Just four days after their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Bucs traveled up to Carolina to face their division opponent, Cam Newton and the Panthers.
The Buccaneers won the toss and chose to receive the ball. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston hit his first big pass of the day on his very first attempt to receiver Chris Godwin, but after that it was three plays and a punt to end the opening drive early.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers offense had a bit more success on their first drive. Running back Christian McCaffrey was the focal point of the offense with a few nice runs on the drive, which got them into Buccaneers territory. Carolina found itself in a 4th-and-1 situation right around the 45-yard line and chose to run Newton on an option play. But Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead was right there to stop him before he could cross the line and the Panthers turned it over on downs.
It seemed the weather followed the Bucs to Carolina, as there was a 30 minute weather delay that followed the change of possession. After they were finally able to resume play, the Bucs offense sustained a 32-yard, 9-play drive that got them into field goal range. Matt Gay knocked his first attempt of the game through and that opened up the scoring at 3-0.
The Panther responded well with a nice drive of their own after going down on the scoreboard for the first time. Newton and company drove down the field and got into field goal range themselves and were able to knock in a game-tying kick.
Following the field goals for both teams, three consecutive punts ensued; two for Tampa and one for Carolina. With a short field on their next drive, it only took 23 yards for the Panthers to get into field goal range. That gave them the chance to take the lead, and that’s what they did, bringing the score a 6-3.
After back-to-back punts, one for each team, the Buccaneers offense caught fire. After consecutive 20-yard catches, one to Cam Brate and one to Chris Godwin, the Bucs found themselves in the end zone on a pass from Winston to Godwin, bringing the score to 10-6.
The Panthers didn’t take too kindly to going down on the scoreboard, and started their next drive focused to move the ball through the air. Receivers Chris Hogan and D.J. Moore caught big passes to bring the Panthers to within field goal range, which they once again converted on and brought the game a score of 10-9 at halftime.
Both teams opened up the half with punts, but when the Panthers got the ball back for a second time in the second half, a big pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen got them in striking distance to put up the first points of the second half. That’s what they did, brining the score to 12-10 with Carolina on top once again.
The Bucs responded beautifully with a quick, long drive that went 72 yards in just five plays. Chris Godwin had a catch of 24 yards and Ronald Jones had a run of 14 yards, which all set up a 16 yard run into the end zone from Peyton Barber. That gave Tampa the lead once again at 17-12.
On Carolina’s next possession, the Panthers traveled 19 yards in three plays, but on their fourth play, Newton scrambled and coughed the ball up. Rookie defensive end Anthony Nelson forced the fumble and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the first to jump on it. The Bucs offense would travel 21 yards in seven plays on their next derive, but when they set up for the field goal to extend the lead, Gay pushed it right and the score remained 17-12.
The Panthers weren’t able to do much on their next possession, but their punt pinned the Buccaneers offense right at their own 3-yard line. After what was nearly a beautiful throw and catch at the sideline from Winston to Godwin, Bucs running back Peyton Barber was tackled in his own end zone for a safety. That brought the score to 17-14, and also brought Carolina the ball.
Bucs the Bucs defense, as they had all game, came up strong and not only stopped Carolina’s drive, but stood the Panthers up on 4th-and-1 for the second time, turning the ball over on downs at midfield. The Bucs offensive line struggled to hold up against Carolina’s rush on Tampa’s ensuing possession. The drive eventually ended in a long sack on Winston, which resulted in another punt.
As the game went no, it appeared Newton became less and less accurate. Newton had players open on their next drive, he just couldn’t hit them. That forced yet another punt by the Panthers with time then under 10 minutes to go in the game.
Thankfully, for the sake of our football sanity, Peyton Barber got the Bucs next drive started on the right foot with a 12-yard gain and a quick first down. Winston then went to his main man Chris Godwin for another first down. And that got them into Carolina territory with the clock running. After getting into field goal range, it was time for some Matt gay redemption. He knocked it through, and the Bucs took the 20-14 lead.
The Panthers took over down by six with 2:26 left in the game. On Newton’s first pass of the drive, he hit wide receiver Curtis Samuel for a 24-yard gain. The drive continued with passes to both Olsen and McCaffrey, which got the Panthers to the Bucs 30-yard line with two minutes left in the game. Then a penalty by Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis got Carolina into the red zone. After marching it down all the way 3-yard line, the Bucs had the Panthers at 4th-and-2. But as McCaffrey was running to the first down mark, he was tackled short and the Panthers were stopped yet again.
The score remained 20-14, and that’s how it would end.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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