The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers each scored four times in the first half Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Unfortunately for the home team, all of its tallies were of the three-point variety.
Kicker Connor Barth made field goals of 44, 46, 47 and 50 yards but Carolina's rookie QB, Cam Newton, threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to WR Legedu Naanee and also scored one of his own on a one-yard dive to stake the Panthers to a 24-12 halftime lead.
Newton's run capped an 83-yard drive to open the game, and RB Jonathan Stewart scored on a one-yard run on Carolina's second possession for a 14-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old. Newton threw for 125 yards and ran for 34 more as the Panthers picked up 242 yards to the Bucs' 128 in the half.
QB Josh Johnson made his first start in over two years as usual starter Josh Freeman was out with a shoulder injury. Johnson completed five of nine passes for 106 yards and hit a pair of deep passes to WRs Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams to set up two of Barth's four field goals. However, the Bucs had trouble establishing a running game against the league's 28th-ranked rush defense, with starting tailback LeGarrette Blount gaining just nine yards on eight carries.
Rookie DE Da'Quan Bowers, making just the second start of his career, had an outstanding first half. He accounted for 1.5 of the team's two sacks and also added five tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage, plus a pass break-up and two quarterback pressures. A third Bowers sack was erased when he was flagged for jumping offside.
The Panthers won the toss and will receive. FB Erik Lorig avoided blockers on the opening kickoff to drop return man Armanti Edwards at the Carolina 17, and Bowers dropped into coverage on first down to knock away a pass intended for TE Greg Olsen. However, Williams got nine yards going right on a second-down carry, and Stewart did even better on third-and-one, ripping off 19 yards to the 45. Newton found Olsen over the middle with his second throw, resulting in a 21-yard gain into Bucs territory. Stewart easily got around left end on the next snap and rambled all the way down to the Bucs' three, with CB Elbert Mack keeping him out of the end zone. Williams was stopped a yard short on first-and-goal, and Newton took it himself on second down, leaping over the pile to complete an 83-yard scoring drive.
Blount's first carry failed as quick penetration caused him to bounce outside and he was run out of bounds for a loss of three. Johnson's first pass was a dumpoff to Blount over the middle but the ball was dropped, making it third-and-13. That play made the situation worse, as Johnson tried to scramble but slipped on a cut and fell to the ground, making for an easy sack for DE Thomas Keiser.
After a punt out of the end zone, the Bucs found themselves back on defense at their own 43. A quick pass down the line to Smith gained nine yards, but the Bucs stopped Williams and then Stewart on their next two carries to make it fourth-and-two. The Panthers went for it and a play-action bootleg by Newton easily gained the necessary yardage. Carolina then pulled out a trick play, with Newton throwing the ball out wide to Naanee – importantly, the throw was backward – and Naanee then tossing it back to Newton. The play was well-blocked and Newton got down to the two. S Sean Jones kept Newton out of the end zone with a hard hit on a first-down scramble and Stewart was tripped up for no gain on second down. Olsen dropped a potential touchdown pass on third down, but LB Quincy Black was flagged for defensive holding, resulting in a new set of downs. Stewart ran it in over left guard on the next play to make it 14-0.
Blount tried the middle on first down but was stopped after a gain of just one. His next run went for no gain over right tackle, but WR Arrelious Benn got wide open down the left sideline on third down and Johnson hit him for a gain of 38 to the Carolina 34. Johnson's play-action rollout pass on first down was tipped and incomplete and Blount lost four yards on his next carry. Benn caught a six-yard pass on third down, getting enough for Barth to bang home a 50-yard field goal.
The Bucs' defense came out with an inspired series after that score, with Bowers leading the way. The rookie end fired through a gap to stop Stewart two yards deep on first down, then combined with Adrian Clayborn on a three-yard sack. On third-and-15, Bowers did it himself, dropping Newton for another six-yard sack.
The Bucs started at the Carolina 47 after the punt and got a first down by keeping it on the ground. Blount bashed right for six yards and a sweep to rookie Mossis Madu – his first NFL carry – got four more to move the sticks. Johnson then fired a dart into the stomach of TE Kellen Winslow for 12 more and a first down at the Carolina 25. Runs by Blount and Lumpkin made it third-and-two at the 17 but an end-around to Benn was completely blown up by DE Charles Johnson for a loss of 12. That left Barth trying to make a 47-yarder and he was once again on the money.
After a touchback, Williams worked his way out of a traffic jam in the backfield on first down and ran around right end for a gain of four. Newton found TE Jeremy Shockey matched up with Clayborn downfield and exploited it for a 26-yard gain to midfield on second down. LB Quincy Black chased Newton into a throwaway on the next play but CB Ronde Barber was flagged for illegal contact well downfield. A quick stop by Clayborn of Stewart on first down and an incompletion in Steve Smith's direction made it third-and-eight at the 43. Newton stood in the pocket for awhile but eventually took off and made it around the left end into open field for a gain of 22. Three plays later, on third-and-eight, Newton zipped a perfect pass through coverage to Naanee for a touchdown.
S Sean Jones was called for unnecessary roughness on the hit as Naanee caught the ball, meaning Carolina kicked off from its own 45 after the score. After the resulting touchback, a sack of Johnson was erased by a defensive holding penalty, and two plays later Johnson threw a perfect deep post-corner pass to Williams for a gain of 42 yards to the Carolina 31. Williams made a fingertip catch and got two feet in before going out of bounds. Unfortunately, the drive stalled at the 28 and Barth came on for his third try of the game. This one was a 46-yarder, and once again it was no problem for Barth.
A Newton keeper was stopped for just two yards by Barber, and a hit on Newton sent his second-down pass to Naanee sailing too high. DT Brian Price's stunt around the left end sent him untouched into Newton's line of sight and forced an errant throw. S Corey Lynch disrupted Jason Baker's punt on fourth down and it went only 31 yards, allowing the Bucs' offense to start again at its own 47.
A draw play to Madu made for a nice start as he found a seam for a gain of five. Madu bounced off a tackler and got around the end for an apparent first down on the next run but T Jeremy Trueblood was flagged for holding. That pushed the ball back to the 44, and Johnson hit Winslow for a gain of eight to make it third-and-five as the two-minute warning arrived. After the break, Johnson escaped a near-sack and scrambled right for a gain of 14 yards to the Carolina 34. Two plays later, Johnson ran again and got eight yards to make it third-and-two at the 26, the Bucs following with a timeout with 1:08 left in the half. Johnson tried to hit Williams just past the line on third down but it was incomplete and Barth came on to make his fourth field goal, a 44-yarder.
The Panthers still had a minute to work with and got gains of seven and 12 from Stewart on two short passes to Stewart. A deep shot to Smith failed, leaving the Panthers with just 17 seconds at their own 39. Bowers sacked Newton deep in the backfield on the next play but he had jumped offsides, which moved the ball up five yards to the 44 with 13 seconds left. Newton scrambled long enough to find WR Brandon LaFell for a gain of 31 on the next play, which left the Panthers with three seconds to tack on three points on Olindo Mare's 43-yard field goal.