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Week 17 Game Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10, Carolina Panthers 38

What you need to know

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay actually drew first blood on a 39 yard Connor Barth field goal in the 1st quarter, capitalizing on a Lavonte David fumble recovery. It was mostly Panthers after that, as Carolina's front 7 played a ferocious game, consistently pressuring Winston and penetrating the offensive line for sacks and tackles for loss. The Bucs lost 3 turnovers(two INT's and a fumble) and were on Carolina's 2 yard line when time expired in the first half. Kicker Connor Barth converted his 1 field goal attempt and his lone extra point attempt.Tampa Bay was 8/16 on 3rd down attempts, and 1/2 on 4th down. Tampa Bay was without WR Vincent Jackson and tackle Gosder Cherilus on offense.

Carolina Panthers

The lack of usage of Greg Olsen in the passing attack was not as a result of the Buccaneers taking him away per se; instead, it was his increased usage in pass protection and Cam Newton's trust in his outside receiving options that proved the difference.

Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne showed well against a stout Buccaneers run defense. Despite being stonewalled early and often, Artis-Payne's terrific patience came to the fore, particularly late in the game. The rookie has a place in this offense for the foreseeable future.

It was a breakout game for another rookie, Devin Funchess, who continues to develop nicely. Funchess did cough the ball up once on a fumble, but bounced back with a 100-yard performance and a touchdown after getting inside position on his defensive back on a quick slant and finishing strongly.

The offensive line did a good job with their run blocking, but the Buccaneers were able to attack Cam Newton with blitzes that were not picked up very well. Newton holding onto the ball is partially to blame, but the line needs to do a better job as well.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB Jameis Winston, 74 offensive snaps, Pass: 29 - 47 - 325 - 0 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 3 - 14 - 1
Winston had a rough day, but still managed to pass 4,000 passing yards on the season, making him just the 3rd rookie to ever do so. After Carolina got out to an early lead, Winston was forced to throw the ball a lot. With Josh Norman and the rest of the Carolina secondary keeping the WR's on lockdown, and the Carolina 7 bringing constant pressure, Winston was forced to check down to his running backs often. He scored the Bucs' only touchdown of the day on a 6 yard bootleg run in the 3rd quarter. He faked the handoff to the right, and rolled out to the left, outrunning a couple of defenders to the edge and leaping over his last would-be tackler for the score. Winston set the play up with a 21 yard gain to TE Seferian-Jenkins the play before.

Winston threw an ugly interception to LB Thomas Davis in the 2nd quarter while looking for a double-covered Adam Humphries. Winston had good protection, but threw the ball behind the receiver and made it an easy grab for the veteran linebacker. He threw another interception in the 4th quarter when his receiver, TE Brate, fell down on his dig route. Winston nearly had a 3rd interception late in the 4th quarter, but it bounced off the hands of a diving Josh Norman in the end zone. Winston missed TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins twice in the end zone at the end of the 2nd quarter, and the Bucs failed to score any points after Charles Sims took the ball to the 2 yard line with 10 seconds left in the half.

RB Doug Martin, 41 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 48 - 0, Rec: 7 - 60 - 0 (7 targets)
Martin only managed 48 yards on 15 carries. The Carolina front 7 consistently penetrated the Tampa Bay offense line for sacks and tackles for loss, really making the day tough for Martin and Sims on the ground. The majority of Martin's ground yardage came on a 29 yard gain in the 3rd quarter. The Carolina defense parted like the Red Sea, and Martin shot right up the middle of the field, bouncing off of a couple of tackles in the secondary for the big gain. With Tampa Bay falling behind early, Martin did see some increased action in the receiving game as Winston was forced to checkdown to his running backs a lot. Martin was a perfect 7 for 7 on his targets, and caught his longest reception of the day(20 yards) on a RB screen out of the backfield in the 1st quarter

RB Charles Sims, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 15 - 0, Rec: 9 - 74 - 0 (11 targets)
Sims had a slow day on the ground, but gathered the most passing targets on the team, catching 9 of 11 for 76 yards. The Panthers got out to an early lead, and Sims was peppered with checkdown targets out of the backfield throughout the course of the game. Sims caught a halfback screen that he took to the 2 yard line just before halftime. With only 7 seconds left after the play, the Bucs tried two quick passing plays but missed TE Seferian-Jenkins both times, failing to score before halftime.

RB Bobby Rainey, 1 offensive snaps
Rainey fumbled and lost a punt return deep in Tampa Bay's red zone in the 3rd quarter, leading to a Cam Newton rushing touchdown.

WR Mike Evans, 68 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 99 - 0 (9 targets)
Evans was shadowed by shutdown CB Josh Norman for the majority of the day, but still managed 4 receptions for 99 yards on his 9 targets. He was wide open on a deep crossing route in the 2nd quarter for a gain of 27 yards. Evans had another long gain on a deep post route in the 2nd quarter to convert 3rd and long right before halftime. He was overthrown on a fade route in the end zone at the end of the same drive. Evans drew a holding penalty on CB Josh Norman in the 3rd quarter. Evans had 2 consecutive long receptions at the end of the 3rd quarter and that were hotly contested by CB Norman. Evans was overthrown in the end zone late in the 4th quarter and was ejected after the play, drawing 2 unsportsmanlike penalties for mouthing off to referees. Norman didn't shut him down, but definitely frustrated him over the course of the game.

WR Donteea Dye, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 31 - 0 (7 targets)
Dye had one of his most productive games of his rookie season, catching 4 of 7 targets for 31 yards and a couple of chain-moving 1st downs. Dye gained 14 yards on a curl route in the 1st quarter to convert 3rd and long on the Bucs' first drive of the game, and had a clutch reception on a deep post route to keep a drive alive at the end of the 2nd quarter.

WR Adam Humphries, 56 offensive snaps (2 targets)
Humphries was underthrown on Winston's first interception in the 2nd quarter, and he missed his only other target of the day, a WR bubble screen at the end of the 2nd quarter.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 29 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 48 - 0 (7 targets)
ASJ's biggest catch of the day was a 21 yard gain on a corner route to set Tampa Bay up in the Carolina red zone in the 3rd quarter. Jameis Winston capped the drive off with a touchdown run on the next play. ASJ was targeted in the end zone on a slant route just before halftime, but Winston threw the pass behind him. He was targeted on an out route on the next play, but he couldn't secure the pass, and time expired as he bobbled the pass.

TE Cameron Brate, 28 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (2 targets)
Brate fell down on his route for his first target, resulting in QB Winston's 2nd interception of the day in the 4th quarter. He caught his 2nd target for a 10 yard gain on a curl route later in the 4th quarter.

TE Luke Stocker, 33 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 3 - 0 (1 targets)
Stocker held down his usual blocking duties and caught his only target of the day for a 3 yard gain in the 2nd quarter.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 62 offensive snaps, Pass: 21 - 26 - 293 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 6 - 10 - 2
After some early hiccups in pass protection, leading to back-to-back sacks, Cam Newton and the offense began to settle into a familiar rhythm. Newton was very sharp early on, firing passes on time and on target to a variety of receivers. A nonchalant flick of the wrist on a pass to Devin Funchess against the blitz was a thing of beauty, and a deep target for Corey Brown was dropped in the end zone and should have been a touchdown. Newton was in full control at the line of scrimmage, checking into better plays often and managing to draw the Buccaneers offside with his cadence. Newton made his fair share of questionable plays, but none of them involved turning the ball over; instead, it was a sack he shouldn't have taken and a poor play to pass the ball beyond the line of scrimmage on the option. Newton scored his first of two rushing touchdowns on a naked bootleg in the red zone, a play that has become a staple of Carolina's offense. No Buccaneers defender had a chance to close the gap on him once he got moving, and it proved to be an easy score. Newton produced a Houdini play on the next series, somehow escaping a sack and flicking the ball for a 41-yard catch and run to Funchess. The ball was tipped by a Buccaneers defender in flight, but it ended up in Funchess' hands. Newton's second rushing touchdown came on a quarterback sneak, after a straightforward drive by the offensive line at the 1-yard line. The MVP candidate did an excellent job with his first passing touchdown. Coming off a timeout, the Panthers lined up quickly and caught the Buccaneers off guard. This allowed Newton to quickly scan the field and find Jerricho Cotchery beyond the Buccaneers' last man in the secondary for a beautiful touchdown pass. The location of the ball to the back line of the end zone meant only Cotchery could have made the play. His second passing touchdown went to Funchess, who did an excellent job to gain separation on a quick slant, presenting a big target for Newton. Funchess caught the ball and dove for the goal line to finish the play. It was a polished display from Newton and the offense, who recovered well after the debacle in Atlanta.

RB Cameron Artis-Payne, 39 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 44 - 1, Rec: 2 - 17 - 0 (2 targets)
The rookie found little joy early on against the Buccaneers, who plugged up the running lanes very well. However, the trademark of Artis-Payne's game his patience shone through and the rookie began to pick his spots and burst through the hole at the right moment. He showed some nice moves in the open field after a pass to the flat looked like it would gain no yards; instead, he juked a defender and followed his convoy of blocks back into the middle of the field for a nice gain. His hard running against a stout front seven was rewarded with his first career touchdown, after an audible at the line by his quarterback. The backside guard pulled and the frontside was sealed off nicely by Greg Olsen, allowing Artis-Payne to shoot the gap and score untouched.

RB Mike Tolbert, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 59 - 0, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)
With Jonathan Stewart still missing due to a foot injury, Mike Tolbert got the first totes in this contest and looked powerful and swift early on, punishing defenders and showing nifty open field moves. Sharing the carries almost evenly with rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, Tolbert's gritty style allowed the offense to keep grinding out tough yards, with the offensive line doing an excellent job blocking it up. Tolbert was unlucky not to cash in with a touchdown on a goal line carry.

WR Devin Funchess, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 120 - 1 (8 targets)
While still not the finished article, this performance by Devin Funchess showed why many in Carolina are high on his potential. Funchess showed good speed to beat a defender to the corner on an 18-yard shallow crossing pattern, making himself available to receive the pass after the Buccaneers sent a blitz. Funchess' next catch saw him fumble the ball after it was punched out by a Tampa Bay defender. However, the rookie rebounded nicely, catching everything thrown his way with incisive route-running and smooth hands. His most bizarre play came on a 41-yard catch and run; Newton somehow escaped a sack in the backfield and rolled right, finding Funchess down the right-hand side of the field after the pass was initially tipped by an underneath Tampa Bay defender. Funchess excelled on inside-breaking routes all game and cashed in with a late touchdown to put the game to bed. Afforded space to burst off the line of scrimmage, he quickly broke inside and Newton did not delay in getting the ball between his numbers. Funchess did the rest, shaking off a tackler and diving for the goal line.

WR Corey Brown, 49 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 58 - 0 (6 targets)
Corey Brown endured a rather inauspicious start to the day, dropping what should have been a touchdown on a bucket throw from Newton to the end zone. Brown had gained a yard of separation on the fly route, and the pass appeared to be catchable. The receiver got his hands on it initially, but couldn't secure it. Brown had another drop later in the game, this time on third down. The pass from Cam Newton was low and away from the defender in coverage, forcing Brown to extend for it and dive to the turf, which led to a drop. The young receiver redeemed himself somewhat with a pair of nice catch and run plays, showing swift moves in the open field.

WR Jerricho Cotchery, 32 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 52 - 1 (2 targets)
It was a reasonably quiet outing for Jerricho Cotchery, who got the offense going with a 20-yard WR screen catch and run on their opening drive. Cotchery was the recipient of a beautifully placed touchdown pass from Cam Newton after he got on top of the Tampa Bay defensive backs. The ball was thrown to the back line of the end zone, but such was the placement Cotchery needed only to reach his hands up.

TE Greg Olsen, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 16 - 0 (2 targets)
While Greg Olsen was lined up in his traditional spots all over the formation, he was not the focus of the passing attack against Tampa Bay. Instead, Newton targeted his outside receivers and relied on a steady dose of the ground game. After the Buccaneers had early success blitzing Newton, Olsen was often asked to stay in to block as an H-back, limiting his pass routes run. He had an excellent play to stop at the sideline and give his quarterback an easy read on a scramble drill. Later, he was stopped a yard shy of the end zone on a questionable pass zipped between defenders from Newton. Olsen burned a Tampa Bay defender on a seam pattern in the second half and drew a defensive pass interference penalty that kept the offense on schedule.