Rapid Reactions: Panthers fall to Buccaneers, 31-17

Teddy Bridgewater

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers were down 21-0 at halftime and rallied to make it, 21-14. But four giveaways were too much to overcome, as the Buccaneers won the Week 2 matchup, 31-17.

Notably, running back Christian McCaffrey left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury after scoring his second touchdown of the day and did not return.

Here are a few rapid reactions from the contest:

EARLY MISTAKES PROVE COSTLY

The Panthers didn't have a turnover last week, but two in the first quarter proved costly on Sunday.

After Carolina's defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's 19-yard completion to wide receiver DJ Moore put the visitors at Tampa Bay's 22-yard line. But on the next play, Bridgewater threw a screen pass too high for McCaffrey, and Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead intercepted the ball.

On the ensuing drive, it looked like the Panthers' defense would get off the field when a short pass to running back LeSean McCoy didn't reach the sticks in the red zone. But rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that resulted in an automatic first down. A play later, running back Ronald Jones stiff-armed safety Juston Burris on the way in for a 7-yard touchdown.

The turnover woes continued on the Panthers' next drive when Bridgewater was strip-sacked on second down. Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul recovered it on Carolina's 23. On the next snap, quarterback Tom Brady hit wide receiver Mike Evans with a back-shoulder pass for a touchdown, putting Tampa Bay up, 14-0.

NO PRESSURE

One focus of the Panthers defense this week was generating a pass rush, and the club did not come through, particularly in the first half.

Carolina did not record a sack or quarterback hit during last week's loss to Las Vegas, and the trend continued through the first two quarters against Tampa Bay. With all kinds of time, Brady finished the first half with 198 yards and a touchdown.

The Panthers finally registered a quarterback hit when defensive tackle Zach Kerr got them on the board in the third quarter, but they finished without a sack for the second time in as many games in 2020. 

NOT THROWING AWAY HIS SHOT

With defensive tackle Kawann Short inactive with a foot injury, the Panthers elevated practice squad defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton to the active roster for Sunday's game. He took advantage of his opportunity, recording a run stuff in the first quarter on Jones. Then in the second quarter, Hamilton won a battle at the bottom of a pile to recover a fumbled handoff exchange from Brady to Jones.

It was just the third career regular season game for Hamilton and his first meaningful on-field action since the 2017 postseason with New Orleans.

Woodrow Hamilton recovers fumble

TAKEAWAY LEADS TO POINTS

The third quarter started poorly, with wide receiver Robby Anderson fumbling a short second down reception. But the defense bailed out the offense when cornerback Donte Jackson picked off Brady on the next play.

Brady's pass errant throw was high over the middle to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Jackson dove to grab it, returning the pick 44 yards up the left sideline to the Tampa Bay 47.

The Panthers converted a pair of third downs on the ensuing possession, one with a 15-yard reception by Moore and another with a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone. McCaffrey lowered his shoulder and put the Panthers on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run.

LONG DRIVE SUCCESS

McCaffrey ran in his second touchdown to cap a 13-play, 93-yard drive early in the fourth quarter.

While the possession began with a penalty on the punt, the Panthers overcame it with a steady drive that resulted in four first downs plus the score. Carolina faced only two third downs on the series. On third-and-6 from the visitors' 11, Bridgewater hit wide receiver Curtis Samuel over the middle for a 10-yard gain.

The Panthers didn't convert their third-and-2 in the red zone. But on fourth-and-2, Bridgewater used a two-hand chest pass to get the ball to McCaffrey on the left, and the running back put the ball in the box for a 7-yard touchdown.

Christian McCaffrey scores second touchdown

KILLER TURNOVER

The Panthers were on the move again in the fourth quarter, with a 39-yard pass from Bridgewater to Anderson putting them in Tampa Bay territory.

But Bridgewater was sacked on the next play. Then, after offsetting penalties, Bridgewater threw behind Moore and was intercepted by cornerback Carlton Davis, ending the Carolina threat.

Running back LeSean McCoy had a chance to likely put the game out of reach with a touchdown reception, but the ball fell through his hands in the end zone. Tampa Bay settled for a 33-yard field goal to go up 24-14.

That score gave the Buccaneers 17 points off Panthers turnovers.

THE DAM BREAKS

Though the Panthers scored a quick field goal to make it a one-possession game, Carolina's defense couldn't hold running back Leonard Fournette down any longer.

After a failed onside kick attempt by the Panthers, Fournette took a handoff up the middle and broke away from the defense for a 46-yard touchdown to make the score, 31-17.

Until that point, the Panthers had allowed just 76 yards rushing.

View photos of game action in Week 2 at Tampa Bay.

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