Panthers turn it around: Carolina defense keys big victory over Tampa Bay

Panthers turn it around: Carolina defense keys big victory over Tampa Bay

CHARLOTTE, NC (Scott Fowler/The Charlotte Observer) - Paced by extremely good defensive play and just enough offense, the Carolina Panthers broke a two-game losing streak Sunday by beating Tampa Bay, 17-3.

Carolina's resurgent defense has allowed only two field goals in the past eight quarters, as both of Chicago's touchdowns last week were scored by the Bears defense.

The game saw the return of both middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion) and safety Kurt Coleman (knee) to the Panthers defense, and having two of its veteran captains back in the lineup certainly helped. So did the fact that the Panthers got their first interception in seven games early in the fourth quarter, when safety Mike Adams picked off a floater from Jameis Winston with Carolina clinging to a 10-3 lead.

The Panthers eventually converted that turnover into a 25-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Kelvin Benjamin, making it 17-3. A Kuechly interception of Winston quickly followed – his second of the season – and sent many Buccaneers fans streaming for their cars.

The Panthers are now 5-3 at the 2017 season midpoint and -- after playing four road games in October -- will play their next two games at home against Atlanta and Miami. They remain in good position in the NFC South. Some other observations from the game:

  • I was fine with Carolina ceding Christian McCaffrey’s punt-returning role to Kaelin Clay, at least on a trial basis. It’s asking a lot of McCaffrey to return punts as well as do everything else he does in the offense. Clay was as successful as McCaffrey has been in returning punts – which is to say just moderately so.
  • Carolina knows teams don’t respect the Panthers throwing the ball deep, but they sure tried to change that Sunday. Newton went deep over and over – including three passes of 30-plus yards directed at Devin Funchess and one at Curtis Samuel. All four of those fell incomplete. But the throw to Benjamin was also a fairly deep ball, and that one worked for the game-clinching TD. That’s the thing with deep balls -- hit only 20 percent of them and you still may get a TD out of it.
  • Julius Peppers increased his team-high sack total to 7.5 with a strip-sack of Winston in the first quarter. That sack was also beneficial to Peppers’ wallet, as he reached a $250,000 contract incentive for having at least seven sacks on the season. Coleman made the recovery on the fumble.
  • Offensive guard Trai Turner left the game with a knee injury. If that one turns out to be serious, that would be very bad news.
  • Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short looks like he is having a Pro Bowl season to me. He caused Tampa Bay’s front all sorts of problems.
  • On a day when Carolina’s offense often sputtered, punter Michael Palardy had a great day to pin the Buccaneers deep again and again.