By David Rogers. November 4, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — If variety is the spice of life, then the Carolina Panthers are a tantalizing potpourri of NFL football. Charlotte’s best used a dazzling array of offensive and defensive weapons to throttle down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 42-28, in front of paid attendance of 73,513 at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
COVER IMAGE: Christian McCaffrey hurdles over Buccaneer defenders for a big gain in the second quarter. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News, dedicated to the memory of Doug Holstein: photographer, mentor, and friend extraordinaire.
Running back Christian McCaffrey rushed 17 times for 79 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Cam Newton completed 19 of 25 passes for 247 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, Carolina was a menace to the highly regarded Buccaneer offense that features several playmakers in skill positions, including veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receivers Mike Evans, Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and running back Peyton Barber.
Saturday’s defensive performance included two interceptions (Donte Jackson and Eric Reid), five tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hurries, three QB sacks, one forced fumble and nine passes defended. That prompted Carolina head coach Ron Rivera to put that defensive effort into perspective for reporters in his post-game remarks.
They don’t send you a text message and let you know they’re going to run a reverse on the next play.
“(Tampa Bay) is the number one offense in the NFL right now,” Rivera pointed out. “We were able to hold them to right around 300 yards so kudos to Eric (Washington, defensive coordinator) and the coaching staff did and kudos to the defensive guys executing.”
In racking up 247 yards passing behind an offensive line that only gave up two QB sacks, Newton hurled aerials to six different receivers.
Veteran tight end Greg Olsen seems to be returning to form after an early-season injury kept him sidelined. He was target six times by Newton and came up with six receptions for 76 yards, including a one-handed TD in traffic. Running back Christian McCaffrey had a “balanced” day on the field, catching five Newton passes for 78 yards to go with his 79 yards rushing. Wide receiver Devin Funchess caught two aerials for 44 yards.
Samuel’s gridiron ballet gave the Panthers a 28-7 lead by the second quarter.
Speedy former Ohio State wide receiver and second-year Panther Curtis Samuel, who seems to have spent a majority of his short NFL career on the injured list, will make numerous highlight reels for his play on Sunday against the Buccaneers. Samuel was the featured finish of a Panthers double reverse early in the second quarter.
It was a complex play designed by offensive coordinator Norv Turner but executed to perfection — and more. Newton took the snap from behind center, whirled almost 360 degrees clockwise. It looked like it was developing as a play-action pass play when he faked handing off to McCaffrey running off of left tackle. But Newton kept the ball, took two steps left in the backfield and flipped the ball to rookie wide receiver DJ Moore speeding to the right on an apparent reverse. With all of the Buccaneer attention now focused on Moore, Samuel took a flip pass from Moore as he sprinted behind him back to the left on a double-reverse. He found open space — and blockers in front, including McCaffrey — down the left sideline. Then the former Buckeye star dipsy-doodled back to the right, weaving his way through the entire Tampa Bay defense pretty much on his own. ESPN statisticians calculated that he ran 103.9 yards to score a TD from the Buccaneer 33-yard line.
You get behind so fast you just run out of possessions.
Samuel’s gridiron ballet gave the Panthers a 21-7 lead. It inspired the defensive unit to fashion a three-and-out on Tampa Bay’s next offensive possession, the visitors from Florida starting the series on their own 20 and then forced to punt from their own end zone.
On the first play of Carolina’s ensuing possession, McCaffrey danced down the right sideline for a 35 yard gain that Tampa Bay challenged, contending that the sophomore RB out of Stanford stepped out of bounds at about the 20. The ruling on the field was allowed to “stand,” and the Panthers renewed their assault on the Buccaneers’ goal line from the 7-yard line. Three McCaffrey running plays later and the versatile runner stretched to break the plane of the goal line for what would become a 28-7 lead.
Carolina continues to add elements of dynamic complexity to the offense under the supervision of Turner and the offensive staff and opponents are taking notice.
“We know that because (Carolina) plays option football, you have to play assignment football,” Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter observed later about preparing for the Panthers’ offense. “You are worried about Cam (Newton) and what he can do with (the football). You’re worried about (Christian) McCaffrey. They don’t send you a text message and let you know they’re going to run a reverse on the next (play). So that’s just another dimension and they’re doing a good job with that. We couldn’t get it defended today.
“…We were down four scores,” Koetter added. “You get behind so fast you just run out of possessions. We’ve been able to run it a little more efficiently on these guys in the past, but today we just couldn’t get it going.”
Now 6-2 and in second place (behind the New Orleans Saints) in the NFC South Division, Carolina has a short week before traveling to play the AFC North Division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night (Nov. 8). Then they get a 10-day rest before trekking to Motor City where they will meet the Detroit Lions (3-5) on Nov. 18th.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News