Tampa Bay can’t catch a break – or a bounce. Despite outgaining the Panthers by 173 yards on Sunday, the Bucs couldn’t find their fifth win in Carolina, losing 22-19 to the Panthers.
The Bucs defense turned in a strong performance – holding Cam Newton to 160 yards passing and the Panthers’ backfield to 63 on the ground – while Jameis Winston threw for 367 and a touchdown. But Sunday was the story of self-inflicted wounds. From allowing a 103-yard kick return near the end of the first half to missing a field goal and jumping offsides on fourth-and-goal, a few key blunders offset an otherwise improved outing for the Bucs.
Winston lost his poise in the end but excelled along with a few other teammates in the divisional loss. Check out PewterReport.com’s list of Most Impressive Bucs and see if you agree.
QB Jameis Winston
Many fans will disapprove of the final 35 seconds, in which Winston fumbled for the third time and lost his composure, and they’d have a point. More is expected of a third-year quarterback, both in terms of ball security and poise. But a careful look at Sunday’s game shows that for 59 minutes and 25 seconds, Winston was nearly perfect. Despite two early fumbles – he now has six in four games – he put the Bucs in position to win. Winston evaded pressure and found targets throughout the game – see jump ball to Adam Humphries before the half, and a third-and-3 lob to Charles Sims in the red zone – and he connected with Mike Evans three times on third down. A late, 30-yard conversion from the Bucs five-yard line appeared as if it would ice the game. Turnovers remain an issue but Sunday still saw a strong performance from Winston, who completed 21 of 27 passes for 367 yards.
WR Mike Evans
Evans leaped over Panthers cornerback James Bradberry for a 28-yard catch on the sideline during the third quarter, his fifth reception of the day. The Bucs scored on the next play as Winston found Bobo Wilson for their first lead. Evans finished with six catches for a season-high 106 yards in Carolina. Three catches came on third down, including a 30-yard strike from Winston on third-and-12 in the fourth quarter. He and fellow receivers amassed 367 yards without Desean Jackson (ankle) in the lineup.
WRs Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries
Stepping up for Jackson were Godwin and Humphries, who had 98 and 51 yards, respectively. Both contributed with “explosives” – Godwin with a 70-yard catch (longest for Bucs since 2013) and Humphries with a 36-yard snag that he wrangled from Panthers safety Kurt Coleman. Both drives, however, resulted in field goals as Tampa Bay struggled to finish in the red zone.
Coverage on Greg Olsen in the Red Zone
Traditionally a Buc-killer, Olsen was limited by the Bucs physical coverage. From Will Gholston and the outside linebackers pressing at the line of scrimmage to T.J. Ward’s effort in the end zone, Tampa Bay stymied Cam Newton’s favorite red zone target. Olsen vented his frustration near the end of the third quarter, yelling on the sideline after the Bucs held Carolina to its third field goal. Olsen, who’s missed most of the year but had 116 yards last week, finished with 27 yards Sunday.
DT Gerald McCoy
McCoy dominated the interior part of Carolina’s offensive line in the first half, culminating with a third-down sack. The six-time Pro Bowler also assisted Ryan Russell’s third-down sack in the fourth quarter, a critical splash play. While Newton rushed for 52 yards, the Bucs defensive line limited the Panthers backfield to just 63. McCoy, whose quick get-off was on display, looked in usual form despite suffering a biceps injury two weeks ago.
LBs Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander
David and Alexander combined for 19 tackles and finished plays against the run. They contained Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart, who combined for 58 yards, while Alexander produced the Bucs only takeaway, capitalizing on a tipped pass by Chris Conte in the third quarter. The Bucs defense was 70 percent (9 of 13) on third down.