Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 8 matchup with the Panthers.
Game Ball:** Tampa Bay's defense tightened up noticeably after a run of three tough games against New England, Arizona and Buffalo, allowing a season-low 254 yards and holding Carolina to 17 points. It was a team effort and there are several good candidates for the game ball from the defense, but the most encouraging performance belonged to cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves broke up two passes down the sideline and had tight coverage on wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, to whom he gave up seven inches. Hargreaves also tackled well in the open field and nearly made an acrobatic interception on a deep ball in the second quarter. The coverage provided by Hargreaves and cornerback Ryan Smith on Benjamin and Devin Funchess helped hold Cam Newton to 154 yards, especially impressive on a day in which the pass rush did not produce a sack.
Play of the Game: The Buccaneers still had a chance in the fourth quarter, down 10-3 with nine minutes to play. Carolina had the ball at Tampa Bay's 25 but was facing a third-and-16. An incompletion or a sack would have forced the Panthers to try a relatively long field goal into a strong wind. Instead, Newton bought time by moving around in the pocket and eventually threw to Benjamin in the left corner of the end zone. Safety Justin Evans was there but Benjamin found the ball first and used his big frame to wall off the defender and make a leaping catch. That put Tampa Bay down by 14 with little time to mount a rally.
VIEW: Bucs vs. Panthers HighlightsTurning Point: The score was still just 7-0 in the second quarter when the Buccaneers' offense advance to Carolina's 37-yard line. On second-and-14, Winston looked downfield as the pocket started to collapse from both sides. He tried to move forward to buy time but was caught from behind by ageless Panthers' defensive end Julius Peppers. In an attempt to turn a likely sack into something positive Winston tried to make a sideways pitch to running back Doug Martin. However, Peppers knocked the ball loose just as Winston was trying to pitch it, and the result was a fumble that Carolina recovered at the Panthers' 33. That was the first of several missed scoring opportunities for the Buccaneers, and perhaps the one that kept the momentum on Carolina's side for the rest of the afternoon.
It Was Over When: Carolina LB Luke Kuechly intercepted a pass intended for Cam Brate at the Panthers' 25 with six minutes to play. After the game, Winston said that Brate ran a good route but he delivered the pass too far inside, and the tight end was unable to keep the ball from landing in Kuechly's arms. The Bucs had hoped to score with four or five minutes left on the clock, giving their defense a chance to get the ball back and give the offense one last shot to tie it up.