CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The shift to coordinator Todd Bowles’ aggressive defense continues to pay off for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who got an important divisional road win against the Carolina Panthers Thursday night, avoiding an 0-2 start for the first time since 2014.
In eight quarters of football, the Bucs’ defense has surrendered one touchdown, including keeping the Panthers out of the end zone, limiting them to four field goals. The defense also weathered the loss of rookie linebacker Devin White, who suffered a left knee injury and did not return. Heading into Thursday’s game, the Bucs had allowed a touchdown in 36 straight games — the fifth-longest active streak in the NFL, according to ESPN Statistics & Information. They surrendered an average of 29 points a game last year. Through two games this year, they’ve given up an average of 10 points.
Defensive backs got their hands on a number of Cam Newton passes. Vernon Hargreaves III finished with 12 tackles. There was consistent pressure all night. Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett registered three sacks, including two on back-to-back plays, becoming the first Bucs player since at least 1991 with three sacks in a single quarter. Rookie Anthony Nelson batted down a pass and in the third quarter, forced a fumble that was recovered by Ndamukong Suh.
QB Breakdown: After throwing three interceptions last week — including two pick-sixes — quarterback Jameis Winston managed to avoid any turnovers. His offensive line did a much better job keeping him clean in the pocket, with the one sack given up a coverage sack. Overall, Winston appeared more in-sync with his receivers — Chris Godwin finished with eight catches for 121 yards and a touchdown — and was aided by a consistent ground game, with Peyton Barber rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown.
The biggest thing for Winston was he didn’t have to do it on his own, something the coaching staff has emphasized with him since Day 1. He needs to rely on the players around him and not try to be Superman. With this win against the Panthers, Winston ended a 12-game losing streak in road starts. He also got a jolt of confidence after one of the worst performances of his career, which likely would have gotten him benched under former coach Dirk Koetter.
Pivotal play: Late in the fourth quarter, Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis was slapped with an illegal hands to the face penalty, advancing the Panthers from the Tampa Bay 22 to the 11-yard line with 1:45 remaining. After a delay of game penalty, on fourth-and 2, Hargreaves tackled Christian McCaffrey at the 2-yard line to preserve a 20-14 win.
Promising trend: The Bucs ended a seven-game road losing streak against the Panthers. They also managed to do something they haven’t done much of in the last 10 years — they found a way to come back from a deficit. From 2009 through Week 1 of 2019, they were 36-105 when trailing at any point in a game. Granted they only trailed by three points — when the Panthers hit their second field goal to make it 6-3 in the second quarter — but for a team that has struggled to get out of its own way, this was an important step.