There was plenty of talk about the Panthers being the best team in the NFC South. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the defending NFC South Champion Buccaneers said “not so fast.” Led by a stuffing defense and special teams that returned a blocked punt for a score, the Bucs pounded the Panthers 27-3 to improve to 4-2 and drop the Panthers to 4-2.
The Bucs set the tempo right away, as the Panthers lined up for a punt on their first drive after a three-and-out. Rushing in, Jason Baker blocked the punt, and Geno Hayes took it back 22 yards for a quick score to make it 7-0 w/ 12:25 left in the first quarter. After a few back-and-forth series’ the Bucs put together a drive as starting at their own 49 the team went 51 yards in just five plays as Jeff Garcia hit a five-yard score to Alex Smith to make it 14-0.
Two series later the Panthers came back with a drive that went from their own 28 to the Bucs 2, but on third down Jake Delhomme went incomplete and the team settled for a short John Kasay field goal to make it 14-3. The Bucs came back with a Matt Bryant field goal to make it 17-3 at the half.
Tampa Bay’s defense continued to dominate, as they halted the Panthers most of the day both on the ground and in the air. They forced three Delhomme picks, and the Panthers were only able to rush for 40 yards on the day. They put up just two yards per carry, and DeShaun Williams had just 27 yards, and Jonathan Stewart 12 yards.
Jeff Garcia played well enough vs the Panthers tough D, and was 15-for-20 for 173 yards with one TD and a QB rating of 117.3. They held the ball for 34:42 to just 25:18 for the Panthers, and the turnovers and lack of a running game kept the Panthers from really getting anything going all day. The Bucs outgained the Panthers 315 to 282. Earnest Graham ran over the Panthers for 115 yards on 22 carries with a score.
Next week the Panthers are at home for another big NFC South game vs the Saints. The Bucs will be at home for a Sunday night matchup with the Seahawks.