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DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s defensive line absolutely dominated the trenches in Carolina on Sunday. Panthers running back DeShaun Foster rushed for 64 yards on 15 carries (4.3 avg.), but Carolina’s offense was flat, especially in the first half, where the Panthers produced just 77 yards of total offense. Tampa Bay’s exceptional play against Carolina’s running game early on along with its early lead allowed the Bucs to hold the Panthers to just 99 yards rushing on 23 carries (4.3 avg.).
Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye took advantage of some of the one-on-one matchups he received by recording four tackles, which led Tampa Bay’s entire defensive line. Haye also notched one of Tampa Bay’s three sacks on quarterback David Carr at the beginning of the fourth quarter. That loss went for 5 yards.
Although he recorded just two tackles, Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan was extremely disruptive along the line. He fought off double teams, which allowed some of Hovan’s defensive teammates to stuff several running plays for a loss or short gains.
Tampa Bay left defensive end Greg Spires finished the game with just one tackle, but his biggest impact came on the field, not the stat sheet. Spires played despite missing practice time during the week with an ankle injury. He played extremely well against the run and was good in pursuit. He certainly didn’t play like he was injured. Defensive lineman Kevin Carter also had one tackle on Sunday.
Bucs backup DE Gaines Adams had some mixed results against Panthers veteran left tackle Travelle Wharton. Late in the second quarter, Wharton pancaked Adams on a passing play. However, two plays later Adams showed great pursuit and playmaking ability by tackling Foster from behind on a running play to force a punt. Adams got into Carolina’s backfield a few times, but he never got enough pressure on Carr. Adams finished the game with one tackle.
Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah saw some playing time for the first time this year. He missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury. Although he didn’t get a lot of reps, Chukwurah made the most of them. Late in the fourth quarter, Chukwurah beat Wharton around the corner from the right side with his impressive speed and sacked Carr for a 7-yard loss. He finished the game with one tackle and two quarterback hurries.
Late in the third quarter, Bucs rookie defensive tackle Greg Peterson recovered a Foster fumble caused by rookie safety Tanard Jackson. Peterson recovered the ball at the Panthers’ 27-yard line. One quarter later, Peterson came up big again, this time sacking Carr for a 6-yard loss. Peterson finished the game with two tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery.
Reserve defensive lineman Greg White was impressive again Sunday. He showed impressive speed and pursuit by chasing down Carr in the flat in the third quarter. That play set up a third-and-15 for Carolina and eventually forced the Panthers to punt. He finished the game with two tackles and one quarterback hurry.
Tampa Bay held Carolina to 236 yards of total offense. The Panthers had the ball for just 25:20 compared to the Bucs’ time of possession, which was 34:40.
LINEBACKERS The speed of Tampa Bay’s trio of linebackers – Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Cato June – really came in handy for the Bucs defense in terms of taking away short-to-intermediate passing lanes on Sunday. The linebackers’ coverage was one of the main reasons why Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith was contained by Tampa Bay’s defense in this game.
For the first time this season, Ruud did not lead the team in tackles at the conclusion of the game. However, he did notch five tackles. To their credit, Tampa Bay’s defensive line didn’t need much help from the linebackers in terms of stopping the run. Ruud continued his playmaking ways Sunday by drilling Foster and forcing him to fumble after a catch in the second quarter. However, the Bucs couldn’t recover the ball. Ruud notched five tackles and forced a fumble vs. the Panthers.
Bucs strongside linebacker Cato June didn’t record a single tackle vs. the Panthers, but he was involved in several big plays. In the second quarter, Carolina’s offense attempted to open things up with a flee-flicker from Foster to Carr and a pass down field from Carr to Smith. Smith got open on the play, but June showed great leaping ability by tipping the pass, which resulted in Smith dropping the ball. Later in the second quarter, June had the fumble caused by Ruud in his hands but failed to secure it, which allowed the Panthers to retain possession. Rookie LB Quincy Black saw some playing time and recorded three tackles.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks had a quiet game. He recorded three tackles. However, like the rest of Tampa Bay’s linebackers, Brooks swarmed to the ball, took away passing lanes and proved to be disruptive near the line of scrimmage.
Tampa Bay’s defense was jus 23 seconds away from shutting out Carolina on Sunday. Carr’s 24-yard screen pass to running back DeAngelo Williams resulted in a touchdown and spoiled the Bucs’ chances of leaving the Panthers scoreless.
SECONDARY Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly missed Sunday’s game due to a groin injury, but that didn’t stop Tampa Bay’s defense from shutting down Carolina’s passing attack, which was without quarterback Jake Delhomme.
With Kelly out, Bucs nickel cornerback Phillip Buchanon started in his place and spent a significant amount of time covering Panthers WR Steve Smith. In fact, Panthers backup quarterback David Carr tested Buchanon on their first offensive play of the game by throwing deep to Smith down the left sideline. However, the pass was off the mark and Buchanon’s coverage was solid. In the second quarter, Buchanon nearly picked off a pass from Carr to Smith down the right sideline. In the third quarter, Buchanon showed great instincts by jumping a slant pass from Carr to Smith, which resulted in an incomplete pass. Buchanon and the rest of Tampa Bay’s defense were solid in terms of tackling. He led the team in tackles with six and recorded two passes defensed. More importantly, Buchanon was one of the main reasons why Smith caught just five passes for 32 yards.
Tampa Bay safeties Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson came up huge Sunday. Late in the third quarter, Jackson drilled Foster after the running back hauled in a pass. That hard hit resulted in Foster fumbling the ball, which allowed defensive lineman Greg Peterson to recover the loose ball. Jackson finished the game with two tackles and one forced fumble. Phillips had a great open field tackle on running back DeAngelo Williams in the first quarter and picked off Carr across the middle of the field in the fourth quarter. That turnover gave the Bucs the ball on the Panthers’ 28-yard line. Phillips notched five tackles and one interception on Sunday.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber quietly recorded three tackles. Nickel CB Sammy Davis notched one tackle of his own. Panthers wide receivers Keary Colbert and Drew Carter combined for just four catches for 32 yards.
Carr completed 19-of-41 passes for 155 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. Carolina converted just 6-of-18 (33 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Tampa Bay.
SPECIAL TEAMS Tampa Bay’s special teams played an integral role in helping the Bucs defeat the Panthers on Sunday.
Bucs punt returner Mark Jones helped set the Bucs offense up with great starting field position throughout most of the game. Late in the first quarter, Jones returned a punt 17 yards to the Panthers’ 48-yard line. In the second quarter, Jones drew a fair catch interference penalty from Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall. Jones broke off a great punt return in the fourth quarter by gaining 18 yards on a punt from Carolina’s own end zone. He managed to return the punt to the Panthers’ 50-yard line. Jones, who had great upfield blocking from his punt return team, averaged 14.2 yards per punt return on Sunday.
Although he averaged just 35.2 yards per punt, Bucs punter Josh Bidwell had an outstanding game. He pinned the Panthers back deep in their own territory throughout most of the game. In fact, one of Bidwell’s punts in the first quarter landed on the Panthers’ 1-yard line and was batted back to the 6-yard line by wide receiver Maurice Stovall. Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah downed the ball.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant was perfect on the day, drilling two field goals. Bryant’s first field goal was a 25-yarder that came midway through the second quarter. His second field goal came in the fourth quarter afterÂ safety Jermaine Phillips’ interception. That 38-yard kick put the Bucs up 20-0.
Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton fielded the opening kickoff of the game. The kickoff was intended for running back Earnest Graham, but it was fielded by Clayton off of a hop. Clayton returned the ball past the 30-yard line.
COACHING This was one of the best coaching jobs Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and special teams coach Richard Bisaccia have ever collectively put together. The Buccaneers were clearly prepared for a physical game with the Panthers, who had won seven of their last eight games with Tampa Bay dating back to the 2003 season.
The Bucs produced 365 yards of total offense and put the Panthers in a big hole by jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Tampa Bay’s defense took wide receiver Steve Smith out of the game, created two turnovers and sacked backup quarterback David Carr three times. The defense was just seconds away from posting a shutout against a potentially potent offense in Carolina. Despite the fact that Carolina’s defensive tackles weigh nearly 700 pounds combined, Tampa Bay’s ground attack proved to be effective (189 yards rushing) thanks to the physical play of the team’s offensive line. The Bucs dominated the time of possession, 34:40 to 25:20. Special teams played a huge role in establishing favorable field position for Tampa Bay’s offense and giving Carolina’s offense long fields to work with.
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