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PJ Walker threw two touchdown passes to lead the Carolina Panthers to a 21-3 victory over the Bucs in an NFC South shocker Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
With its fourth loss in its past five games, Tampa Bay slipped to 3-4. However, with Atlanta’s loss in Cincinnati, the Bucs remain in a tie atop the division, where they hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Falcons.
It was the first victory for Carolina (2-5) under interim head coach Steve Wilks and the first since the Panthers traded all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers on Friday.
Walker completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore in the final minute of the first half and a 29-yarder to tight end Tommy Tremble with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Carolina running back Chuba Hubbard scored on 17-yard run late in the third quarter.
Ryan Succop’s 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter accounted for the Bucs’ only points.
Tampa Bay seemed out of sync from the start, when wide receiver Mike Evans dropped what would have been a 64-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady on Tampa Bay’s opening possession.
Brady completed 32 of 49 passes for 290 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Evans caught nine passes on 15 targets for 96 yards. Chris Godwin had seven receptions for 43 yards.
Walker, forced into action after injuries to Sam Darnold (high ankle sprain), Baker Mayfield (ankle) and Matt Corral (Lisfranc injury), was 16-of-22 for 177 yards and the two touchdown tosses.
Running backs D’Onta Foreman (118 yards) and Hubbard (63 yards, TD) combined to rush for 181 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Bucs cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr. left the game with a concussion. Cornerback Anthony Chesley also was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Linebacker K.J. Britt left on a cart and was later spotted later in the locker room with a boot on his right foot.
Here’s how it happened:
Even when they seemed to make strides late in the fourth quarter, things worked against the Bucs.
Trailing 21-3, they drove 38 yards to the Panthers’ 28, most of the yards coming on a 35-yard pass down the middle of the field from Tom Brady to tight end Cade Otton.
But the drive stalled there, where Tampa Bay faced fourth-and-7. Brady threw incomplete for Otton, and the Bucs turned the ball over on downs.
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Then, after forcing a Panthers punt, the Bucs’ Genard Avery was penalized for roughing the kicker, giving Carolina a first down, and its offense returned to the field.
Striking right back
The Panthers saw the Bucs’ field goal ... and raised them a touchdown.
No sooner did Tampa Bay cut into Carolina’s lead than the Panthers extended it a bit more.
Carolina did most of its damage on the ground during a 75-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, as Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman combined to pick up 46 yards on six carries.
PJ Walker did the rest, throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tommy Tremble to put Carolina ahead 21-3 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game.
The Bucs picked up the pace after the Panthers’ late third-quarter touchdown drive and responded with a scoring drive of their own.
Tom Brady completed 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards as Tampa Bay drove from its 25-yard line to the Carolina 8.
The Bucs converted a key first down along the way, picking up 4 yards on a pass from Brady to Russell Gage on fourth-and-2 from the Panthers’ 12.
When three more plays gained only 2 yards, Tampa Bay opted against another fourth-down conversion attempt, settling instead for a 27-yard Ryan Succop field goal and 14-3 deficit.
Shaking it off
The Panthers had their hopes for a big play late in the third quarter dashed when an unsuccessful challenge failed to overturn an incomplete pass call on what they hoped was a completion to a diving DJ Moore along the left sideline.
Undeterred, they picked up those yards — and considerably more — on the next play.
D’Onta Foreman broke free for a 60-yard run over right tackle to the Bucs’ 17-yard line.
Chuba Hubbard covered the rest of the distance to the end zone on the next play, gaining 17 yards over the left side and leaping over the goal line to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter.
Finding their chemistry
Tom Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans had trouble connecting in the first half, but they were in sync early in the second.
The two combined on pass plays of 13, 18 and 9 yards on a mid-third-quarter drive into Panthers territory.
Evans walked gingerly to the Tampa Bay sideline after the third reception, which moved the ball to the Carolina 25-yard line.
When Leonard Fournette was stopped short of a first down on third-and-1 from the 25, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-1. They tossed the ball back to Fournette, but he was stopped for no gain around right end, and Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs.
Bucs cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr. was shaken up after dropping running back Raheem Blackshear for a 4-yard loss on an early third-quarter play.
Winfield, who was able to walk off the field under his own power, was replaced by Dee Delaney.
Delaney teamed with inside linebacker Devin White to tackle Chuba Hubbard after a 3-yard gain on third-and-11, forcing a Panthers punt.
Just out of reach
The Bucs narrowly missed connecting on another long pass play early in the third quarter.
Facing third-and-2 from their 48-yard line, Tom Brady threw deep down the left sideline for Chris Godwin. But Brady’s pass under pressure was just out of the reach of the diving wide receiver.
A few plays earlier, Leonard Fournette spun his way to a 5-yard gain to pick up a first down at the 40. An 8-yard pass from Brady to tight end Kyle Rudolph moved the ball to the 48.
On the board
The Panthers finally broke the scoreless tie in the final minute of the first half on PJ Walker’s 20-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore.
Walker did most of the lifting on the six-play, 80-yard drive, completing all five of his passes for 79 yards.
He got things started with a 21-yard pass to Moore along the left sideline for a first down at the Carolina 41-yard line.
A 23-yard pass to running back D’Onta Foreman moved the ball to the Bucs’ 35. Two plays later, Walker hit wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. for 11 yards to the 20, setting up his touchdown strike to Moore.
Moore got behind safety Mike Edwards and got both feet down in the back of the end zone, dragging his back foot, before tumbling into the padded wall behind the goal post with 29 seconds to play in the half.
One step forward ...
The Panthers briefly moved into field-goal range early in the second quarter before being forced to punt.
Chuba Hubbard’s 6-yard run to the Carolina 25 gave the Panthers their first, first down of the game.
Three plays later, PJ Walker found Terrace Marshall Jr. down the right sideline for 20 yards and a first down at midfield.
A 6-yard pass to DJ Moore two plays after that gave Carolina another first down at the Bucs’ 31, and a Hubbard run advanced the ball 2 more yards to the 29.
But a Vita Vea sack and delay-of-game penalty pushed the Panthers back 12 yards, and they opted to punt.
Change of pace
Rachaad White replaced running back Leonard Fournette on the Bucs’ third possession, late in the first quarter.
White got involved immediately, catching a pass from Tom Brady out of the backfield and taking it 8 yards, then carrying over left guard for 11 and a first down at the Bucs’ 41-yard line.
After Carolina defensive end Brian Burns dropped White for a 6-yard loss, Brady connected with Mike Evans for 16 yards to the Panthers’ 49 on second-and-16.
White then gained 5 yards up the middle, but an illegal formation penalty against tight end Cade Otton gave those yards back, in addition to wiping out an 18-yard completion to Chris Godwin.
Brady overthrew Evans deep over the middle on third-and-8 from the Carolina 47, and Tampa Bay was forced to punt.
Can’t hold on
The Panthers had a big play of their own slip through their hands their first time with the ball.
An apparent 38-yard completion from PJ Walker to Terrace Marshall Jr. to the Carolina 48-yard line on the Panthers’ opening play from scrimmage was overturned when a replay review showed that Marshall didn’t maintain possession of the ball as he went to the ground.
When Chuba Hubbard was stopped 1 yard short of the first-down marker on third-and-7 from the Panthers 13, Carolina punted the ball back to Tampa Bay.
Not like Mike
Mike Evans had a sure touchdown in his hands ... until he didn’t.
Wide open behind the Panthers secondary on the Bucs’ opening possession, Evans bobbled and then dropped a pass deep downfield from Tom Brady with nothing but open field in front of him.
Instead of a seven-point Tampa Bay lead, the drive ended with a change of possession.
Leonard Fournette was dropped for a 1-yard loss on the next play, setting up third-and-11 from the Bucs’ 35-yard line. Brady’s pass over the middle for Chris Godwin was broken up by Xavier Woods, forcing Tampa Bay to punt.
Prior to the Evans drop, the Bucs picked up their first, first down of the game, on a 10-yard completion from Brady to Godwin to the 36.
Bucs seek clear skies, smooth sailing
The Bucs briefly righted their ship before it began to take on water again.
Fortunately, they should find safe harbor this afternoon at Carolina.
One week after a 21-15 win over the Falcons put the Bucs (3-3) in sole possession of first place in the NFC South, they slipped back into a tie (Tampa Bay has the tiebreaker advantage) with a 20-18 loss to the then-NFL-worst Steelers last weekend, Tampa Bay’s third defeat in its past four games.
It’s not where Tom Brady expected to be after returning from a brief retirement, and he directed his displeasure at both officials and teammates, including an angry sideline outburst aimed at his offensive line.
It wasn’t the first time this season the quarterback showed his frustration.
Brady broke two tablets during a Week 2 win over the Saints, a game in which he also sprinted downfield to scream at an official, starting the sequence that resulted in receiver Mike Evans charging from the sideline and knocking New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore to the ground (Evans was suspended for a game). Following the win over the Falcons, Brady was fined more than $11,000 for kicking Atlanta defensive lineman Grady Jarrett after a sack that resulted in a pivotal roughing-the-passer penalty.
But while Brady and the Bucs have sometimes underperformed — and overreacted — over the first third of the season, the Panthers have been simply outclassed for most of it.
A season that started with minimal expectations after a 5-12, last-place finish in 2021 went downhill immediately, as they lost three quarterbacks, fired their coach and just days ago traded their best player.
By sending do-everything back Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco and receiver Robbie Anderson to Arizona, Carolina all but threw in the towel on this season.
Not that it was going anywhere, anyway.
A 24-10 loss to the Rams last weekend in Los Angeles was the Panthers’ third in a row, dropping them to 1-5 and last place in the NFC South. One week earlier, they fired head coach Matt Rhule.
PJ Walker is expected to make his third career start at quarterback today after injuries took out Sam Darnold (high ankle sprain), Baker Mayfield (ankle) and Matt Corral (Lisfranc injury). He will be backed up by practice-squad callup Jacob Eason, who stepped in last week after Walker left in the fourth quarter with a neck injury.
With McCaffrey and his 111.7 total yards per game — fourth-most in the NFL — gone, a Panthers offensive that ranks last in the league in points and total yards will turn to D’Onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear for production out of the backfield.
If the Steelers were struggling entering last week’s game, the Panthers are sinking.
No better time for Brady and the Bucs to get right.
Who’s in/who’s out
Game day scene
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A little light reading
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game:
Carlton Davis out for Bucs’ game against Panthers
Does Tom Brady have too much control of Bucs?
Why the cannons aren’t firing for Tom Brady and the Bucs
Bowles rules out 4 Bucs, but Edwards ‘on track to play’ against Panthers
Is Kyle Rudolph ready to finally help Bucs offense?
Tom Brady says his anger may be ugly, but it creates urgency
Tom Brady apologizes for comparing football to military deployment
Byron Leftwich has answers to Bucs’ offensive woes, just not specific ones
Bucs admit they need to help rookie guard Luke Goedeke
Is Ryan Jensen’s return near? ‘I don’t know when he’ll be back,’ Bowles says
Mike Evans echoes sentiment of Bucs fan base: ‘I miss Gronk’
Bucs’ free-agent class hasn’t been a healthy upgrade
Tom Brady rants, no one raves about Bucs offensive line
Todd Bowles says Tom Brady still locked in as ever
If Bucs don’t get turned around, Tom Brady should take the fall
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