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Carolina Panthers

Rapid Reactions: It was a blowout and then it wasn't

First-half fireworks

Remember when Carolina's big issue was slow starts that forced them to play from behind?

Yeah, the Panthers were on fire against Tampa Bay for pretty much the entire first half. Sure, the Panthers offense did technically start the game with a three-and-out, but they went on to score five touchdowns on each of their next five drives.

Among the highlight plays?

  • Christian McCaffrey hurdling a dude on a 32-yard run
  • DJ Moore breaking tackles on a 32-yard end-around
  • Curtis Samuel taking a reverse all the way across the field for a 33-yard touchdown
  • Greg Olsen reaching back for a jaw-dropping 17-yard touchdown catch

It was a clinic of offensive football from coordinator Norv Turner and Carolina's deep group of weapons. It all added up to a 35-14 lead and the most first-half points in franchise history.

Not too shabby.

Bradberry's dominant against Evans

Tampa Bay No. 1 wide receiver Mike Evans was targeted six times by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first half. He didn't record a single catch.

The credit for that goes to cornerback James Bradberry, who was ALL OVER Evans every time Fitzpatrick went his way.

Evans is one of the most productive receivers in the NFL for the league's top-ranked passing offense, but he was completely shut down by Carolina's underrated No. 1 corner.

A look at the box score at game's end revealed this line for Evans: One catch on 10 targets for 16 yards.

Foot off the gas

The Panthers offense was firing on all cylinders in the first half. The start of the second half was, in a word, lifeless.

Carolina went three-and-out on its first two series, and the Bucs found the end zone on their second possession to make it a 14-point deficit.

Letting your foot of the gas is a real fear when you've got such a big lead, and that's exactly what we saw happen to the Panthers. They lost their edge and Tampa Bay fought back.

Mistakes like illegal motion on the offense to thwart a fourth-and-1 are sloppy and costly. When Carolina then went for it on fourth-and-6, Devin Funchess was stopped a few yards short for a turnover on downs.

Moments later, with Tampa Bay facing third-and-15, Chris Godwin was left wide open for a 28-yard reception to close the third quarter. A 30-yard touchdown catch by Adam Humphries turned what was once a blowout into a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter.

Closing the deal

The Panthers came back to life when they needed to in the fourth quarter.

After the Bucs made it a one-score game, Carolina responded with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 5:20 off the clock. After taking a delay of game penalty and a holding call, quarterback Cam Newton fired a strike to Samuel for a 19-yard touchdown, pushing the advantage back to 14 points.

When the Bucs got the ball back, they were stymied by the blitz on third-and-12. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and his panicked dump-off pass resulted in an 8-yard loss and a punt with just under five minutes left.

When Tampa Bay took over possession again moments later, cornerback Donte Jackson provided the finishing touch, picking off a deep pass for wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

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