The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their Christmas Eve started by trying to find a way to win one more game on the road against the Carolina Panthers. The offensive line looked overwhelmed to start the game as they almost got Jameis killed on the first play of the game, had Peyton Barber swarmed over on a run play, and gave up a sack that resulted in a fumble to end the drive on the Tampa Bay side of the football field.
After recovering the fumble, Carolina started their first offensive possession at the Buccaneers 33-yard-line. While turning the ball over quickly and giving up points is never a good thing, the Bucs defense found a small silver lining early as they were able to hold the Panthers to a Graham Gano field goal.
The Bucs moved the ball deep into Panthers territory on the following drive, in large part thanks to a big 34-yard carry by Peyton Barber, but the drive stalled in the red zone, and Pat Murray came in to tie the game up.
After the Bucs defense did its job and held the Panthers to a very short drive that ended after Gerald McCoy sacked Cam Newton, the Bucs offense marched the ball down the field again, but a problem on the snap between Joe Hawley and Winston resulted in Carolina taking the ball away for the second time.
The good news for the Bucs, was unlike the first turnover which resulted in the Panthers starting in scoring position, this time Carolina would need to move the ball themselves if they hoped to put points on the board, as the fumble recovery happened on the Panthers 18-yard-line.
Carolina was able to move the ball into Buccaneers territory, but once again settled for a field goal after Derek Anderson came in to finish the drive after Cam Newton was banged up on a run up the middle inside the red zone. With just over eight and a half minutes to play.
The Buccaneers next drive went absolutely nowhere, as Dirk Koetter continued to use Doug Martin in the backfield, a drive after using Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers, despite the big start from Barber. It wasn’t the reason the drive failed quickly, but the decision to go away from a back who had started the game so strongly, and had been playing well in recent weeks was puzzling. The Bucs drive finally stalled after Winston was sacked on third down, and Pat Murray came in to tie the game at 6-6.
Just moments after the Bucs were able to tie the game up, Damiere Byrd returned the ensuing kick off 103 yards for a Panthers touchdown. After Gano’s extra point was blocked, the score was 12-6 late in the first half.
The Buccaneers took the half’s final drive deep into Carolina territory after Winston somehow scrambled away from pressure and hoisted an ill-advised pass deep down the field that Adam Humphries somehow got up and pulled down for a 36-yard gain, but the Bucs ran out of time, and had to settle for a Pat Murray field goal to cut the lead to 12-9 heading into halftime.
Carolina started the second half with the football, but Newton was looking deep downfield for Brenton Bersin when a Chris Conte hit dislodged the football, allowing Kwon Alexander to pick it off, and return it into Panthers territory.
Winston and the Bucs started their second half on offense at the Panthers 48-yard-line, and quickly went to work. Winston hit Evans for a big play inside the red zone, but Evans was shaken up on the play. Moments later it was Winston fining rookie Bobo Wilson for the touchdown, and the Bucs went ahead 16-12 in the third quarter.
It looked as if the Bucs defense was going to give the ball back to the offense with a chance to add to the four-point lead, but a pass interference call on a fake punt extended the drive, and Newton was able to drive the ball into field goal range where the Bucs defense finally held, and forced Gano to return to the game to pull the Panthers to within a point. With just under five minutes to play in the third, the Bucs held onto a one point, 16-15 lead.
The Bucs got off to a nice start on offense again as Winston hit Freddie Martino who made a great play to get away from defenders and go 39 yards. In the end, a terrible sack turned a 1st-and-goal at the 8-yard-line into a 2nd-and-goal from outside the 20, and it wasn’t long before Murray was out to push the lead back to four at 19-15 early in the 4th quarter.
As the game moved later into the fourth quarter, Winston and the offense had the ball in the shadow of their own goal posts, and it looked like a holding call on Caleb Benenoch might turn into a safety, but a personal foul on Star Lotulelei meant offsetting penalties, and it would allow the Bucs to extend the drive. A big completion to Evans later, and the Bucs were on the move. As the game moved under five minutes to play, the Bucs were moving the football into Carolina territory. The drive stalled short and Pat Murray came in to miss a field goal and set up a short field for the Panthers.
The Panthers were able to do what they had to do and get into Bucs territory and eventually inside the 10-yard-line. Inside the 10, Chris Baker made an unforgivable mistake by jumping offsides on a huge third down play, and after the penalty, the Panthers are able to just convert a short fourth down play. A play later, Newton fumbled but was able to pick up his own fumble and run into the end zone to put the Panthers ahead 22-19. The Bucs got the ball back with 35 seconds left, and on the first play Winston was sacked and fumbled to end the football game.