CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have had troubles on third downs and in third quarters this season, and that trend continued Sunday.
After taking Tampa Bay to the half tied at 17, things fell apart quickly. The Bucs won the third quarter, 12-0, en route to a 46-23 win and handing the Panthers a fifth straight loss.
The Panthers' defense, which allowed the Bucs to go 6-for-7 on third down in the first half, got a big stop when defensive end Brian Burns tripped up quarterback Tom Brady to hold Tampa Bay to a field goal on its opening drive of the third quarter.
Things went downhill quickly after that.
First, running back Mike Davis came off the field with an injured finger on Carolina's first drive of the third quarter, one that finished without points again. When the Panthers punted, defensive back Myles Hartsfield did a fantastic job hustling to help down Joseph Charlton's kick at the Tampa Bay 2-yard line. But that's when the flood gates opened.
- On the Bucs' first play of the drive, running back Ronald Jones broke through the middle of the Panthers' defense and sprinted 98 yards for a touchdown on the longest run in Bucs' history and the longest ever allowed by the Panthers.
- On Carolina's first snap of the ensuing drive, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was intercepted 10 yards downfield by outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul.
- After the Panthers' defense held on for another field goal and the offense again went nowhere, coaches called Carolina's fourth fake punt of the season, one the Bucs sniffed out while dropping Charlton for a loss of 5 yards.
Yes, the 98-yard touchdown run was a killer, but the offense still can’t solve its issues in the third quarter. They gained just 34 yards Sunday, and through 10 third quarters this season, are now averaging 47.4 yards and 2.4 points in the quarter.
Sunday was the sixth time they've been shut out in the third quarter. They've been shut out a total of four times in their 30 other quarters.
While the defense held the Bucs four times in the red zone, it wasn't nearly good enough on third down again.
The Panthers, who came in ranked 31st on third-down defense, allowed the Bucs to convert 10 of their 16 attempts. As a result, Tampa Bay scored on nine consecutive drives after its opening drive fizzled with a fumble.
Fun First Half
The first half was a blast to watch unless you like defense.
The Panthers and Bucs totaled 374 yards and 34 points, with Bridgewater and Brady combining to go 30-for-38 for 292 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and zero sacks.
Cornerback Donte Jackson continues to try to fight through turf toe, but the toe continues to fight back. Jackson limped off the field in the first quarter, returned for a couple of plays a little later, and then exited for good.
Troy Pride Jr. again replaced Jackson, who likely isn't going to get better until the toe gets a significant amount of rest.
See game action photos from Carolina's Week 10 game against Tampa Bay, presented by USAA, the official Salute to Service Partner of the Carolina Panthers.