CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The shift to coordinator Todd Bowles' aggressive defense continues to pay off for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who earned an important divisional road win against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, avoiding an 0-2 start.
In eight quarters of football, the Bucs' defense has surrendered one touchdown, including keeping the Panthers out of the end zone, limiting them to four field goals. The defense also weathered the loss of rookie linebacker Devin White, who suffered a left knee injury and did not return. Heading into Thursday's game, the Bucs had given up a touchdown in 36 straight games -- the fifth-longest active streak in the NFL, according to ESPN Statistics & Information research. They surrendered an average of 29 points per game last season. Through two games this season, they've given up an average of 10 points.
"It's two weeks in a row, we did a good job of not giving up touchdowns and defending every blade of grass," coach Bruce Arians said. "That's what we talk about all the time -- it's not over until it's over. They've done a hell of a job for two weeks."
Defensive backs got their hands on a number of Cam Newton passes. Vernon Hargreaves III finished with 12 tackles. There was consistent pressure all night. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett registered three sacks, including back-to-back plays, becoming the first Bucs player since at least 1991 with three sacks in a single quarter. Rookie Anthony Nelson batted down a pass, and in the third quarter forced a fumble that was recovered by Ndamukong Suh.
QB breakdown: After throwing three interceptions last week -- including two pick-sixes -- quarterback Jameis Winston managed to avoid any turnovers. His offensive line did a much better job keeping him clean in the pocket. Overall, Winston appeared more in sync with his receivers -- Chris Godwin finished with eight catches for 121 yards and a touchdown -- and was aided by a consistent ground game, with Peyton Barber rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought he was outstanding," Arians said of Winston. "He had a hell of a week as far as mentally getting ready for this ballgame. I think that's the type of game he can play. I didn't think he played that bad last week. He had one bad play, but tonight he was spot on."
The biggest thing for Winston was he didn't have to do it on his own, something the coaching staff has emphasized with him since day one. He needs to rely on the players around him and not try to be Superman. With this win against the Panthers, Winston ended a 12-game losing streak in road starts. He also received a jolt of confidence after one of the worst performances of his career, which probably would have gotten him benched under former coach Dirk Koetter.
Pivotal play: Late in the fourth quarter, Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty, advancing the Panthers from the Tampa Bay 22 to the 11-yard line with 1:45 left. After a delay of game penalty, on fourth-and 2, Hargreaves tackled Christian McCaffrey at the 2-yard line to preserve a 20-14 win.
"It looked like it was going to be the Philly Special from the Super Bowl, a reverse pass," Hargreaves said. "When Cam walked up to the line of scrimmage, that's what I thought it was going to be. As the play developed, McCaffrey faked it and he came right to me. I just stayed home and he came right to me. I just had to make a play. ... [It's] huge. We're on the road, a division game. It doesn't get any more challenging than this. We pulled one out today."
Promising trend: The Bucs ended a seven-game road losing streak against the Panthers. They also managed to do something they haven't done much of in the past 10 years -- they found a way to come back from a deficit. From 2009 through Week 1 of 2019, they were 36-105 when trailing at any point in a game. Granted, they trailed by only three points -- when the Panthers converted their second field goal to make it 6-3 in the second quarter -- but for a team that has struggled to get out of its own way, this was an important step.
"You always want to get the first win off your back. So yeah, the guys bought in. They gave us everything," Arians said. "There was no panic on the sideline. Guys were convinced we were going to win the ballgame."