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Panthers avoid late scare, beat Bucs 42-28

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CHARLOTTE -- A productive first half - five touchdowns on five straight possessions - catapulted the Panthers to a 42-28 victory over the Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

On the second play of the Buccaneers' second drive of the game, Panthers safety Eric Reid intercepted quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a pass intended for wide receiver Mike Evans and returned it for 39 yards to the Tampa 10. Reid's first pick as a Panther set the table for a quick Carolina scoring drive, capped by fullback Alex Armah pounding into the end zone on a 1-yard rush.

After cornerback James Bradberry's pass breakup ended the Bucs' next series, the offense put together another scoring drive. Back-to-back explosive 32-yard runs by running back Christian McCaffrey and wideout DJ Moore paved the way for a short McCaffrey rushing touchdown, giving Carolina a 14-0 lead.

A roughing the passer penalty gave a Tampa Bay drive life towards the end of the first quarter, and Fitzpatrick would capitalize with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard to start the second. Carolina wide receiver Curtis Samuel would answer right back with an absurd 33-yard rushing touchdown to increase the lead back to 14.

The Panthers' defense would prove huge again with defensive end Mario Addison nabbing two sacks in three plays to bring out the Bucs' punting unit. Another short McCaffrey run and a difficult 17-yard grab by tight end Greg Olsen would give Carolina their fourth and fifth scores of the half on consecutive drives to go up 35-7.

Fitzpatrick would connect again with Howard in the closing seconds to cut Carolina's lead to 21 going into halftime.

After the dominant first half, Carolina's first two drives of the second half were each stifled by a sack, giving the Buccaneers' high-powered offense early scoring opportunities. Midway through the third quarter, Fitzpatrick narrowed Carolina's 35-21 lead with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adam Humphries.

Addison's third sack of the day nearly ended a Tampa Bay drive late in the third, but the Buccaneers recovered the resulting fumble on their 38-yard line.

A Tampa Bay challenge early in the fourth reversed a critical 30-yard catch-and-run Humphries touchdown, inching the Buccaneers within seven. On the ensuing drive, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would lead a nine-play, 75-yard series that ended with Newton finding wideout Curtis Samuel for a 19-yard touchdown, putting Carolina up 42-28.

An interception by rookie cornerback Donte Jackson on a deep pass intended for wide receiver DeSean Jackson would end a last-ditch Bucs' effort and secure a huge Carolina home victory.

Week 9 marked the second straight game the Panthers have faced and beaten a top-ranked unit, and head coach Ron Rivera was pleased with his team's resilience.

"Coming up against a very dynamic, explosive offense and being able to keep them in front of us speaks well to the fact that our guys accepted the challenge," Rivera said. "That was an impressive thing and very pleased with that."

The offense outgained the Bucs 407-301 with Newton finishing 19-of-25 for 247 yards and two touchdowns. McCaffrey added 79 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and five receptions for 78 yards and a score while Olsen caught all six of his targets for 76 yards and a TD.

Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns, but completed 24 of his 40 pass attempts for 243 yards. Evans was held to one catch for 16 yards and no touchdowns, and Humphries ended with eight receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns.

With the first half of the season complete, the Panthers will have a shortened week as they kickoff the final eight-game stretch with a Thursday night showdown on the road against the Steelers (5-2-1).

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