Game Ball:** LB Lavonte David finished the season strong as he hopes to graduate from Pro Bowl alternate to all-star attendee in the weeks to come. David tied for the team lead with 12 tackles and also had one of the Bucs' four sacks, helping force Carolina out of field goal range on the Panthers' first drive of the game. The Bucs' fourth-year linebacker recovered a career-high two fumbles, accounting for both of the team's takeaways, the second on a fumble he also forced against WR Brenton Bersin.
Play of the Game: Tampa Bay's defense got a rousing stop on Carolina's first drive of the game, with back-to-back sacks by David and Keith Tandy pushing the Panthers out of field goal range. It was still just 7-3 in the second quarter when a similar series appeared to be unfolding. After a 12-yard sack by Bruce Carter, DE George Johnson had Newton in his clutches on the very next play, deep in Carolina territory. Somehow, Newton escaped and got off a pass that was nearly intercepted by S Bradley McDougald. However, the pass deflected off McDougald's hands and continued downfield to WR Devin Funchess, who hauled it in for a 41-yard gain. That was all the positive yardage on a 29-yard field goal drive that made it 10-3 and kick-started a 24-point second-quarter surge for the Panthers.
Photos of the opponents on the Bucs 2016 schedule.
Turning Point:** If the Buccaneers had any chance of climbing back into the game after falling down 24-3, it hinged on a heady two-minute drill led by rookie QB Jameis Winston at the end of the first half. The Bucs hoped to tack on a touchdown before the intermission and then score again with the first drive of the second half. Winston converted a pair of tough third downs on the drive and got the Bucs to the Panthers' two-yard line with seven seconds left. That left enough time for two quick passes, but both of them fell incomplete as Winston tried to get it to TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins at the goal line. Carolina kept its 21-point lead and also scored the first points of the second half.
It Was Over When: The Bucs also did not score on the opening possession of the second half, but they did get an impressive defensive stop on the Panthers' ensuing drive, keyed by a Tony McDaniel sack. Any momentum that could have been derived from that quickly dissipated when Bobby Rainey fumbled the ensuing punt, leading to a first-and-goal for Carolina at the Bucs' three-yard line. Newton scored two plays later on a one-yard plunge up the middle.