A sloppy win is still a win. I’ll take it.
Bucs 17 – Panthers 14
What a weird game.
Upon hearing that Tampa controlled the first quarter of this contest, to the point that Carolina quarter back Derek Anderson didn’t even attempt a pass during those initial 15 minutes of game clock, you’d think the score would be ridiculous, right? Well, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. For all their ability to control the ball throughout the first half, the Bucs couldn’t close the deal when given the chance. After notching a field goal early in the game, finding the end zone became harder than hunting for Bigfoot, with both teams giving their punters plenty of opportunities to pad their stats. Add to that a missed field goal by Tampa kicker Roberto Aguayo (one of three air balls on the night, two of which the Bucs owned), and things were starting to get yawny early on.
On the other hand, one could choose to view this through differently colored lenses, and give proper dues and hat tips to the defensive units from both teams, who worked to frustrate and thwart scoring drives all night. The Bucs forced four turnovers that included picking off two Derek Anderson passes and recovering a pair of fumbles. Meanwhile, the Carolina defense managed to sack Tampa QB Jameis Winston twice, though neither Winston nor anyone else coughed up the ball.
For Winston, not throwing any interceptions was a nice improvement over the last couple of weeks, and he definitely showed poise during the game’s closing drive as he maneuvered the Bucs 66 yards inside the final two minutes to set up the game-winning score. Despite a mostly sluggish ground game (the Bucs only notched 113 rushing yards all night), owing to an offensive line that’s already endured injuries at multiple key positions, Winston went 18 completions on 30 pass attempts for 220 yards and a touchdown throw. I suspect he’s going to be in the film room this week and working with his coaches in the days to come, addressing some legit questions regarding his passing accuracy down the field. He’s definitely got the arm strength; he just needs to dial in his sights, because when he catches somebody like receiver Mike Evans in stride, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. We just need to see it more often, is all.
In the end, it all came down to Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo with just three seconds remaining in regulation and with Tampa and Carolina facing at 14-14 tie and possible overtime. Having just missed his second field goal of the night minutes earlier, Aguayo was given a chance to redeem himself in the game’s final seconds after Winston and the Bucs moved the ball to the Panthers’ 20-yard line. Tampa received a gift on that drive in the form of a facemask penalty against Carolina which tacked an extra 15 yards to the end of a somewhat broken running play, setting up Aguayo well within his striking distance. Shaking off the earlier miscues, Aguayo sent the ball through the uprights and the Panthers to the showers, giving his team a very badly needed win.
Sloppy, but I’ll take it.
The win moves the Bucs to 2-3 on the season and into second place in the NFC South, two games behind the Atlanta Falcons who gave the Denver Broncos their first loss of the year. New Orleans held steady for the week as they were on their bye, and the loss to Tampa drops Carolina to 1-4 and the division basement. Though Tampa only has the two wins (so far?), they’re at least against division rivals, which may end up coming into play later in the season once we start slicing and dicing playoff tie-breaker scenarios. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?
Next week, the Bucs are on their own bye so no game. They can take an extra couple of days to rest and celebrate their win before getting back to work and prepping to take on the beleaguered 49ers out in San Francisco. Given how both teams have been playing to this point, they might be better off just challenging each other to Battleshots, or something.
[Insert something pithy and pirate sounding here.]