TAMPA — The Greg Schiano era got off to a good start Sunday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the Carolina Panthers 16-10 in the season opener for both teams.
The Bucs shut out the Panthers and star quarterback Cam Newton in the first half, taking a 13-0 lead, before yielding two second-half Carolina scores to make the game close. A blocked punt by Aqib Talib set up Tampa Bay's only second half points (on a 40-yard Connor Barth field goal). But a late goal-line stand forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal, and a pair of first downs in the final three minutes denied Carolina a chance to complete the comeback.
Tampa Bay's defense, ranked among the worst in the league last season (and gave up 86 points in two losses to Carolina) held the Panthers to just 10 yards rushing. Newton finished with 301 passing yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice (by Ronde Barber and Ahmad Black).
The Bucs scores came on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman (who completed 16 of 24 passes for 138 yards and a TD) to Mike Williams and three Barth field goals. Rookie running back Doug Martin picked up 95 yards on 24 carries, while free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson added 47 yards on four receptions.
The Bucs travel to New York to play the 0-1 Giants next Sunday.
Here is a summary of today's scoring:
TAMPA BAY 7, CAROLINA 0
Bucs scoring play: Mike Williams 6-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman (Connor Barth kick).
Drive: 13 plays, 80 yards, 7:20
Key plays: Josh Freeman hit FB Eric Lorig for a 15-yard gain to get inside Carolina territory before rookie RB Doug Martin picked up 11 yards receiving and another 11 on a pitch around the left end. Freeman capped the opening drive with his TD toss to Williams on first and goal.
TAMPA BAY 10, CAROLINA 0
Bucs scoring play: Barth 36-yard field goal
Drive: 5 plays, 32 yards, 2:27
Key plays: A penalty against the Carolina punt return team set up the Bucs at midfield, and on the ensuing play, Freeman found new TE Dallas Clark for a 33-yard gain to the 17. The drive stalled, however, and Barth connected on the field goal.
TAMPA BAY 13, CAROLINA 0
Bucs scoring play: Barth 20-yard field goal
Drive: 13 plays, 90 yards, 8:43
Key plays: The Bucs put together their second impressive drive of the half thanks to a pair of Panther penalties and strong Freeman passing. An 8-yard pass interference call and a 22-yard defensive holding penalty moved the Bucs to their 45. Freeman added a 21-yard pass to Vincent Jackson, picked up 12 more on a scramble, then hit Jackson for 15 yards to the Carolina 4. Two runs and a short pass failed to get Tampa Bay into the end zone, however, and the Bucs were forced to settle for Barth's second field goal.
TAMPA BAY 13, CAROLINA 7
Panthers scoring play: Brandon LaFell 22-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton (Justin Medlock kick)
Drive: 5 plays, 70 yards, 2:26
Key plays: Newton came out slinging to open the second half, with much success. Starting from his own 30, Newton completed passes of 5 yards to Steve Smith, 11 yards to Greg Olsen, 32 more to Smith down the right sideline, then found LaFell uncovered in the middle of the secondary for the easy touchdown.
TAMPA BAY 16, CAROLINA 7
Bucs scoring play: Barth 40-yard field goal
Drive: 7 plays, 20 yards, 3:12
Key plays: Barth's third successful field goal was set up by a blocked punt by Aqib Talib at the Carolina 42. Recent pickup RB D.J. Ware gained 8 yards on a third and 3 at the Panthers 35 for one first down, but Freeman's third-down pass was incomplete to force the kick.
TAMPA BAY 16, CAROLINA 10
Panthers scoring play: Medlock 21-yard field goal
Drive 8 plays, 86 yards, 2:20
Key plays: Newton hit Mike Tolbert for 20 yards one play before Louis Murphy made a fingertip catch on a 51-yard bomb to the Bucs 18. Carolina picked up one more first down, but the Bucs defense stiffened, stopping the Panthers twice from the 3 yard line to force Carolina to settle for the field goal.