CHARLOTTE – From a statistical standpoint, wide receiver Vincent Jackson's 60-yard reception set up Tampa Bay just four yards away from covering the 64 yards needed to score a touchdown.
In reality, the play only got the Buccaneers halfway to their goal.
That play, which came early in the second quarter with Tampa Bay having already scored six points, prompted the FOX TV crew to flash that the Panthers entered Week 13 leading the league in scoring defense at just 13.7 points per game.
The Buccaneers, it seemed, were on the verge of totaling 13 points well before halftime.
They never scored again.
"When we get into the red zone, it's either field goal or turnover – that's our mindset," linebacker Luke Kuechly said after the Panthers throttled the Buccaneers 27-6 at Bank of America Stadium. "We did a good job in the red zone. Guys do a good job of playing their responsibilities, and when that happens we make plays."
In this case, the play was a turnover. After the defense didn't yield a single yard on the first two goal-to-go plays, Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon rolled out on third down and lost control of the ball as he cocked to throw. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards fell on the ball, and the Buccaneers never sniffed the red zone again.
"No excuses and by any means necessary – that's what comes to mind," defensive tackle Mario Addison said when asked about the Panthers' red-zone mentality. "I don't really focus on how those guys feel inside their helmets, but I realize on our sideline what it does to us. I know that you cannot get men like us riled up because once we get riled up we go to an even higher level than we already were."
The drive proved to be the Buccaneers' final of two to reach the red zone, with the previous one yielding one of Tampa Bay's two field goals. Carolina has now allowed touchdowns on just 9-of-28 drives into the red zone, the best numbers in the NFL by a fair margin.
The red zone stops Sunday showed how big little plays can be and served as a reminder that the Panthers are making all the crucial plays – big and small – over their franchise-record winning streak of eight games.
On the first one, which came on Tampa Bay's opening drive, linebacker Thomas Davis made a textbook tackle in space on 225-pound running back Brian Leonard following a catch over the middle, stuffing him 2 yards short of a first down to force a field goal attempt.
On the play that got Tampa Bay into the red zone again, Jackson got the best of veteran cornerback Drayton Florence with a double move. But Florence didn't let the long connection down the sideline get to him, recovering just in time to trip Jackson up short of the goal line.
"Obviously it was a big play, but he didn't score," Florence said. "I just go onto the next play, whether I get an interception for a touchdown or give up a 60-yard play to one of the top receivers in this league. You've just got to keep fighting, and that's what we did. We've got a stingy defense."
On the next snap, Davis and defensive tackle Colin Cole swarmed running back Bobby Rainey for no gain, and on the next play Glennon couldn't connect with a receiver. Glennon then lost the ball third down, which led to a Panthers field goal, and the Buccaneers were never really heard from again.
"We don't miss a beat," Florence said. "The teams that aren't in the situation we're in right now, when they have a big play, they fall apart. We stick together and come together and fight back."