Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Carolina Runs the Bucs Out of Charlotte

By JC De La Torre

To steal a term from Awful Announcing's superstar Emmit Smith, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense got "debacled" Monday Night in Carolina. The Bucs defense came into the game ranked 9th in the NFL against the run, through 12 games this season they gave up only one touchdown rushing and only one 100 yd rusher all season. Tonight they gave up 299 yds rushing and 4 rushing touchdowns with two runners (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) over 100 as the Panthers pulled away from Tampa Bay 38-23 to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC South. In the process, the Bucs wasted one of the best nights of a Tampa Bay Wide Receiver in team history as Antonio Bryant hauled in 9 catches for 200 yds and 2 touchdowns.

The Bucs opened the game with a three-and-out, then followed it with a terrible 38 yd punt by punter Josh Bidwell giving the Panthers excellent starting field position at their 48. Carolina would take advantage, driving 30 yds on 8 plays to set up a 33 yd Jon Kasay field goal to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead.

The Bucs tried to answer back, driving 52 yds in 14 plays and bleeding 8:36 off the clock. Unfortunately, Matt Bryant's 40 yd field goal try clanked off the left upright.

Moving into the second quarter, Ronde Barber intercepted Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme to end a threat by the Panthers. Bucs QB Jeff Garcia connected with WR Antonio Bryant on a 52 yd bomb taking the Bucs all the way down to the Carolina 3 yd line - but that old Buccaneer bug-a-boo the Red Zone offense came up and bit them again. On 1st and goal, Alex Smith dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone. On second down, Cadillac ran up the middle for no gain, then Garcia missed on a pass to Jerramy Stevens in the back of the end zone, forcing the Bucs to settle for a 20 yd Matt Bryant field goal to tie the game at 3.

On the ensuing drive, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams took over. 1st and 10 from the 27, Williams blasts for 9 yds, then rushes for 1, then explodes for 40 yds, running over several Buccaneer players to deep inside the Bucs territory. From there, Jonathan Stewart would finish the drive off, pounding in from two yards for the first touchdown of the game, only the second rushing touchdown given up by the Bucs this season, at the half it was 10-3 Carolina, the Panthers had 80 yds rushing, most coming on the big run by Williams.

In the second half, Carolina drove to their 46 yd line thanks to Jonathan Stewarts 28 yd blast. Delhomme would be victimized again as Jermaine Phillips picked him with an acrobatic tip up of a low pass and then have the ball fall into your lap play. One play later, Jeff Garcia found a wide open Bryant for a 50 yd touchdown, the Bucs tied the game at 10. Back came Carolina, drive 73 yds in 6 plays, capping the drive with Jake Delhomme's best pass of the game, a 38 yd strike to Steve Smith who took advantage of a busted Bucs coverage to give Carolina the lead back at 17-10.

Tampa Bay wouldn't quit, back they came driving 69 yds in 9 plays part of the way set up by another great play by Antonio Bryant, who caught a 39 yd pass. From the Carolina 4 yd line, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams drove into the end zone for the tying score, 17-17 with 3:37 left in the 3rd quarter.

Carolina would respond thanks to their running game. Williams and Stewart blasted down the field gashing the Bucs defense for runs of 9, 8, 14, and 9 finally culminating in a 4 yd score by Jonathan Stewart, giving the Panthers the lead back at 24-17. So the Bucs would come right back, right? Well, not quite. The Bucs drive stalled at the 43 and a 57 yd punt by Bucs punter Josh Bidwell pinned the Panthers at the 10 yd line. Perfect scenario for the Bucs defense, right?

Well....not exactly. DeAngelo Williams exploded to the right for 41 yds to the Tampa Bay 49. Jonathan Stewart blasts for 3 yds and then back to the right side for another 30 yds to the Tampa Bay 16. Williams checked back in and the Panthers continued to exploit the right side of the Bucs defense, as he busted for 16 yds and another touchdown to give the Panthers a commanding 31-17 advantage and the Bucs defense was left stunned.

The Bucs drove to the 48 yd line, but again the drive stalled and the Bucs had to punt it again, this time the defense found a way to contain the Panthers and forced a three and out. Garcia and the Bucs quickly moved down the field in the two minute drill and with 2:36 left in the game, Garcia hit Antonio Bryant again, this time on a spectacular one-handed grab by Bryant that will be on highlight reels all week. Matt Bryant's extra point was blocked and the Bucs trailed by 8, 31-23. Tampa Bay attempted the onside kick, but Carolina recovered.

Antonio Bryant's Amazing touchdown catch, courtesy of youtube.com

The Bucs had to get the ball back to have a chance. Run off tackle by DeAngelo Williams for 3 yds, time out Tampa with 2:28 left. Williams plunged up the middle, time out Bucs - 2:17 left. The Bucs defense faced 3rd and 5 at their own 36. If they held, their offense would get a chance, give up the first down, the Panthers could run out the clock. The Panthers pitched DeAngelo Williams to the right and Williams not only got the 1st down but scampered nearly untouched 36 yds for the touchdown, giving the Panthers an insurmountable 38-23 lead.

The Bucs had time for one more drive but failed to execute on 4th and 1 at the Tampa Bay 47, enabling the Panthers to run out the clock.

Carolina takes over 1st place in the NFC South with a 10-3 record, the Bucs fall to 9-4, currently the 5th seed in the NFC. The 299 yds by Carolina was only the 4th time since 1996 the Bucs have give up more than 250 yds rushing in the game and was the 2nd most in Buccaneer history. Antonio Bryant was 12 yds shy of the Buccaneer single game receiving record (Mark Carrier's 212 yds).

For the Bucs, they'll need to recover from this smackdown quickly, as they head to Atlanta on Sunday against another team that can run the football. The run defense's failure tonight is correctable and they better do it quickly or a season that appeared to be so promising may suddenly be on the brink.

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