CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The Panthers' defense was expected to stumble.
They’re giving multiple rookies significant playing time each week, and with no preseason games, a slow start was to be expected — especially going against Tom Brady in the second game of the year.
But Sunday at the Buccaneers, it was the Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers' offense, with all of their new weapons, that was slow to get anything going in Tampa Bay, scoring zero points and coughing up three turnovers in the first half. It put the Panthers in a 21-point deficit that proved insurmountable despite the team making a late push to keep the game close.
Bridgewater failed to find consistency, finishing with three three turnovers (two interceptions, one lost fumble) as the offensive line gave up five sacks en route to a 31-17 loss. The Panthers fell to 0-2 for a second consecutive season. On top of that, the face of the franchise and team’s leading scorer, running back Christian McCaffrey, suffered an ankle injury on his second touchdown of the day and did not return, missing the final three series.
Mistakes plagued the Panthers' offense. Sunday was the first time since 2015 that Bridgewater more than one turnover in a game. It was also just the second time in his career that he turned the ball over three-plus times (three interceptions in a 2014 game). His giveaways results in 17 Buccaneers points.
The Panthers also had nine penalties in the game for a total of 77 yards. The costly mistakes extended far past Bridgewater. Wide receiver Robby Anderson also had a fumble as the team finished with four total turnovers.
The errors started on the first drive of the game. After picking up 49 yards quickly on the drive, Bridgewater overthrew McCaffrey on a screen pass, trying to get the ball over the outstretched arms of a pressuring Ndamukong Suh, into the lap of Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead.
Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on the following drive, aided by rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown gifting the Buccaneers a first down at Carolina’s seven-yard line with a late hit penalty after a successful third-down stop. It was his first of two penalties on third downs that gave Tampa a first down. Bridgewater fumbled the ball just two plays into the next drive, and Brady responded with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans on the next snap.
Bridgewater and the offensive finally got moving in the third quarter. The Panthers first got on the board following a Donte Jackson interception with 45-yard drive that concluded with a one-yard Christian McCaffrey touchdown.
After the Carolina defense forced a quick punt, the offense went on the longest drive of the game by far, going 93 yards and scoring on fourth-and-2 with a seven-yard McCaffrey run, during which he suffered the ankle injury.
The Panthers, down one score, had a chance to get back in the game, but Bridgewater threw his second interception of the day on the following drive, ending any real chance the team had of coming back. The Buccaneers then kicked a field goal and took a 10-point lead, putting the game out of reach.