Rapid Reaction: Buccaneers 20, Panthers 14

RB Peyton Barber, No. 25
RB Peyton Barber, No. 25

The Bucs won the toss to start their Thursday Night matchup with the Carolina Panthers and elected to receiver. Though the first play of the game was a 22-yard completion by quarterback Jameis Winston to wide receiver Chris Godwin, the Bucs would stall, going three-and-out behind a big tackle for loss of running back Peyton Barber by the Panthers’ Luke Kuechly.

The ensuing punt was fumbled by Carolina and quickly picked up, but not before allowing the Bucs time to get down the field and pin the Panthers at their own 10-yard line. Carolina moved down the field before a couple of big stops in the run game brought up fourth-and-one. Newton took off and tried to lunge for it but safety Jordan Whitehead stopped him short. The spot was challenged by the Panthers but the call ultimately stood, giving the Bucs the ball back at midfield halfway through the first quarter.

Following the challenge, the field was cleared due to inclement weather in Charlotte. After a 27-minute delay, the two teams resumed play. The Bucs got as far as the Carolina 22 before being stopped short. The field goal unit came on and booted a 40-yarder to give the Bucs the first lead of the game, 3-0, with 5:36 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers kicked off the next drive with a 44-yard completion to wide receiver Curtis Samuel from Newton. Though Tampa Bay would allow Carolina into the red zone, the defense wouldn’t break, stopping the Panthers on the 14-yard line. Carolina would settle for a 32-yard field goal to even the score at 3 apiece with just under three minutes to go in the first.

The Bucs would be stopped on their next drive following a too-many-men on the field penalty that turned third-and-1 into third-and-6, which they would not convert. However, Carolina muffed the ensuing punt resulting in the Panthers having to start at their own 22-yard line.

The Carolina drive wouldn’t go very far following back-to-back penalties that brought up third-and-20. Rookie outside linebacker Anthony Nelson swatted down Newton’s attempt at a screen, forcing the Panthers to punt.

Tampa Bay’s drive stuttered with a false start penalty on first down followed by a tackle for loss of running back Ronald Jones that brought up second-and-17. The Bucs were hit with another false start penalty and then a sack, forcing the Bucs to punt.

After a 39-yard punt return, the defense again held the Panthers to just a field goal. Kicker Joey Slye gave Carolina their first lead of the game, 6-3, with 8:26 remaining in the half.

The Bucs came up empty on their next drive but the defense returned the favor as the Panthers traded a punt right back.

Finally, the Buccaneer offense would get going, sparked by a 41-yard dime from Winston to wide receiver Mike Evans down the far sideline that immediately put the Bucs in scoring range. A hard-fought completion to tight end Cam Brate on third down for the first down was followed by a 20-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Chris Godwin. The point after was good by Gay and the Bucs went up 10-6 with 1:20 left in the half.

The Panthers got down the field in a hurry but the Bucs defense would force the field goal attempt. Slye was good from 54 yards and the Panthers cut the lead to 10-9 going into halftime.

The Panthers’ opening drive got a hot start behind a big completion to tight end Greg Olsen for 33 yards. Following that though, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett registered the Bucs’ first sack of the night, dropping Newton for a loss of eight. The Tampa Bay defense kept the pressure on, registering two consecutive quarterback hits from inside linebacker Kevin Minter and defensive tackle Vita Vea, forcing the Panthers to punt.

The Bucs’ drive wouldn’t go anywhere, either, going three-and-out to punt the ball right back. A 41-yard completion to Olsen would get the Panthers in scoring range but two sacks in a row, including one on third down, from outside linebacker Shaq Barrett would force Carolina to settle for a field goal. Slye was good from 51 yards out and the Panthers took the lead back, 12-10, with 7:51 to go in the third quarter.

The Bucs moved down the field on their next series thanks to wide receiver Chris Godwin surpassing 100 yards along with an unnecessary roughness penalty called on former Buccaneer Gerald McCoy. The drive culminated in a 16-yard run up-the-gut from running back Peyton Barber to give the Bucs a 17-12 lead with 4:20 left in the third.

The Panthers’ next drive was cut short after rookie outside linebacker Anthony Nelson forced a fumble from Newton, which was then recovered by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs took over at the Panthers’ 45-yard line.

It wouldn’t amount to any points for the Bucs as they got stopped short with Gay attempting a 42-yard field goal that went inches right of the uprights.

The next Panthers possession resulted in a punt but they would gain some points on the next Buccaneers possession when running back Peyton Barber was tackled in the end zone by Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, resulting in a safety and making the score 17-14, with the Bucs’ lead cut to only three points. The defense would hold the Panthers again despite seeing a third-and-one and subsequent fourth-and-one situation. As a result, Carolina turned the ball over on downs.

That next possession resulted in a three-and-out for the Buccaneers behind two sacks of Winston. They’d punt the ball only to trade again as the Panthers went three-and-out on their next drive.

Tampa Bay moved down the field on a well-balanced next drive. A quick slant to Mike Evans and a subsequent run by Peyton Barber would get them inside the red zone. The Bucs were faced with a third-and-5 at the 14-yard line, the ball went incomplete to Evans. Gay hit the 32-yard field goal to put the Bucs up 20-14 with 2:26 remaining in the game.

Right at the two-minute warning, Carolina challenged pass interference on a no call. It stood as called and Carolina was charged with a timeout. The Bucs were hit with a facemask penalty that gave the Panthers a fresh set of downs at the Tampa Bay 11-yard-line.

In dramatic fashion, the Panthers got as close as the one-yard line with one last shot on fourth down. The Buccaneers held them off and after what felt like eons of review time, the call stood and Tampa Bay took over on downs at their own one-yard line. They'd hold off for the win on the road.

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