The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into their Week Four game against Carolina two games behind the Panthers in the NFC South standings. However, the Buccaneers and Panthers are both 1-0 in divisional play, with each team defeating the New Orleans Saints. If a recent trend in the head-to-head Bucs-Panthers series holds, the victor in Week Four will be in line for another big win in the final week of the season.
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In each of the last six years, the season series between Carolina and Tampa Bay has been a sweep. The Panthers took both games in 2013 and 2014 on their way to the first consecutive division titles in NFC South history. The Buccaneers won both meetings in 2010 and 2012 while the Panthers came out on top in 2009 and 2011.
There were lopsided wins for both teams during those half-dozen years, but the 2014 season series featured two games decided by a total of eight points. The Panthers came to Tampa for the teams' shared season opener last September and Carolina won, 20-14, behind a 92-yard, one-touchdown debut from rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin. Backup QB Derek Anderson started in place of the injured Cam Newton and threw eight passes to TE Greg Olsen for 83 yards and another score.
The Bucs and Panthers wouldn't get their 2014 rematch until Week 14, and the second game would be even closer. Tampa Bay took a 10-9 lead into halftime at Bank of America Stadium, helped by a Josh McCown eight-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans and a defense that forced Carolina to settle for four straight field goal tries (and three successes) on drives that reached the Bucs' 33-yard line or farther. The tide turned just after halftime, however, when Carolina ends Mario Addison and Charles Johnson sacked McCown and forced a fumble that the Panthers recovered at Tampa Bay's four-yard line. Anderson threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery two plays later and the home team never trailed again in a 19-17 decision.
The last time the Bucs and Panthers each finished the season with a winning record was in 2008, and that was also the last time the season series ended in a split. Tampa Bay ran away with the first meeting at home in Week Six, with Warrick Dunn gaining 115 yards on 22 carries, the last of his 30 career 100-yard rushing games. However, the Panthers returned the favor in Week 14 on Monday Night Football, pulling away to a 38-23 win behind an incredible 299 rushing yards. DeAngelo Williams led the way with 186 yards and two scores and Jonathan Stewart (still the Panthers' starter in 2015) added 115 and two more scores. The Bucs also lost their final three games to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs while Carolina won four of its last five and took the NFC South title.
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The reverse happened in 2005, when the Panthers won handily in Tampa earlier in the season but the Buccaneers returned to Charlotte on Dec. 11 for what would essentially be a battle for first place. That was the middle leg of an unusual three-game road swing right in the heat of the playoff race for the Buccaneers, and they were decided underdogs to the 9-3 Panthers. Thanks largely to Ronde Barber and Cadillac Williams, however, the visitors controlled the action all day and eventually walked away with a 20-10 victory. Williams ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns while Barber made an acrobatic and crucial interception near the Bucs' goal line in the fourth quarter. The victory put Tampa Bay into the top spot in the division and they eventually held on for the title at 11-5, winning a tiebreaker against the 11-5 Panthers.
The Panthers and Buccaneers also started their season together in 2012, with the Bucs winning, 16-10, on September 9. That outcome contributed to a 1-6 start for the Panthers while the Bucs used it to launch a 6-4 start, but both teams ended up at 7-9 when it was all said and done. Doug Martin made his NFL debut with a 95-yard outing, Ronde Barber began his last NFL season with another critical late-game interception, and Connor Barth's three field goals made the difference in the final outcome. The Bucs needed a historically good run defense to pull out the win, holding Carolina to just 10 rushing yards on the game to tie a team record. The Bucs were particularly hard on Newton, who had put up enormous numbers against Tampa Bay's defense during his eye-opening rookie campaign in 2011. Newton threw for 303 yards but was intercepted twice, sacked three times and gained only four rushing yards on five carries. In the rematch in Charlotte, Newton led the Panthers to a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead but the Buccaneers mustered one of their most dramatic comebacks in years to win, 27-21, in overtime. WR Vincent Jackson sent the game into an extra period with his last-minute touchdown catch and the subsequent two-point conversion.
As for those 2011 numbers for Newton, however, they were quite a bit different. In two wins over the Buccaneers, the dual-threat rookie accounted for four passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns and was not intercepted once.
The Panthers won both meetings handily in 2013 on their way to the division championship, outscoring the Bucs 58-19 overall. The first game was a nationally-televised Thursday-night affair in Tampa, in which Newton threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns and also ran 11 times for 50 yards and another score. Rookie QB Mike Glennon completed 30 of 51 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown in that game, but the Bucs' offense couldn't get much going when it went to Charlotte for the rematch in early December. This time, Carolina's top-ranked defense sacked Glennon five times and picked him off once en route to an easy 27-6 decision.
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Carolina leads the overall series, 18-11, with only three of those matchups coming before the creation of the NFC South. The Bucs were on the Panthers' schedule in their inaugural 1995 season, a game that was actually played at Clemson, and they came away with a 20-13 win despite a strong showing by the expansion team, which put up 393 yards of offense. Tampa Bay's defense swung the decision in the visitors' favor with four takeaways and backup QB Casey Weldon won the game with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
Some of the most dramatic outcomes in the head-to-head Bucs-Panthers series have come from tight, low-scoring affairs. In 2002, during the Buccaneers' run to Super Bowl XXXVII, a Tampa Bay team playing without starting QB Brad Johnson found itself trailing, 9-3, in the fourth quarter. K Martin Gramatica finished off a four-for-four performance with three long field goals in the final period, the last one a 47-yard game-winner that backed up a defense that only allowed 130 total yards.
The very next season saw a Bucs-Panthers game end in a 12-9 final, but in a far less happy way for the Buccaneers. Coming off a dominant 17-0 win in Philadelphia in the 2003 season opener, the defending NFL champs stumbled in their home opener against Carolina, in part due to a single play that led to injuries to both Mike Alstott and Joe Jurevicius. Trailing 9-3, the Bucs' offense woke up just in time, with Brad Johnson driving the team 82 yards in the last two minutes to set up a six-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell as time expired. An extra point would have won it, but Carolina DT Kris Jenkins blocked the attempt, sending the game to overtime and giving the Panthers a chance to eventually win it on John Kasay's field goal.
Bucs' Game-by-Game Record vs. Panthers:1995: W, 20-13, at Clemson
1996: L, 24-0, in Charlotte
1998: W, 16-13, in Tampa
2002: W, 12-9, in Charlotte
2002: W, 23-10, in Tampa
2003: L, 12-9, in Tampa
2003: L, 27-24, in Charlotte
2004: L, 21-14, in Charlotte
2004: L, 37-20, in Tampa
2005: L, 34-14, in Tampa
2005: W, 20-10, in Charlotte
2006: L, 26-24, in Tampa
2006: L, 24-10, in Charlotte
2007: W, 20-7, in Charlotte
2007: L, 31-23, in Charlotte
2008: W, 27-3, in Tampa
2008: L, 38-23, in Charlotte
2009: L, 28-21, in Tampa
2009: L, 16-6, in Charlotte
2010: W, 20-7, in Charlotte
2010: W, 31-16, in Tampa
2011: L, 38-19, in Tampa
2011: L, 48-16, in Charlotte
2012: W, 16-10, in Tampa
2012: W, 27-21, in Charlotte
2013: L, 31-13, in Tampa
2013: L, 26-7, in Charlotte
2014: L, 20-14, in Tampa
2014: L, 19-17, in CharlotteSeries Notes:
- Overall Season Series: Carolina leads, 18-11
- Bucs' Home Record: 5-9
- Bucs' Road Record: 6-9
- Current Streak: Lose 4 (2013-14)
- Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 3 (1998-2002)
- Panthers' Longest Winning Streak: 5 (2003-05)
- Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 505, Panthers 620
- Most Points in a Game, Tampa Bay: Buccaneers 31-16 (2010)
- Most Points in a Game, Carolina: Panthers 48-16 (2011)
- Most Points, both teams: 64, Panthers 48-16 (2011)
- Fewest Points in a Game, Tampa Bay: Panthers 24-0 (1996)
- Fewest Points in a Game, Carolina: Buccaneers 27-3 (2008)
- Fewest Points in a Game, both teams: 21, twice: Buccaneers 12-9 (2002), Panthers 12-9 (2003)