Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Bucs improve to 1-1 as they win their home opener over the Carolina Panthers. Carmen Vitali
The Carolina Panthers won the toss and elected to defer, putting the ball in the hands of the Buccaneer offense to start the game. After a six-yard completion on first down the Bucs sputtered and Carolina forced the three and out.
After moving the ball down the field mostly by the hands (and feet) of running back Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers were stopped short as safety Jordan Whitehead intercepted quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the Tampa Bay 22.
The Tampa Bay offense took back over and this time moved the ball down the field thanks to running back LeSean McCoy and a long pass to wide receiver Mike Evans over the middle from Brady. The Bucs were helped out by a personal foul that got them to the seven-yard line and from there, running back Ronald Jones bounced to the outside on a handoff and took the ball into the end zone. The point after was good by kicker Ryan Succop and the Bucs took an early 7-0 lead with 5:42 left in the first quarter.
Carolina wouldn't have the ball for long again. This time it was rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. who got to Bridgewater and brought him down while also forcing the ball out. It was recovered by outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and given right back to Tampa Bay at the Panthers' 23-yard line.
One pass later and quarterback Tom Brady hit Evans on a beautiful back shoulder for the touchdown. The successful point after extended the Bucs' lead to 14-0 with 4:38 left in the first quarter. Two touchdowns in 64 seconds. Not too shabby.
The Panthers got stopped up on their next possession behind a second-down sack from defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who dropped Bridgewater for a loss of seven, bringing up third-and-17 for Carolina. They wouldn't be able to convert and would punt for the first time on the day.
Tampa Bay took their time getting down the field on their next drive. Unfortunately, it would end abruptly as running back Ronald Jones fumbled the ball on a handoff from Brady. Carolina recovered it at their own 41-yard line, putting the Buccaneer defense back on the field.
The defense held up their end of the deal, stopping Carolina at the Bucs' 36-yard line. They questionably came out in a punt formation and predictably ended up faking it. The Bucs' defense was ready and stopped them to force a turnover on downs.
The Bucs then injected some energy into their offensive attack with a perfectly executed flea flicker play. Brady handed the ball off to running back Leonard Fournette who lobbed the ball back to Brady. The quarterback then unleashed a long pass to wide receiver Justin Watson, who picked up 36 yards on the play. It set up an eventual one-yard touchdown run by Fournette to put the Bucs up 21-0 with just over three minutes left in the half.
Carolina came up empty on their next possession as the Bucs took a timeout before two-minute warning to preserve the clock. The defense forced the punt and the Bucs took over at their own 20-yard line with 1:45 to go before halftime.
The Panthers returned the favor though by forcing a three-and-out from the Buccaneers. They got the ball back with just under a minute to play.
The score would stay 21-0 heading into halftime as Pierre-Paul sacked Bridgewater and the Panthers let time expire.
The first drive ended with another Carolina turnover. Inside linebacker Lavonte David forced and subsequently recovered a fumble by wide receiver Robby Anderson. The runner was initially called down before Head Coach Bruce Arians challenged the ruling and got it overturned.
The Bucs' next drive wouldn't last long. Brady was intercepted on his first pass intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Cornerback Donte Jackson returned the interception 44 yards and set the Panthers' offense up around midfield.
Carolina took the ball down the field and made their first trip inside the red zone on the ensuing drive. The Bucs' defense brought up a third-and-two situation at the eight-yard line but then cornerback Carlton Davis got called for a defensive pass interference penalty that set the Panthers up at the one-yard line. One rush from McCaffrey later and Carolina had cut into the Bucs' lead with the score 21-7 about halfway through the third quarter.
The Bucs came up empty on their next drive despite wide receiver Scotty Miller drawing a defensive pass interference call and the Bucs getting a break on third-and-11 with a hands to the face penalty committed by Carolina. Pinion punted and a penalty would pin the Panthers at their own seven-yard line as their offense took over.
The Carolina offense drove down the entirety of the field in a series that took what seemed like an eternity off the clock. The Panthers skidded to a halt at the seven-yard line and were faced with a fourth-and-two. Into the fourth quarter and down 14, they decided to go for it. Bridgewater pitched it to who else but McCaffrey and he got to the outside to take it into the end zone, pulling Carolina to within one score, 21-14, with 13:25 left in the game.
The Buccaneers couldn't respond on offense being forced to punt after taking just 1:25 off the clock. Just as the Panthers were starting to get going, cornerback Carlton Davis picked off Bridgewater for the Bucs' second pick of the day and returned it to the Tampa Bay 40-yard line.
Tampa Bay managed to get inside the red zone on their next possession but were stopped shy on a dropped pass in the end zone on third-down. They managed a field goal that pushed their lead to two scores, 24-14, with half a quarter to play.
As the Panthers took back over, they managed to span the field again. They got down to the nine-yard line before being hit with an intentional grounding penalty on Bridgewater with 2:52 on the clock. Carolina found themselves with a third-down and seven on the seven-yard line. They needed both a touchdown and field goal so they went to try the kick but couldn't get it off before the two-minute warning.
Carolina would convert the 23-yarder to pull the Panthers within seven points. The onside kick Carolina attempted was recovered by tight end Rob Gronkowski as he fell on it.
The first play of the Bucs' next drive is all they'd need. Fournette took a handoff from Brady 46 yards to the house, sealing the deal for Tampa Bay and making the score 31-17 with 1:48 to play.
Carolina marched down the field on their next drive but they wouldn't come up with anything, leaving the score at 31-17 and giving the Bucs their first win of the season during their home opener.