"Obviously, watching the film, I was very pleased with how hard we played. There's this old saying that whoever plays harder the longest will win games – I think that was true in that one. Was it perfect? By no means, but we made enough plays to win the ball game."
That was the first thing Head Coach Bruce Arians said after watching the game film of the Bucs' primetime matchup with the division-rival Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. The road victory was a collective effort, spearheaded by the defense, to shut down the Panthers and nab their first win of the season. After getting the game ball himself immediately following the win, Arians had a few more to hand out, which he revealed in Friday's press conference.
"Game balls – Chris Godwin got one," Arians said. "Obviously, you saw his stats, but he blocked as good as any wide receiver I've ever seen in a game, blocking linebackers, defensive ends, safeties – he was a huge part of our running game. Peyton Barber, who I thought ran extremely well. He had the hot hand, we stuck with him and RoJo (Ronald Jones II) stung his toe on that really good run he had, but it was Peyton's night. Vernon [Hargreaves III] for the game-saving tackle after I screwed up the double timeouts. Kevin Minter got two of them for stepping in and playing really, really well at middle linebacker, running the defense, and one on special teams. Again, I'm really proud of our guys."
Godwin's stats were gaudy, nabbing eight catches for 121 yards and a receiving touchdown. It was his fifth 100-yard game of his young career and fourth in his past 10 games. He had four receptions for over 20 yards during the course of the game, including his 20-yard touchdown catch, which was the most such receptions in a game he's ever had. In fact, he's caught a touchdown in each of his last three games dating back to Week 17 of last season. I'd sure say that's deserving of a game ball, wouldn't you?
After it was Ronald Jones that caught fire in Week One, nabbing himself 75 yards on the ground, the coaching staff said the would have no trouble going with the 'hot hand' in the ground game. They proved it on Thursday in Charlotte, when it was running back Peyton Barber that got the bulk of the work. Barber had 82 yards on 23 carries and had a beautiful up-the-gut 16-yard touchdown run.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves made another splash play on Thursday. Five days after recording an interception of San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo, Hargreaves used his tackle skills to stop Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey after taking a direct snap and making a break for it on fourth down at the goal line. It was a play that would have put the Panthers up by one with just over a minute left. Hargreaves stopped him with just inches to spare and all but sealed the game for Tampa Bay.
Then there was Kevin Minter, a veteran inside linebacker who was called in to duty when rookie inside linebacker Devin White went down. Minter had eight combined tackles during the game as well as a hit on the quarterback. Minter was under both Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles and Coach Arians in Arizona, so he's a seasoned veteran with a firm grasp on the system who can come in when he's needed and be immediately effective.