Thursday Night Football kicked off in Charlotte at the Bank of America Stadium, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers would both look for their first win of the season.
The Panthers are 23-14 all-time against Tampa Bay, and Thursday night was the first night defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suited up as a Panther against his former team. McCoy was released by Tampa Bay, but picked up by Carolina.
The Panthers released their inactive list on Wednesday and Rashaan Gaulden (groin), Bruce Irvin (hamstring), Greg Olsen (back), and Greg Little (concussion) were listed as injured, but Olsen and Gaulden were questionable. Olsen was cleared to play, and Little cleared the concussion protocol, but he and Gaulden remained on the sidelines.
The game was suspended briefly due to lightning, producing a storm seven minutes into the game, and neither team had been able to produce points on their first possession.
The game resumed almost half an hour later, and Tampa Bay put the first points on the board with a 40-yard field goal by kicker Matt Gay. Carolina followed suit in the next possession when Joey Slye kicked a 32-yard field goal to tie the score with just under three minutes on the clock. The first quarter ended 3-3.
The second quarter got off to a slow start, with no points put on the scoreboard until 8:30 when Panthers Slye kicked another field goal, this time for 37 yards, giving Carolina the lead 6-3. Prior to the Buccaneers’ final possession of the first half, they were unable to make any third down conversions, but with less than two minutes left in the half, they made their first third down conversion, and the following first down led to the first touchdown of the game.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston connected with wide receiver Chris Godwin for 20 yards, and the lead 10-6. Carolina’s final possession of the first half ended with Joey Slye putting another three on the board with a 53-yard field goal. Tampa Bay went into the locker rooms at half time with a one-point lead over Carolina.
Carolina started with possession of the ball the second half but was unable to produce any points, and Tampa Bay was unable to convert their first second half possession into any points on the board as well. Newton connected with Olsen for a 41-yard pass in the next possession, but Carolina was unable to put six on the board, instead Joey Slye kicked a 51-yard field goal for the two-point lead over the Buccaneers.
The lead didn’t last long because in the next Tampa Bay possession Peyton Barber carried the ball 16 yards for a Buccaneer touchdown, and Gay successfully kicked the extra point to bring Tampa Bay back on top, 17-12 with 4:20 left in the third quarter. The next Carolina possession yielded an intercepted ball that was overturned because of a holding call, yet the Panthers fumbled the ball giving the possession back to Tampa Bay. In the last possession of the third quarter, Tampa Bay attempted to widen the gap by attempting a 42-yard field goal by kicker Matt Gay, but it went wide right and was no good.
The scoreboard read 17-12 going into the final quarter of the game.
The final quarter of the game started with a forced safety by Luke Kuechly to end Tampa Bay’s first possession, and chances to put any points on the board. The game remained scoreless throughout the next three possessions, with none of the possessions yielding more than four plays or nine yards. After the longest possession of the quarter, six and a half minutes, Matt Gay kicked 32-yard field goal to extend the lead by six points with 2:30 left on the clock.
Carolina was unable to answer, and even gave up a first down with only a half yard necessary to convert the third down in the red zone. Tampa Bay won their first game of the season, and in divisional play as well, by defeating the home team 20-14.
Cam Newton threw for an unimpressive 25 out of 51 completions and was sacked three times in this game, while Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston completed 16 out 25 passes and recorded a touchdown.
Tampa Bay’s offense proved to be the stronger of the two teams with 31 completed rushing carries versus Carolina’s 19; however, Carolina did record more receptions and receiving yards than Tampa Bay, but still came up short.
There was speculation if Cam Newton was 100-percent healthy, and if he isn’t, the Panthers need to let him heal, and give Kyle Allen a chance to lead the team to a win, especially since Carolina has lost the last eight games Newton started, and Allen has two preseason starting victories under his belt just this year alone.
Arizona is Carolina’s next opponent on Sept. 22, which gives the coaches and team plenty of time to work on making the much-needed improvements.