The Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had quite the battle Monday night. It wasn’t a high-flying offensive game, and you couldn’t call it a great defensive struggle, either. In the end, the Buccaneers won the NFC South struggle, 17-14.
The Panthers were without Cam Newton, leaving Derek Anderson to make his first career start since Week 14 of the 2014 season, which also came against the Buccaneers.
Early in the game, it was clear the Buccaneers wanted to run the football. Running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims were both out with injuries, leaving the workload for Jacquizz Rodgers.
The Buccaneers signed Rodgers in Week 2 after the Bears cut him, but based on the first drive, you wouldn’t have known it. Rodgers had 11 carries, putting the Bucs in position for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. Coming into tonight, Rodgers only had 10 or more carries in 8 of 71 career games.
Both teams looked shaky on offense for the entire first half. It appeared the Bucs might be in business after a muffed punt by Ted Ginn Jr., but Roberto Aguayo’s struggles continued, as he missed a 33-yard field goal. A successful field goal late in the first half sent the Buccaneers into halftime up 6-0.
Both offenses showed some life in the second half. The Panthers run game did most of the work for them, with Cameron Artis-Payne finding the end zone twice in the third quarter. But Jameis Winston found Mike Evans for a 26-yard touchdown, just as it looked like the Panthers might be gaining momentum. The teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 14 apiece.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers looked prime to take a touchdown lead over the Bucs, but Anderson threw an interception to Brent Grimes, effectively killing any momentum they had.
The night got worse for Aguayo. The Buccaneers made it into Panthers territory yet again, and lined up the rookie for a 46-yard field goal. Again, Aguayo missed.
For the Panthers, the mistakes weren’t exclusively on the offense. Shortly thereafter when the Buccaneers were driving, and after a short Rodgers gain, A.J. Klein was called for a silly personal foul for shoving after the play was over.
These mistakes ultimately led to the slow demise of the Panthers. Winston led the Buccaneers on a drive that could change the morale for the Buccaneers’ season. The Bucs worked their way up to the 17-yard line, part of which came because of a facemask on Kony Ealy of the Panthers.
After missing kicks form 33 and 46 yards, Aguayo knocked in the most seemingly impossible 38-yard field goal to win the game.
With injuries to so many players, especially on their defensive line, the Buccaneers came away with a win that saved their season, and effectively put the Panthers out of contention.
The Panthers’ season seems pretty lost, and very different for a team coming off of a 15-1 performance and a Super Bowl appearance just a year ago.