|10:00 AM PT11:00 AM MT12:00 PM CT1:00 PM ET17:00 GMT1:00 10:00 AM MST12:00 PM EST11:00 AM CT21:00 UAE13:00 ETNaN:� , October 29, 2017|
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida Weather: 63°, Cloudy Attendance: 58,545
Panthers send Buccaneers to fourth straight loss
(TSX / STATS) -- TAMPA, Fla. -- Despite an early-season slumber, the Carolina Panthers have maintained they are a playoff contender. Sunday, they provided some solid evidence.
Playing a tenacious defensive game and striking at opportune moments, the Panthers reclaimed some momentum in the NFC South division race with a 17-3 victory over the slumping Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
"We feel like we're good enough, but we could be better," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Winning today was huge. You want to stay away from the skids (losing streaks) and put up some positive numbers. That's what we were able to do."
The Panthers (5-3), who broke a two-game losing streak, established a 10-0 first-half lead with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart and a 28-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
Following a fourth-quarter interception by cornerback James Bradberry, the Panthers got the put-away score with 8:48 remaining on Cam Newton's 25-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin on third-and-16. Benjamin, 6-foot-5, boxed out rookie cornerback Justin Evans on the play.
Overall, Newton was 18-of-32 passing for 154 yards. He rushed for 44 yards and was not sacked.
Carolina limited Tampa Bay, the NFL's top-ranked passing offense, to 210 yards through the air and forced quarterback Jameis Winston into three turnovers.
"The defense is playing tremendous," Rivera said. "I think our offense is feeding off the energy of our defense."
The Bucs (2-5), who lost their fourth straight game, were held to a 41-yard field goal by Patrick Murray with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.
"It seemed like every time we did get a drive going, something happened, whether it was a penalty or a turnover that took us out of it," Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said.
Winston, who was 21-of-38 passing, threw two interceptions and lost a second-quarter fumble at Carolina's 33-yard line after being sacked by defensive end Julius Peppers.
"We wanted to get after him (Winston) and I think we were able to do that," Peppers said. "We didn't allow any explosives (big plays) and we put up a lot of pressure. It all works together, the back end and the front end. It all worked very well today."
For the first time in Winston's three-season NFL career -- 39 games, all starts -- the Bucs failed to score a touchdown. The Bucs were hampered by poor field position -- five of their drives began at the 17- 16-, 8-, 9- and 3-yard line -- but failed to take advantage of limited opportunities.
Afterward, Winston apologized to Tampa Bay fans for his performance. He said an injury to his throwing shoulder, which occurred Oct. 15 at Arizona, was not a factor. Neither was the wind, which gusted up to 15 mph.
"I just have to be better," Winston said. "We were off a little bit and I don't think I had a good performance at all today. Three turnovers by me ... scoring three points ... you can't win like that."
Carolina opened the scoring on its second possession, driving 82 yards on 17 plays while converting on five third-down situations. On third-and-goal, Stewart plowed over from the 1.
Late in the half, the Panthers drove 41 yards in nine plays and settled for Gano's field goal with 17 seconds remaining.
"It was great to get a lead and play from ahead," Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "We were able to make it stand up. (Losing) three in a row is never a good thing. There's no better way to stop that streak than winning against a divisional opponent on the road. This was a big one for us."
Tampa Bay's defense held Carolina to 254 total yards, but never sacked Newton. The Bucs have an NFL-low seven sacks in seven games.
"I think our defense played amazing," Winston said. "They definitely gave us a chance. But we couldn't get it done."
NOTES: The Panthers were without inactive C Ryan Kalil (neck), who had missed two games earlier in the season, then aggravated the injury Oct. 22 at Chicago. Kalil was replaced by Tyler Larsen. ... Panthers G Trai Turner (knee) left in the third quarter. ... The Bucs had a depleted secondary as starting CBs Brent Grimes (shoulder) and Robert McClain (concussion protocol) were inactive. ... Panthers DE Julius Peppers moved into fourth place on the NFL's all-time sacks list. Peppers, 37, has 151 career sacks and passed former Minnesota Vikings DE Chris Doleman (150.5). Peppers, who has a team-leading 7.5 sacks in eight games, is now chasing Hall of Famer Kevin Greene (160) for third place.
Updated October 29, 2017