The Bucs won the battle of “wounded knee” on Sunday, but it was a costly victory. Tampa Bay claimed sole possession of first place in the NFC South division and moved to 3-1 on the year after beating the 2-2 Panthers, 20-7, at Carolina, but lost two offensive starters to knee injuries.

Starting running back Cadillac Williams was carted off with a severe right knee injury late in the first quarter and may be lost for the season.

In the second quarter, left tackle Luke Petitgout was forced out of the game with a knee sprain when Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins fell into his right leg. Petitgout’s injury isn’t believed to be as serious, but the chances of him playing at Indianapolis appear to be slim at best.

Even without Williams and Petitgout, Tampa Bay’s revamped running game, which featured Donald Penn at left tackle, Arron Sears at left guard and Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman at running back, was able to get yardage against Carolina’s vaunted defensive front that was missing middle linebacker Dan Morgan, who was out due to injury.

On Sunday, Tampa Bay rushed for 189 yards on 42 carries (4.5 avg.), which is the most the Bucs have ever rushed for against the Panthers. Pittman led the way with 90 yards on 15 carries (6.0 avg.), while Graham chipped in 48 yards on 17 carries and scored one touchdown.

The Panthers were undermanned, playing without Morgan and Buc-killing quarterback Jake Delhomme, who boasted a 7-1 record against Tampa Bay, and it hurt them. The Bucs took advantage, out-gaining the Panthers 365 yards to 236 yards. Tampa Bay’s defense continued its stingy ways, recording three sacks and two turnovers, and was 23 seconds away from a shutout before Carolina scored a touchdown. David Carr, who replaced Delhomme in the lineup, completed only 19-of-41 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia was an efficient 15-of-25 for 176 yards with no touchdown passes, no interceptions and one 3-yard touchdown run.

The Buccaneers had an impressive opening drive, marching 71 yards on 11 plays while using a hurry-up offense. Garcia was on fire to start the game, completing 5-of-6 passes for 47 yards on the drive, including four passes to wide receiver Ike Hilliard for 46 yards. All four of Hilliard’s catches went for first downs. The drive was capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run on a scramble by Garcia on first-and-goal from the Carolina 3. With 8:43 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay had a 7-0 lead.

Disaster struck on Tampa Bay’s third offensive series when Williams was lost with a severe right knee injury. Williams found running room off the right side and broke off an 18-yard run before Carolina safety Chris Harris hit him near the Carolina sideline, bending him back over his right knee at the 2:58 mark of the first quarter. In a scene reminiscent of the preseason finale when wide receiver Paris Warren broke his ankle, the entire Buccaneers team went over to the Panthers sideline to console Williams, who was in obvious pain as he was carted off the field. Williams finished the game with six carries for 41 yards.

Williams’ injury did not deter the Buccaneers, though. On the next play, Garcia hit fullback B.J. Askew across the middle with a 17-yard strike on a slant pattern. Graham, who rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns last week against St. Louis, ripped off an 11-yard run on his first carry down to the Panthers 2. Two plays later, he would score his third NFL touchdown on a 1-yard dash. With 48 seconds left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay increased its lead to 14-0 over Carolina.

Another major injury struck on the Bucs next series when Petitgout went down with a right knee injury when center John Wade blocked Panthers defensive tackle Kris Jenkins into Tampa Bay’s left tackle at the 12:02 mark in the second quarter. Petitgout was replaced by Penn at left tackle.

On the next play, Hilliard fumbled when he was stripped of the ball by cornerback Chris Gamble at the Carolina 23. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis recovered the loose ball, squelching another possible Tampa Bay scoring drive.

But Carolina wasn’t able to do much with the turnover and allowed Hilliard to redeem himself. On the second play of Tampa Bay’s next possession, Garcia found Hilliard for a 56-yard gain down to the Carolina 10. The Bucs couldn’t score a touchdown on the drive, but did add a 25-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to take a 17-0 lead at the 6:41 mark of the second quarter.

Carolina’s offense continued to struggle in the second half, but its defense showed some signs of life with a goal line stand at the 1:10 mark of the third quarter, stopping Graham four times inside the 5-yard line, including two times from the Carolina 1-yard line to deny Tampa Bay a touchdown on fourth down.

Tampa Bay finally got to Carr in the fourth quarter as under tackle Jovan Haye recorded his second sack of the season. On the next play, defensive end Greg White pressured Carr, who threw an interception to strong safety Jermaine Phillips at the Carolina 27-yard line. That turnover helped the Bucs extend its lead to lead to 20-0 with 10:21 left in the game when Bryant drilled a 38-yard field goal.

Carolina finally got on the board with a touchdown in garbage time. On third-and-20, Carr hit running back DeAngelo Williams with a 24-yard screen pass for a touchdown with 23 seconds left to ruin Tampa Bay’s bid for a shutout. While, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was visibly upset on the sidelines after Williams’ touchdown, he can take solace in the fact that his team is 3-1 on the season, including 2-0 in the NFC South.

Tampa Bay took the field and essentially ended this game on the opening drive. Quarterback Jeff Garcia was 6-of-7 for 47 yards as the Bucs moved 71 yards down the field for a touchdown, which he produced with a 3-yard run. That marked the first time all season that the Bucs had scored a touchdown on their opening possession. Tampa Bay was in complete control of the game from the outset, looking sharp on offense, defense and special teams. Tampa Bay’s offense kept piling on the points throughout the game, scoring at least 20 points for the third straight week, while Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed an average of only eight points per game.

Although he had a quiet second half, Buccaneers wide receiver Ike Hilliard had one heck of a first half against Carolina with seven catches for 114 yards, including a 56-yarder in the second quarter. Although he didn’t have a catch after halftime, Hilliard made his presence felt and recorded his first 100-yard receiving game as a Buccaneer. For his efforts, Hilliard is this week’s Pewter Player of the Game. Hilliard, who was game-time decision due to an ankle sprain, shook off the injury and caught four passes for 46 yards on Tampa Bay’s opening touchdown drive. That helped set the tone for the Buccaneers’ third-straight victory. With Carolina double-teaming Joey Galloway, who was held without a catch in the first half and finished with just one reception for seven yards, Hilliard was Jeff Garcia’s go-to guy as Tampa Bay built a 17-0 lead at halftime.

• With the win, Tampa Bay is in sole possession of first place in the NFC South division with a 3-1 record and a 2-0 record in the division. Carolina is 2-2 with a 1-1 record in the NFC South, while 1-3 Atlanta is 0-1 in the division, as is 0-3 New Orleans. The Bucs have never started off 2-0 in the NFC South.

• The reason for Tampa Bay’s hot start this year is the fact that it has started fast against opponents. Last year, the Bucs were outscored by opponents, 80-32, in the first quarter. This year, Tampa Bay is outscoring foes 27-0 in the first quarter, including 14-0 against Carolina on Sunday. The Bucs owned the first quarter against the Panthers, out-gaining them 130-23 in total yards, while picking up 11 first downs to Carolina’s one. Tampa Bay also owned the time of possession, 10:29 to 4:31.

• Through four games, the Bucs have outscored opponents 47-10 in the first half. Last year, Tampa Bay was outscored 171-83.

• The Bucs have won the turnover battle in three straight games, which have all been Tampa Bay victories. Against Carolina, the Bucs recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass while only committing one turnover – a fumble.

• Tampa Bay has rushed for over 180 yards for the second straight week. Last week against St. Louis, the Bucs rushed for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Against Carolina, the Bucs racked up 189 yards on the ground with two more rushing scores.

• Two of the top receivers in the NFL – Tampa Bay’s Joey Galloway and Carolina’s Steve Smith – were held in check on Sunday. Galloway didn’t have a catch in the first half, and finished with one reception for seven yards. Smith, who has always seemed to have his best games against the Buccaneers, had only 32 yards on five catches and was frustrated throughout the day.

• The Bucs showed incredible discipline at Carolina, recording only one penalty, a 5-yard delay of game infraction. Tampa Bay actually chose to take that penalty to allow punter Josh Bidwell more room to kick the ball.

• Tampa Bay was 23 seconds away from a shutout before Carolina scored a touchdown. The Panthers have not been shut out in the last 73 games. The last time Carolina was shut out was on November 24, 2002 against Atlanta. The last time Tampa Bay recorded a shutout was against Atlanta, 27-0, on December 5, 2004. The last time the Bucs had a road shutout was at Philadelphia in the season opener in 2003. Tampa Bay beat the Eagles 17-0 in that contest.

Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud forced his third fumble of the season, which leads the team. … Tampa Bay rookie safety Tanard Jackson forced a third quarter fumble, his first in the NFL. The fumble was recovered by fellow rookie, defensive tackle Greg Peterson, who posted his first NFL fumble recovery. … Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia scored his first rushing touchdown in two years when he rushed for a 3-yard score in the first quarter. That score was also Garcia’s first rushing score in Tampa Bay. … Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon has a team-leading six pass breakups after recording two more against the Panthers. He also led the Bucs in tackles on Sunday with six. … Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah saw his first action as a Buccaneer and got a quarterback pressure on David Carr on his first play, which occurred in the third quarter. He later recorded his first sack as a Buc in the fourth quarter. … Tight end Alex Smith had a season-high four catches for 17 yards at Carolina. … Bucs running back Michael Pittman had a season-high 28-yard run against Carolina and finished with a game-high 90 yards rushing on 15 carries (6.0 avg.).

Starting offense:
WR Joey Galloway
LT Luke Petitgout
LG Arron Sears
C John Wade
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Alex Smith
WR Ike Hilliard
FB B.J. Askew
RB Cadillac Williams

Starting defense:
LE Greg Spires
UT Jovan Haye
NT Chris Hovan
RE Kevin Carter
WLB Derrick Brooks
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Cato June
LCB Phillip Buchanon
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Jermaine Phillips
RCB Ronde Barber

Starting specialists:
K Matt Bryant
P Josh Bidwell
LS Andrew Economos

Bucs Inactives:
LB Adam Hayward,
CB Brian Kelly,
OL Anthony Davis,
DT Ryan Sims,
G Dan Buenning,
MLB Jeremiah Trotter,
QB Chris Simms and
QB Luke McCown (emergency QB). Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski did not play.

Panthers Inactives:
TE Marcus Freeman, DE Otis Grigsby, DE Charles Johnson, G Evan Mathis, LB Adam Seward, LB Dan Morgan. Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme missed the game due to an elbow injury and was the emergency quarterback.

Tampa Bay defensive end Brian Kelly didn’t play due to a groin injury. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard played despite a sprained ankle. Running back Cadillac Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout suffered right knee injuries in the game. Williams was carted off the field with a severe knee injury that could be season-ending, while Petitgout may just have an MCL sprain, which is typically a 3-6 week injury.

The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium was 73,707. The temperature at kickoff was 78 degrees with 31 percent humidity.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) now have sole possession of first place in the NFC South and will travel to Indianapolis to play the Colts (4-0) at the RCA Dome on Sunday, October 7. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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