The Buccaneers and Panthers at times seemed like they were trying to keep their opponent in the game, but in the end Tampa Bay was able to pull off a 17-14 win in what could serve as a momentum boost for the rest of the season.
The six-game skid against the Panthers is over, thanks to a four-takeaway effort by the Bucs defense and 107 yards on the ground for the offense. Roberto Aguayo finally came through and all other kicks are water under the bridge, for now.
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RB JACQUIZZ RODGERS
Rodgers, starting for only the fifth time in his career, had his work cut out for him Monday night and he delivered for Tampa Bay. The 5-foot-6 back rushed for 101 yards on 30 carries and kept the Bucs game winning drive alive with a critical eight-yard reception on third-and-4. Rodgers ran tough and often in possibly the most run-heavy game of Dirk Koetter’s tenure in Tampa Bay, taking 10 carries on the opening drive and setting the pace on offense.
CB BRENT GRIMES
With 8:45 left in regulation and Carolina positioned at the Bucs 1-yard line, this was the Panthers’ game to lose and Grimes made sure they would. The 5-foot-10 corner read a pass to TE Greg Olsen – it was about time someone on the Bucs defense did – and put his ups on display, leaping and coming down with the ball for perhaps the play-of-the-game. With that INT, Grimes, signed away from Miami in the offseason, ended the Bucs cornerbacks’ 12-game interception drought dating back to last season. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Grimes finished the night with four tackles, as well.
WR MIKE EVANS
No QB has targeted his No. 1 WR more this season than Jameis Winston has targeted Mike Evans. While the former had a shaky night, to put it mildly, the latter turned in another nice outing, catching six passes for 89 yards and the Bucs only TD. Tampa Bay quickly responded to Carolina’s second score with a four-play, 75-yard drive capped off by Evans 26-yard TD and a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 in the third quarter. It was the first time Tampa Bay seemed to take advantage of the Panther’s reeling secondary, and Winston and Evans were finally able to connect on a double-move. Evans also had an 11-yard reception on third-and-7 during the final drive, one of two critical conversions in the closing minute.
DT WILL GHOLSTON
Gholston came up huge for the Bucs in the fourth quarter, recovering a fumble by Derek Anderson at their own 44-yard line (forced by Davonte Lambert) and then moving the pile to stop Cameron Artis-Payne on third-and-2 with just over two minutes left. He had both tackles on first- and second-down, too, leading a defensive three-and-out and giving Tampa Bay the ball back for the game winning drive. Gholston, the only Week 1 starter along the D-Line active Monday, finished the night with five tackles and several key stops.
Lined up across one of the strongest front sevens in the NFL in Carolina, the Bucs five-man front opened running lanes for Jacquizz Rodgers throughout the night. Joe Hawley and Ali Marpet had their work cut out against the likes of DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, but the Bucs interior lineman more than held their own Monday. Along with Kevin Pamphile, who Pro Football Focus graded out as one of the Bucs top performers, Hawley and Marpet could be seen pulling and getting to the second level to clear paths throughout the night and it led to 101 yards on the ground. Without Doug Martin, the offensive line still made the century mark possible.
Honorable Mention: Bradley McDougald (team-leading eight tackles), Davonte Lambert (forced fumble), Russell Shepard (heads-up fumble recovery on punt) and Daryl Smith (INT).