kicker, Bryant's try was no good. * Delhomme then took a knee, and the teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.