Turnovers Cost Panthers in Loss to Bucs

Schuyler Callihan

The Panthers got off to a good start vs the Bucs by forcing a three and out defensively to open the game and then followed that up by driving deep into Tampa Bay territory. 

Teddy Bridgewater made a couple of nice throws on the opening drive, but made a crucial mistake as he threw a screen pass too high for Christian McCaffrey and resulted in an interception by Jordan Whitehead. The Buccaneers capitalized on the turnover as Tom Brady hit Mike Evans deep down the middle of the field for a 50-yard reception. A few plays later, running back Ronald Jones II stiff armed Juston Burris and strolled into the end zone to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead. 

On the ensuing drive, Bridgewater turned the ball over again, this time on the second play of the drive. Tampa Bay had a ton of pressure that collapsed the pocket, which forced Bridgewater to step up and ended up fumbling the ball away as he was trying to make a throw. On the very next play, Brady found Evans along the sideline for an easy 23-yard touchdown.

Trailing 14-0 early, Carolina needed something to go their way before things got out of reach. Tampa drove the field once again and was threatening to score, but Ronald Jones II fumbled the ball on the exchange and was recovered by Woodrow Hamilton, who was recently activated from the Panthers' practice squad. 

The Panthers started to move the ball for the first time since their opening drive of the game, but offensive coordinator Joe Brady made a questionable call to give the ball to Mike Davis on a critical 3rd and 3. Davis was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and instead of attempting a long field goal, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule rolled the dice and attempted a fake punt, but was unsuccessful. 

Once again, Tampa took advantage and went up 21-0 on the following drive. Carolina's secondary bit on the flea flicker and Tom Brady connected with Justin Watson for 36 yards. Two plays later, running back Leonard Fournette punched it in from one yard out for his first touchdown since joining the Bucs.

Turnovers continued for the Panthers to start the second half as Robby Anderson fumbled the ball on the second play of the drive and gave Tampa tremendous field position. Fortunately, Carolina got the ball right back thanks to an interception from Donte Jackson on the first play of the series. Jackson ran it all the way back to the Buccaneers' 47-yard line, giving the Panthers a great chance to try and chip away at the 21-point deficit. 

Carolina finally got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter as OC Joe Brady hammered away with McCaffrey, who topped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The Panthers continued to fight and claw their way back into the game as the defense pitched a shutout in the 3rd quarter. At the end of the third quarter and carrying over into the fourth, Carolina went on a methodical 13-play, 93 yard drive that resulted in another Panthers touchdown. Joe Brady learned from his 4th and one call last week and made the right decision to put it in McCaffrey's hands on 4th and 2. Bridgewater shoveled the ball to McCaffrey and he was able to get to the edge and scamper his way in to cut the lead down to 21-14. 

The Carolina defense came up with yet another quick stop and gave the offense a chance to tie the game up early in the fourth quarter, but to no avail. Bridgewater turned the ball over for the third time, throwing his second interception of the day, this time deep down the field on a pass intended for DJ Moore. 

Tampa pushed the lead back to ten off the leg of Ryan Succop, who hit a 33-yard field goal.

With just a few minutes remaining, the Panthers needed to strike quick. Bridgewater started to find his rhythm and completed a few passes down the field to DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, but couldn't reach the end zone. Joe Slye nailed a 23-yard field goal to bring the lead back to jut one score, 24-17 with just under two minutes remaining.

Rhule decided to attempt the onside kick, but it was recovered by Rob Gronkowski of the Bucs. On the first play of the drive, Leonard Fournette took it to the house from 46 yards out to put the dagger in the Panthers.

Tampa Bay 31, Carolina 17.

Carolina will remain on the road next week as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers with kickoff set for 4:05 p.m. on CBS.

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