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DEFENSIVE LINE With nothing to gain in Sunday's game, Tampa Bay rested several players and substituted heavily along the defensive line vs. Carolina.
The Bucs rotated Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims at nose tackle early, but Sims basically took over the position after the first half. Hovan notched four tackles vs. the Panthers.
Although Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for 42 yards on eight carries (5.3 avg.) in the first half, Sims made a great tackle on him late in the second quarter with the Panthers on the Bucs' 10-yard line. Carolina eventually had to settle for a field goal on that drive. Sims penetrated Carolina's backfield several times, especially in the second half. He led Tampa Bay's defensive linemen with five tackles.
Tampa Bay started Kevin Carter at left end and rookie Gaines Adams at right end vs. Carolina. Adams saw a significant amount of playing time as did first-year DE Greg White, who was held sackless and notched just one tackle. Adams made a nice form tackle on RB DeShaun Foster to stop him for a 2-yard gain on the third drive of the game in the second quarter. Both Adams and White finished Sunday's game with one tackle apiece.
Although he didn't start, veteran DE Greg Spires saw plenty of playing time. Late in the third quarter, he came up big by sacking quarterback Matt Moore for a loss of 5 yards to set up second-and-15. Spires finished the game with one tackle.
Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye started the game and notched two tackles. Rookie defensive lineman Greg Peterson, who saw playing time at defensive tackle, touched Moore down on a ball that was snapped over his head on a third down play late in the third quarter. The play went for a 24-yard loss. Peterson left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. He did not return and finished the game with two tackles.
The Bucs struggled to generate a consistent and potent pass rush and allowed the Panthers to produce 172 yards of offense, including 80 yards rushing on 16 carries (5.0 avg.) in the first half.
Carolina finished the game with 349 yards of total offense, including 180 yards rushing on 37 attempts (4.9 avg.).
LINEBACKERS The Buccaneers rested all three of their starting linebackers vs. the Panthers. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud sat out of Sunday's game and was replaced by Jeremiah Trotter, who made his first start as a Buccaneer.
Although weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and strongside linebacker Cato June started the game at their respective positions, rookies Quincy Black and Adam Hayward spent the majority of the game playing the outside linebacker positions. Brooks notched two tackles vs. the Panthers.
Trotter showed good quickness to the sideline but had mixed results against the run as did the entire defense. As a result, Carolina managed to convert 5-of-8 (63 percent) of their third down attempts in the first half and 7-of-14 (50 percent) for the game. Trotter finished the contest with a team-leading eight tackles vs. the Panthers.
Hayward notched four tackles and Black recorded three takedowns. While Black took some good angles, he had trouble wrapping up on tackles, which aided Carolina's ground attack.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Black and Trotter were blocked out of their respective gaps, which allowed RB DeAngelo Williams to break off a 32-yard touchdown run down the right sideline. That play gave the Panthers a 31-23 lead over the Bucs and proved to be the difference in the game.
Williams finished Sunday's contest wit 121 yards rushing on 20 attempts (6.1 avg.) and two touchdowns.
SECONDARY Tampa Bay's secondary struggled quite a bit to stop Carolina's passing attack, which was led by backup quarterback Matt Moore. He completed 15-of-24 passes for 174 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception vs. Tampa Bay's defense, which entered Sunday's game ranked No. 2 overall.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber started at left cornerback and saw limited playing time vs. the Panthers. He was replaced by Phillip Buchanon in the first quarter. Brian Kelly started the game at right cornerback and saw significant playing time.
On the opening drive of the game, Kelly defended a pass from Moore intended for wide receiver Drew Carter in the back of the end zone on a third-and-4 play. That incompletion forced the Panthers to settle for a 22-yard field goal. However, Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks was called for a holding penalty on the field goal attempt, which took the field goal off the board and gave the Panthers a first down from the Bucs' 2-yard line. Kelly broke up another pass attempt on the next drive. Late in the second quarter, Kelly did a great job of recognizing a quick out to WR Steve Smith and made the tackle for a 1-yard loss at the Bucs' 10-yard line. The Panthers eventually had to settle for a field goal. Kelly notched three tackles and two passes defensed on Sunday.
Buchanon came up huge on Carolina's second drive of the game when he jumped wide receiver Steve Smith's route and intercepted Moore's pass and returned it 4 yards to the Panthers' 18-yard line Tampa Bay eventually settled for a Matt Bryant 31-yard field goal, which put them up over the Panthers, 10-7. However, he allowed Carter to come up with a huge 13-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter that gave the Panthers a first down on a third down play. One play later, Foster broke off a 32-yard touchdown run that put the Panthers up 31-23. Buchanon notched two tackles, one interception and one pass defensed vs. the Panthers.
Tampa Bay rested strong safety Jermaine Phillips on Sunday. Kalvin Pearson started in Phillips' place. While rookie Tanard Jackson started at free safety, the Bucs worked Will Allen in to the rotation.
Pearson was aggressive against the run, evidenced by his seven tackles, which ranked second on the team. But his pass coverage wasn't great. With 37 seconds remaining in the first half, Pearson allowed WR Ryne Robinson to haul in a 9-yard pass to the Bucs' 1-yard line, but tackled him short of the first down marker. That tackle forced the Panthers to settle for a 19-yard field goal, which put them up 17-13 at halftime.
Jackson allowed tight end Christian Fauria to haul in a 2-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. That grab capped off a 14-play, 72-yard drive. Jackson made a great tackle in the offensive backfield in the fourth quarter, which was his only takedown of the game.
Bucs CB Sammy Davis struggled in coverage vs. the Panthers. He allowed Panthers tight end Dante Rosario to haul in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Moore in the second quarter. That play capped off an 11-play, 68-yard drive.
With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Davis and Allen allowed WR Drew Carter to catch a 46-yard pass down to the Bucs' 1-yard line. One play later, Williams punched the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown, which put the Panthers up over the Bucs, 24-20. Allen and Davis each notched four tackles vs. the Panthers.
The Bucs limited WR Steve Smith to five catches for 48 yards, but Moore was able to move the ball through the air by completing passes to eight different receivers on Sunday.
SPECIAL TEAMS Several Bucs players received some much-needed rest vs. the Panthers, but not kicker Matt Bryant. He went 3-of-3 on field goals on Sunday.
Bryant's first field goal attempt came late in the second quarter after Bucs rookie linebacker Quincy Black caused Panthers WR Ryne Robinson to fumble a Josh Bidwell punt. Safety Will Allen recovered the loose ball, which gave the offense possession at the 17-yard line. Tampa Bay eventually settled for a 23-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's second field goal opportunity came early in the second quarter after cornerback Phillip Buchanon's interception. That turnover eventually led to Bryant's 31-yard field goal, which was good and put the Bucs up 10-7.
Bryant's next attempt didn't come until one minute into the fourth quarter when he was called on to attempt a 49-yarder. Bryant had plenty of leg and capped off a 14-yard, 5-play drive with his kick, which made the score 24-23 in favor of the Panthers.
Tampa Bay WR Brian Clark, who was called up from the practice squad earlier in the week, made a touchdown-saving tackle on Ryne Robinson's 60-yard kickoff return with 2:24 remaining in the second quarter. That play put the Panthers on the Bucs' 35-yard line. It also eventually led to a 19-yard Carolina field goal, which put the Panthers up 17-13 at halftime.
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks was called for a costly holding penalty on John Kasey's 22-yard field goal on the opening drive. That penalty took the field goal off the scoreboard and gave the Panthers an automatic first down at the Bucs' 2-yard line. Two plays later the Panthers scored a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 47.3 yards per attempt on seven tries. He pinned two of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line and had a long of 60.
Bucs WR Micheal Spurlock averaged just 20.5 yards per kickoff return on two attempts. He also fielded one punt and returned it 15 yards in the second half.
Rookie RB Kenneth Darby returned two kickoffs for just 11 yards (5.5 avg.) vs. the Panthers.
COACHING Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was wise to rest several key members of his team even though the Bucs had the opportunity to become the first NFC South team to ever go 6-0 in division play.
The Bucs, who could have easily mailed in this game in an effort to prepare for the New York Giants in the playoffs next week, prepared and played to win the game and put themselves in position to defeat the Carolina Panthers with backup players on Sunday. However, several key mistakes proved to be costly in the 31-23 loss.
Quarterback Luke McCown completed 21-of-28 passes, but he was sacked four times and his fourth quarter interception to cornerback Richard Marshall on Carolina's 7-yard line was a huge mistake on a second-and-1 play from the Panthers' 27-yard line.
Tampa Bay's running game proved to be ineffective without starting RB Earnest Graham in the lineup, producing just 107 yards on 26 attempts (4.1 avg.), 31 of which came on McCown's second half scramble.
Tampa Bay's red zone offense produced two field goals and one touchdown. Both of those field goals came after Tampa Bay generated turnovers inside Carolina's red zone. Not converting those turnovers into touchdowns proved to be the difference in Sunday's game.
The Bucs defense struggled against the Panthers ground attack and didn't get enough pressure on quarterback Matt Moore, which allowed Carolina's offense to convert 50 percent of their third down attempts. Carolina rushed for 180 yards on 37 attempts (4.9 avg.) and two touchdowns. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 121 yards, and 78 of those yards came on 10 carries in the fourth quarter.
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