Tampa Bay opened the game with an 8 play, 59-yard drive which ended with a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Lindell to give the Bucs the early lead at 3-0.
It would be half of the total for the entire game for the Bucs before Carolina even got started with theirs.
This game had a lot of indicators that said running would be difficult at best for both sides before the actual kickoff.
Carolina has the NFL’s top-ranked defense to begin with, and Tampa Bay’s has come along nicely since they turned an eight-game losing streak into a three-game winning one.
Both teams entered the game banged up in the backfield, so everything seemed to point to throwing the rock if they wanted to move it much, but Carolina had surprisingly little issue on either the ground or the air this week. The Panthers had 426 yards of total offense while Tampa Bay wound up with only 206.
Carolina had 163 net rushing yards compared to 66 for Tampa Bay.
Cam Newton had a flashy, productive day with 2 TD passes and a rushing TD on a goal line leap and reach, “Superman” style, but had two interceptions along the way on 18-for-29 passing for 263 yards. He also had a 56-yard run in the first quarter to set up the team for Brandon LaFell’s 16-yard TD reception.
Greg Olson led the Panthers with five receptions for 85 yards – tops on the team with both numbers.
However, Mike Tolbert was the game’s most versatile and steady weapon today. The Coastal Carolina product had 48 yards rushing on nine carries and three receptions for 41 yards and had several plays from scrimmage in double-digit yards to move the chains for his team.
Defensively, Greg Hardy added another sack and rookie backup end Wes Horton had a pair of them in a relief role for injured Charles Johnson.
Once Carolina took their 7-3 lead, it just seemed like they were on cruise control with the game well in-hand. Perhaps the confidence of the organization as a whole came through somehow while in the process of extending an NFL-best eight game winning streak now, but the ultimate outcome never was a huge question.
Tampa Bay never could get started, going 1-for-10 on third downs. Carolina was only 5-for-13, but they were getting enough of their yardage in big chunks that it wasn’t a big issue in the game’s outcome. When Tampa Bay wasn’t able to establish a ground game, it was apparent that rookie QB Mike Glennon was going to have to be the focus of their assault and the Carolina defense rose to the occasion…just as they have every week to keep their winning streak going.
Next Sunday is when the Panthers’ defense will face their biggest test to date: The annual game in New Orleans a the Superdome, which should provide quite a nice litmus test for the NFL’s stingiest defense.