CHARLOTTE-- Quarterback Jameis Winston threw for one touchdown while wide receiver Chris Godwin had a career high 121 receiving yards as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Carolina Panthers 20-14 on Thursday night. The win, which was sealed by a goal line stand by the Buccaneers defense in the final minute of the game, was the first for the team under head coach Bruce Arians.
Tampa Bay won the toss & chose to receive the opening kickoff. After a 22 yard gain on a first down pass from quarterback Winston to Godwin, the Buccaneers were unproductive in their next three plays & punted the ball away.
Like Tampa Bay, Carolina started their first drive with a first down pass, with quarterback Cam Netwon completing a 12 yard pass to wide receiver D.J. Moore. The Panthers followed that first down with another first down on the next play when running back Christian McCaffrey got his first touch of the game & gained 10 yards on a run to the right side.
The Panthers were able to convert another first down & enter Buccaneers territory. But on a fourth & one play, Newton was stopped for no gain after an open field ankle tackle by safety Jordan Whitehead.
Following a review of the no gain by Newton, the game was delayed for 27 minutes due to rain & lightning. But once play resumed, the Buccaneers took over just inside their own 50 yard line. And after another completion by Winston to Godwin for 22 yards, the Buccaneers were in Panthers territory. But on a third & two play, Winston pass to the end zone for wide receiver Mike Evans fell incomplete & the Buccaneers settled for a 40 yard field goal by kicker Matt Gay.
Down by three, Carolina again came out throwing the ball on first down with Newton finding wide receiver Curtis Samuel for 44 yards, beating cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who got caught looking into the backfield. That big pass play plus another completion by Newton set the Panthers up inside the redzone. But the next three plays netted just two yards & on fourth down rookie kicker Joey Slye successfully hit a 32 yard field goal to tie the score at three.
After unproductive drives by both teams, Carolina got a big special teams play from punt returner Ray Ray McCloud, who broke free for a 39 yard return. And another first down pass from Newton, this time to tight end Greg Olsen, got the Panthers deeper into Buccaneers territory. But once again the drive stalled in the redzone & Slye kicked another field goal, his second, this one from 37 yards away, giving the home team their first lead of the game.
Another exchange of punts, put the ball back in Tampa Bay's hands & five plays later they were able to record the game's first touchdown. The biggest play of the drive was a perfectly thrown 41 yard pass up the left side from Winston to Evans. And after their first down conversion of the game, Winston found Godwin in the endzone for a 20 yard touchdown pass.
After the touchdown, Carolina was able to gain some momentum before the end of the half by using the last minute & twenty seconds to gain 39 yards, which helped set up Slye's third field goal of the half, this one from 54 yards away, ending the half with Tampa Bay leading 10-9.
Winston ended the half completing 11 of 14 passes for 146 yards, while the defense was able to limit McCaffrey to 36 yards from scrimmage. But at the start of the second half, Carolina got the football & Newton found Olsen behind the defense again for a 41 yard gain. That play set the Panthers up just outside the redzone but after Newton was sacked on back to back plays by linebacker Shaq Barrett, Slye's fourth field goal attempt of the game hit the upright & fell through, giving the Panthers the lead again 12-10.
Facing another deficit, Winston led the offense down the field 75 yards. The first play of the drive was a completion to Godwin for 24 yards. But the next play resulted in a costly penalty on the defense when defensive lineman Gerald McCoy got into a shoving match with former teammate & center Ryan Jensen. McCoy was flagged for unnecessary roughness, pushing the ball into Carolina territory. And after a strong run by Ronald Jones, Barber got a chance to carry the football. And the running back took the ball into the endzone from 16 yards away, putting the Buccaneers on top again 17-12.
Carolina got the ball back but after having an intercepted nullified because of a penalty on the defense, Newton committed a turnover when he was stripped by linebacker Lavonte David & rookie linebacker Anthony Nelson made the recovery. That recovery gave Tampa Bay the ball inside Carolina territory & the Buccaneers had a chance to add to their five point lead but Gay missed a 42 yard field goal from the right hash mark.
The Panthers recorded one first down on their next possession. But three plays later, the offense punted, pinning the Buccaneers back on their own three yard line. And after an incompletion on first down, Winston was called for a delay of game penalty moving the ball even closer to their own goal line. That penalty was crucial because on the next play, Barber was unable to get out of the endzone before being tackled by Luke Kuechly, with the linebacker, who was in on 17 tackles, recording a safety & making the score 17-14.
Trailing by three points, Carolina was unable to register a first down on back to back drives. And after getting the ball back after the second drive, Tampa Bay held the ball for over six minutes. That drive consisted of 29 rushing yards for Barber & two completions by Winston totaling 24 yards. And the result was a 32 field goal by Gay pushing Tampa Bay lead to six points.
Carolina, who in the game had 9 trips into Tampa Bay territory but failed to score a touchdown, were able to take the final drive of the game inside the redzone. The final drive lasted 11 plays & included six completions by Newton, who attempted 51 passes in the game. The drive was also helped by two penalties, one a face mask penalty on cornerback Carlton Davis III then a delay of game penalty caused by Arians for calling timeouts before the ball was snapped on back to back plays.
The completions plus penalties moved the ball inside the Buccaneers five yard line & on fourth & one yard from the two yard line, McCaffrey was stopped for no gain by Hargreaves. The cornerback, who recorded 11 solo tackles, came up the rightside to push the running back out of bounds to end the Panthers final drive.
Tampa Bay will be off until Sunday September 22nd, when they host the New York Giants at Raymond James Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 4:25 pm. The game will include a halftime Ring of Honor ceremony for Buccaneers great cornerback Ronde Barber.