. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but the Bucs' attempt at a trick play in the first quarter came up empty when the Carolina defense snuffed it out. The Bucs ran an end around to WR Micheal Spurlock, who attempted to pull up and throw to TE Jerramy Stevens. Turns out, despite Spurlock being a former college quarterback, his throw (under pressure from several defenders) nearly was intercepted by Panthers SS Charles Godfrey. The play didn't work, but it wasn't seen as a bad call in the Bucs locker room, either. "Hey," QB Josh Freeman said, "Spurlock has a heck of an arm."
Bucs CB Ronde Barber had his second interception in as many games, setting a trend that he says is unprecedented in his 14-year career. "I don't know if I've had a pick before Week 4 in my career," he said. And there could be more. "Interceptions in this game come in bunches," Barber, 35, said. "You get confident being around the ball and having the ability to make a play. When you start getting them, they start coming." On Sunday, Barber's pick in the third quarter came with the Bucs protecting a seven-point lead, and it set up a field goal that put them ahead by two scores. The Bucs baited the Panthers' Matt Moore into thinking he was looking at a man-to-man defense. Because Barber didn't have a specific man to cover, he was able to spy the quarterback and break on the ball. "They thought we were in man, and we were in zone," said Barber, the Bucs' all-time interceptions leader with 39. "I was just running through a zone. I actually saw him throw the ball. … It's being in the right place and doing my job." "(WR Steve Smith) looked open to me," Moore said. "We had what we wanted on that play, so credit Ronde with being in the right place."
. He had little to show for his effort, but Bucs RB Cadillac Williams had 27 carries Sunday, his most since toting the ball 27 times in a win over the Redskins on Nov. 19, 2006. Against Carolina on Sunday, he finished with 51 yards, averaging 1.9 yards. His longest run was an 8-yard gain. The Bucs had intended to work backup Kareem Huggins into the game plan, but he was inactive because of a groin injury. Newcomer Kregg Lumpkin was activated but did not get the ball. FB Earnest Graham had three carries for 1 yard but caught five passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Bucs WR Mike Williams is considered a rookie, but nothing about the way he has played looks like a first-year player. Williams scored on a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter, taking advantage of QB Josh Freeman's keen eye, giving Williams his second touchdown in two games. Williams was slated to run a go route down the sideline, but things changed. "It was all Josh," he said. "He came to the line, and he saw the safety rotate, and he gave me (a signal to run) a post (route). All I had to do was beat the corner. I gave him a shake, and he jumped outside, and it was all daylight inside. I just said, 'They're not going to tackle me here.' " And they didn't. Williams shook one defender who took a poor angle and outran two others to the end zone. It was no coincidence the play came immediately after a 40-yard completion to TE Kellen Winslow, a deflating play for the Panthers defense. "It was perfect timing," Williams said. "They were in man (coverage), and they expected us to run."
Bring on third down
. In building a 14-7 halftime lead, the Bucs did something they didn't do nearly enough in 2009: convert on third downs.
After tying for 25th in the NFL with a 33 percent conversion rate last season, Tampa Bay converted five of its first seven third-down attempts, including some that were long enough to intimidate an offense. The Bucs faced third and 10, third and 11, third and 9 and third and 17 in the first half and converted each one.
"In order to be a good football team, you have to convert third downs," coach Raheem Morris said. "We have a pretty good quarterback, and we like our chances every time we go out there on third down. It doesn't matter what the situation is."
. In an example of Raheem Morris' aggressive defensive play-calling, Bucs LB Quincy Black decked Panthers QB Matt Moore after Black executed a well-disguised stunt in the third quarter. Lined up on the left edge of the defense, Black dipped inside and came through untouched, barreling toward Moore from an inside gap. Moore nearly didn't see it coming.
"It's that same look we gave the Browns last week, and I just came (through) free," Black said. "It's not always like that. You can't miss the layup."
The Bucs got burned on an all-out blitz in the second quarter, with Moore finding WR Steve Smith for a 37-yard touchdown against single coverage with no safety help. But look for the Bucs to continue to take calculated risks.
"It's professional football," Black said. "You're going to give some licks, but you're going to take some. We took some (Sunday), but we gave some, too."
. The three previous times the Bucs have won at Carolina since the new NFC South was created in 2002, they have had a winning season and reached the playoffs.
. The Bucs are 19-2 since 2002 in games in which they had no turnovers.
. Bucs FB Earnest Graham's 14-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was his first career receiving TD.
Big day for Crowder
. Bucs reserve Tim Crowder didn't seem to garner much consideration as a starter at left defensive end, where Kyle Moore was anointed the starter. Perhaps that's because the Bucs had a sense of how good Crowder might be in spot duty, something he proved further Sunday. Crowder finished with two sacks, a forced fumble and three solo tackles, making his presence felt at the line of scrimmage a week after he was used as a linebacker in coverage. And he showed great penetration on the Bucs' fourth-quarter goal-line stand that helped ice the win. He played right and left end, depending on personnel and the situation, and he welcomes the challenge of playing multiple roles because it keeps him relevant. "I'm the rotational guy, so I have to learn to play both sides," he said. "That makes me valuable and hard to get rid of if I can play both sides." A former second-round pick of the Broncos, Crowder is doing a good job of re-establishing himself in Tampa Bay. His ability to force Panthers QB Matt Moore to fumble on a sack early in the fourth quarter won't hurt. The fumble, recovered by Kyle Moore, came as the Panthers were driving and hoping to trim a 13-point deficit. It proved to be Matt Moore's final play — he was benched afterward. "That's when you want it," Crowder said. "Right when they're gaining momentum, you have to take their heart away."
He did not practice all week. His coach said his knee was throbbing. The injury report indicated he might not even play. And with all that as a backdrop, all TE Kellen Winslow did was lead the Bucs in receiving yards Sunday with two of the game's most awe-inspiring offensive plays. Listed as questionable on the week's final injury report because of what coach Raheem Morris termed "knee pain," Winslow went on to catch four passes for 83 yards. Among them was a brilliant 40-yard, sideline-straddling reception that completed a stunning play from QB Josh Freeman. Freeman shook two would-be tacklers, and Winslow continued working to get open. "It's just scrambling and staying alive," Winslow said. "That's what good players do, and (Freeman) is a good player." Winslow caught a 24-yard reception on third and 10 in the first quarter, making a leaping catch of a strike down the middle against star LB Jon Beason. The completion helped set up the Bucs' first touchdown. Regarding the discomfort in his knee, Winslow, per usual, downplayed the pain he plays through when the joint flares up, as it did last week. But he vowed to be ready no matter what happens (or doesn't) on the practice field. "The only thing that matters is what you do on Sunday," he said. "Nobody cares about practice. When that game is on the line, you're going to make the play or not. So it doesn't matter what you do during the week. … I'll be ready every Sunday."