CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – After a close loss in week one of the NFL season, the Panthers now prepare to take on division rival Tampa Bay on the road as both teams search for their first win.
The Bucs received plenty of attention this offseason with the additions of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Their highly anticipated debut was largely met with disappointment as Tampa Bay fell to the Saints, 34-23. On the opening drive Brady looked great, leading the Bucs on a scoring drive which ended with a Brady QB sneak near the goal line. He became the oldest player to score a touchdown at the age of 43. But the remainder of the game was relatively underwhelming.
The Saints picked off Brady twice, one was returned for a touchdown and they forced two fumbles, recovering one. Tampa Bay ended up with a minus-three turnover ratio. Brady finished with a 23-36 for 239 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT stat line completing 64% of his passes. Their top receiver was Chris Godwin, who finished with six catches for 79 yards. The Saints shut down number one target Mike Evans, holding him to just a single reception, a touchdown in the second half. Godwin’s status for Sunday is currently up in the air, something to keep an eye on ahead of their afternoon contest. As for the tight ends O.J. Howard was much more of a factor than the aforementioned Gronkowski. Howard reeled in four passes including a touchdown while Gronk was held to just two catches. But the Bucs have several quality pass catchers to choose from.
Their run game was lackluster, compiling a meager 86 yards on the ground at 3.3 yards per carry. Recently acquired running back Leonard Fournette saw just six total touches in the game, but is expected to be introduced more frequently as he becomes familiar with the system. Their lead back as of right now is Ronald Jones II. He tallied 66 yards on 17 carries against the Saints. Overall the Bucs seemed out of sync and unable to find a rhythm. They converted just 5 of 13 third downs, a 38% rate, and averaged 4.8 yards per play. The offensive line also gave up three sacks in the loss.
On defense the Buccaneers had their work cut out for them, but they were very solid against the run overall. They held the Saints to 82 yards rushing at just 2.4 yards per carry. The Panthers will be tested in establishing the run early with Christian McCaffery. They also allowed the Saints to convert just 33% of their third downs (5-15), a respectable rate, but only tallied one sack and were unable to force a turnover. It’s a stout defensive front, however, so long drives are unlikely against this group. WIth Ndamakung Suh and Vita Vea on the interior, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul on the outside, the defensive line is full of talent. And Devin White and Lavonte David are as quality a tandem at linebacker as you’ll find in the league.
On special teams, kicker Ryan Succop made one of two field goal attempts as the Saints blocked one of them. Their punting unit, however, was solid averaging over 47 yards per punt.
Carolina was on the cusp of victory against Las Vegas in the opener, but ultimately fell to the Raiders, 34-30 in Charlotte. In the first half the Panthers managed to put points on the board in each of their four possessions, resulting in a 17-15 halftime deficit. But that success was followed by two-straight punts to start the second half. The run game was slow to develop early on, but as the game wore on Christian McCaffery found his groove and finished with 96 yards and two rushing scores. He added three catches for 38 yards. The Panthers offense still very much runs through McCaffery. Teddy Bridgewater saw his first action in Carolina and was efficient at running the offense. He completed 65% of his passes (22-34) for 270 yards and one long touchdown pass.
The offense was pretty fluid, but hit that rough patch to start the third quarter. After the Raiders went up 27-15, Carolina responded with a touchdown of their own as McCaffery found the end zone for his second score of the afternoon. And then one drive later Bridgewater found RObby Anderson deep for a 75-yard touchdown to take the 30-27 lead. Anderson, acquired via free agency this past offseason, showed he can provide that valuable and reliable deep threat the Panthers were missing. Anderson lead the team with six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel contributed four and five catches apiece, respectively. All in all Bridgewater connected with seven different receivers in the contest, a good sign for an offense that had a lot of question marks entering the season.
Carolina’s offense totaled a very respectable 6.6 yards per play on 388 yards, and converted over 50% of their third downs (7-13). The offense wasn’t an issue in week one. Defensively, however, they struggled.
The Panthers defense allowed 372 total yards to the Raiders, and allowed them to convert over 50% of their third down attempts (6-1). Raiders running back Josh Jacobs had a successful afternoon, churning out 4.3 yards per carry and finding the end zone three times. Las Vegas was able to sustain a couple long drives, and were efficient in the passing game. The Panthers defense gave up a 73% completion percentage to Derek Carr. That efficiency helped lead the Raiders to a win in the time of possession battle. A costly failed fourth down late in the game certainly helped seal their fate, but the Panthers’ defense allowing over six yards per play contributed to their loss.
Joey Slye looked good on the special teams unit. He nailed all three of his field goal attempts, hitting a long of 47. And former Gamecock Joseph Charlton looked great in his NFL debut, averaging 60 yards on two punts.
There’s no doubt this will be a tough test for the Panthers, who travel to Tampa for the Bucs’ home opener. The offense will need to win the battle in the trenches early to establish the run and get McCaffery going. The stout Buccaneers front will be a difficult test for the offensive line. To make matters worse, guard Dennis Daley did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury and was ruled out of last week’s game. Bridgewater was efficient against the Raiders, and if he’s able to avoid the turnovers like he was in week one then the Panthers will have a much better chance at developing some momentum. Going up against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is never easy, and this secondary faces quite a challenge. The defensive line will need to get pressure on Brady early and often. They failed to record a sack against the Raiders. The health status of defensive lineman Kawann Short will be something to watch, as he provides a necessary presence on the interior. Short was limited in practice on Thursday as he deals with a foot injury. Given the wealth of options Tampa Bay has in the passing game, it’s unlikely the Panthers will focus on one primary receiver, that is if the Bucs have a healthy group come Sunday. A consistent pass rush will be the secondary’s best friend on Sunday.
Overall the Panthers will need to establish the run early, avoid turnovers, and get after Tom Brady if they hope to walk away victorious in week two.