It just ended up being that the Buccaneers division schedule didn’t start until the very end of October. At the beginning of the year, this was looked at as odd, but by the time the division games rolled around, the Bucs needed them at 2-4 in the standings.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to gain the ground they desperately needed in their first division game, as they fell to the Carolina Panthers at home by a score of 17-3.
The game was schedule to be a windy one, which normally comes with offensive inefficiencies. Though the winds weren’t as bad as they could have been, the game still had those early inefficiencies with both teams starting off with three-and-outs.
On the Bucs’ second drive of the game, things started to settle down in their favor. A nice Doug Martin run of eight yards got things going and a few short passes to Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate moved the sticks beyond that. T drive came to a halt, however, when Mike Evans dropped what should have been the next first down.
Carolina responded with the game’s longest and most time consuming drive. The possession stretched 82 yards over 17 plays, and included Cam Newton and the Panthers offense converting on 5-of-5 third downs they faced. The final play of the drive was a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart.
On the Bucs next drive, they sustained control. After a holding call, which was the first of many offensive line errors on the day, Jameis Winston and DeSean Jackson connected for a 19-yard pass. Jackson was targeted five times in the first three drives of the game. Winston went on to hit Evans for a 19-yard catch of his own, but was unable to get the offense in field goal range after that; a punt was the result.
The Bucs defense came alive on the following two Panthers’ drives, holding them to just four plays each and 11 total yards. However, on the drive that would follow those, the Panthers marched the ball 41 yards in nine plays to get into field goal range and extend their lead to double digits.
That’s how both teams went into half time; with the score 10-0.
The Buccaneer started the game with the ball and weren’t able to do much with it. Knowing that, it wasn’t good that the Panthers were starting the second half with the ball and the lead. However, Bucs safety Chris Conte put those nerves to rest early with a big interception near midfield to end Carolina’s first drive of the half.
The Bucs and Panther both exchanged punts after the turnover, but on the following Buccaneers drive, Martin led his team down the field with runs of 17 and nine yards to give Bucs kicker Pat Murray the chance to cut the lead. He did just that, and the score went to just a one-possession game at 10-3.
The game would then go on three consecutive punts, two by the Panthers and one by the Buccaneers. On the Bucs next drive, Winston was hit in the arm and the the ball fluttered in the air, eventually caught and intercepted by Carolina.
The Panthers did what they were suppose to do and capitalized off the turnover with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Kelvin Benjamin. That brought the score 17-3 in favor of the Panthers.
On a drive that held a lot of importance for the Buccaneers, Winston started things off with a 12-yard pass to Evans and a 23-yard pass to Cameron Brate. In Carolina territory now, Winston dropped back to pass and went for a pass to Brate over the middle. His pass, however, was caught by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly instead, and was intercepted.
The Bucs defense held the Panthers to a three-and-out on a key possession after the interception, which fit for their day, a day that was overall pretty good considering they were down their top two cornerbacks. The Bucs offense got the ball back on a punt and late hit penalty, putting them near midfield on their own side. After two big passes to Evans and Brate, the offense stalled. Down 14 points, the Bucs went for it on 4th and 14, to which they failed.
And that’s how it would end.
Jameis Winston finished the game 21-for-38 with 210 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Mike Evans led the Bucs in catches with five and got 60 yards from them. Cam Brate led the team in receiving yards with 64 on four catches. DeSean Jackson finished the game with eight targets, but only was able to haul in three for 37 yards. Adam Humphries had four catches on six targets for 26 yards, and O.J. Howard has two catches on two targets for 16 yards. On the ground, Doug Martin had 71 yards on 18 carries.
On defense, linebacker Kwon Alexander led the team in tackles with 10 and also had two tackles for loss. Safety Chris Conte was second on the tackle list with nine and had the Bucs only interception as well.
The Bucs are now 2-5 overall and 0-1 in the NFC South with a trip to New Orleans coming up next week.