Not much has gone right for the Carolina Panthers in this 2007 season, but at least they can say they ended the year on an up note. Sunday playing against mostly the Tampa Bay Bucs 2nd and 3rd stringers, the Panthers defeated the Buccaneers 31-23 at Raymond James Stadium. The Panthers offense, which for most of the season was nowhere to be found, put up 349 yards and four touchdowns, well above their season average.
Matt Moore, who started once again for the Panthers, went 15-for-24 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. The big playmaker though for the Panthers was running back DeAnglo Williams, who ran all day over the Bucs D, going for a season high 121 yards on 20 carries, including two touchdowns. He also had some key runs that gave the team first downs throughout the contest. Overall, the Panthers were 7-of-14 on third downs.
For the Buccaneers, they know they have a date next weekend with the New York Giants, so they did the smart thing on Sunday with nothing to play for and sat many of their big name players on both sides of the ball. Sitting out included guys like QB Jeff Garcia, RB Earnest Graham, and wide out Joey Galloway. Overall the team played it more like a preseason finale, as they put up 303 yards of offense, but the intensity that won them the NFC South simply was not there.
Luke McCown started the game for the Bucs at QB, and went 21-for-28 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. The running game was led by McCown as well, as he ran for 47 yards on five carries, including a game long of 31 yards. Michael Bennett carried the load overall for the Bucs, rushing for 39 yards on 15 carries.
Carolina built a 17-13 halftime lead with two Moore TD passes and a John Kasay short field goal. The Bucs came back with a Bennett TD from McCown to go up 20-17 in the third quarter. From there, Williams started to really take over, as he first went in from a yard out to make it 24-20, and then after a Matt Bryant field goal made it 24-23, he raced in from 32 yards out with 6:24 left to finish off the Bucs at 31-23.
The Panthers wrap up the season with a mark of 7-9 and plenty of questions. Will John Fox be back? What will the team do about the QB spot? How about an offense that that was one of the worst in the league, ranked 29th entering Sunday? The team will have plenty of work to do in the offseason.
As for Tampa Bay, they will sit back and start getting set for next weekends playoff showdown with the Giants at home as they will start with film study on Monday and then get to work with practice on Wednesday.