Turnovers, penalties, sacks too much for Panthers to overcome

Buccaneers interception

CHARLOTTE — In Week 1, the Panthers played a relatively clean game in a losing performance against the Raiders. They didn't force a takeaway, but they didn't have a giveaway, either. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked just once. The Panthers also had only five penalties that cost 65 yards, two of which resulted in a first down for the opposition.

In Sunday's loss at Tampa Bay, those numbers were significantly worse.

The Panthers had four giveaways, leading to 17 points. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater accounted for three turnovers, and wide receiver Robby Anderson lost a fumble. Plus, the Panthers committed four critical penalties that resulted in first downs.

Bridgewater's giveaways — a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble — led to 17 points for the Bucs.

"I take supreme pride in taking care of the football. And to have three turnovers today, that's not the way I play this game," said Bridgewater, whose only previous three-giveaway game came in a Vikings' loss to the Lions midway through the 2014 season.

"I've just got to be better."

After the Buccaneers started the game with a three-and-out, the Panthers saw a promising opening drive thwarted by Bridgewater's first interception. On first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 22, his screen pass to running back Christian McCaffrey was thrown high to avoid defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. But instead of falling incomplete, safety Jordan Whitehead recorded his second career interception.

"That's one of those throws where it's like 'Aw, man.' You really want to take the throw back," Bridgewater said. "We were trying to get points, and you can't just turn the ball over like that."

Bridgewater was then strip-sacked on the second play of Carolina's following possession, with Pierre-Paul recovering the loose ball just outside the red zone.

"The fumble, (I was) just stepping up in the pocket trying to find my guy, exhausting progressions," Bridgewater said.

His final stat line (33-of-42, 367 yards, the turnovers made him disappointed in his performance.

Anderson's fumble came at the start of the third quarter but didn't prove costly because cornerback Donte Jackson picked off quarterback Tom Brady on the next play. But Bridgewater's second interception occurred at a critical point in the fourth quarter. After he'd been sacked to bring up second-and-17, cornerback Carlton Davis picked off Bridgewater's errant pass to wide receiver DJ Moore.

"I was a little bit off in my ball placement," Bridgewater admitted. "I was trying to anticipate the throw and left it a little behind DJ."

Though the Panthers forced two takeaways, finishing negative-2 in the turnover margin kept the Bucs out of reach.

But Tampa Bay's unrelenting pass rush was a significant factor, too. Bridgewater was sacked five times, and the Bucs totaled eight quarterback hits.

"I thought we had a good rush, especially our interior guys," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said. "They were focused on our outside guys a little bit, and our interior guys got great push up the middle."

Added Bridgewater:

"We gave up too many sacks today, and a lot of that, you should point the finger at me. I'll do a better job of whether it's communicating with those guys, getting the ball out faster, or being faster with my reads."

Carolina's defense had a better overall performance than Week 1. Still, of the four penalties that resulted in first downs, three came on third down, and two were on the same drive.

"Those are, I think, four or five drive-continuing penalties, and there is no chance of winning when you have that," head coach Matt Rhule said.

Combined, the giveaways, flags and a slow offensive start put the Panthers in a 21-point hole at halftime. By the end of the game, it was all too much to overcome.

"We have to find a way to overcome that and build off the competitive nature that we have," Rhule said. "But at the same time, we have got to become a better football team in terms of playing cleaner football."

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

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