It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. The Bucs pulled a major upset in Carolina, stealing a road win in the division by beating the Panthers, 20-14, and keeping Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and others out of the end zone.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Shaq Attack, Bucs Defense Dominant In Carolina
Oh what a difference a year makes for Tampa Bay’s defense.
The last time the Bucs were in Carolina the Panthers ran roughshod over them, racing out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and held a 35-7 advantage over Tampa Bay just minutes before halftime in a 42-28 thrashing. Christian McCaffrey compiled 157 total yards and ran for two touchdowns last year.
Oh what a difference Todd Bowles makes.
Bowles’ Bucs defense put the clamps on McCaffrey and Carolina’s potent offense in Tampa Bay’s 20-14 win, holding the Panthers to just four field goals and McCaffrey to 37 yards rushing and 16 yards receiving. Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was the hero with a stop for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 2-yard. Hargreaves had a career-high – and team-high – 12 tackles on Thursday night.
The Bucs’ improved defense held the Panthers to 3-of-14 (21 percent) third down conversions and 0-of-3 on fourth down conversions. Carolina’s ground game was held to just 39 yards with quarterback Cam Newton rushed twice for zero yards and was sacked three times by new outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who recorded all three sacks in the third quarter, including two on back-to-back plays to force a Carolina punt. Barrett also came up with a big QB pressure on fourth-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 46 to force an incompletion by Newton and a turnover on downs.
Those three sacks are a career-high for Barrett, who now has all four of Tampa Bay’s sacks to start the season. He finished the game with four of Tampa Bay’s six quarterback hits. I profiled Barrett in this week’s SR’s Fab 5, detailing how he had to provide the team’s pass rush in the absence of the injured Jason Pierre-Paul.
After allowing just 17 points last week in a loss to San Francisco, Bowles’ defense held Carolina to only 12 points on Thursday night. Through two weeks, Tampa Bay’s defense has surrendered an average of 14.5 points per game, which is a huge improvement over a year ago.
STATEMENT 2: The Bucs Learned How To Win In Carolina
“The Bucs didn’t beat the Bucs tonight,” right tackle Demar Dotson declared, and he’s right.
After committing four turnovers last week and losing the turnover battle 4-2 in a loss against San Francisco, Tampa Bay’s offense didn’t turn the ball over once in Carolina. That allowed the Bucs to win the turnover battle 1-0 as rookie outside linebacker Anthony Nelson forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Perhaps more importantly, the Bucs defense didn’t buckle under the pressure in the game’s waning moments as Carolina got down to the Tampa Bay 2-yard line – only to see McCaffrey get tackled by Hargreaves on a fourth-and-1 run for no gain out the Wildcat formation. In years past the Bucs would have found a way to lose this game – but not this year.
Tampa Bay’s offense did just enough to win behind quarterback Jameis Winston, who was an efficient 16-of-25 for 208 yards with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, who finished with eight catches for 121 yards, including three receptions of 20 yards or more.
This was despite the Bucs misfiring on third down. Tampa Bay was a dreadful 2-of-12 (16.6 percent). Just wait until wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end O.J. Howard join the party. Evans had four catches for 61 yards, including a 41-yard bomb, while Howard didn’t record a single catch.
Winston didn’t have to carry the entire load as Tampa Bay’s ground game came to life again in the second half for a second straight week. The Bucs were held to just 25 yards on 10 carries at halftime with Peyton Barber accounting for every yard.
Barber exploded for 57 yards in the second half, including a 16-yard touchdown. That allowed the Bucs to rush for 100 yards in Carolina led by Barber’s 82 yards.
The end result was Bruce Arians’ first win as Tampa Bay’s head coach, the Bucs’ first win of the year, which came on the road against a division foe in Carolina. The Bucs avoid the dreaded 0-2 start, which usually sinks most teams’ playoff hopes right out of the gate. Instead, it’s the Panthers that are starting off 2019 with a 0-2 record – at home no less.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: How Serious Is White’s Knee Injury?
The Bucs received some bad news early in the first quarter as rookie inside linebacker Devin White went to the ground and grabbed his left knee. White didn’t return to the game before a 27-minute weather delay. Once the team took the field for warm-ups again, White was seen jogging on the sideline under the supervision of a team trainer, but it was determined he could not return and was ruled out.
The extent of White’s injury is unknown at this time, but PewterReport.com has learned that it is not an ACL tear. Tampa Bay will know more after an MRI on Friday. Veteran Kevin Minter replaced White and made an immediate impact with five tackles in the first quarter. Minter had an interception in the third quarter that was negated by a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Carlton Davis.
Minter finished the game with eight tackles, which was second on the team. White had two tackles early in the game before exiting with his knee injury.
QUESTION 2: Why Doesn’t Winston Scramble More?
Last year Winston rushed for a career-high 281 yards on 49 carries while averaging 5.7 yards per carry in just 11 games. This year, it seems like Arians has convinced Winston to stay in the pocket for some reason and instead of it resulting in big plays downfield it’s been the quarterback hanging in the pocket and taking needless sacks.
The lone time Winston scrambled on Thursday night he rushed for nine yards and picked up a first down. Winston was sacked three times against San Francisco last week and was dropped three times by Carolina on Thursday night.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Barrett Continues To Pile Up Sacks
Barrett’s four sacks lead the NFL – albeit temporarily – until the rest of the NFL games take place on Sunday. But he’s just getting started. Barrett should be able to notch a sack or two against New York Giants left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Mike Remmers next Sunday to continue to rack up the QB captures.
Barrett signed a one-year deal in Tampa Bay worth $4 million this offseason and is halfway to hitting some of his incentives. Barrett can reach a $250,000 balance with just four more sacks. With six more sacks, which would allow him to hit 10 sacks, Barrett would earn an additional $250,000 bonus.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Improve To 2-1 With Win Over Giants
With the Bucs ready to embark on a seven-week odyssey away from Tampa Bay following next week’s home game against the New York Giants, the team needs to start the season 2-1. Many pundits, including yours truly, figured the Bucs would beat the 49ers in the season opener and lose at Carolina before beating the Giants to wind up 2-1.
Instead it was the opposite, dropping the season opener at home to San Francisco before stealing a road win at Carolina. But regardless of how the Bucs got to 1-1, they need to improve to 2-1 with a win over the G-men, and they will get the job done at home thanks to another stellar defensive effort by Bowles and Co.