Bucs take control of NFC South

Tampa Bay took control of the NFC South with a 20-7 victory over Carolina on Sunday, but it came at a price, as RB Carnell Williams and OT Luke Petitgout both left the game with knee injuries. Williams' injury could be serious.

Tampa Bay may have paid a heavy price for the lead in the NFC South.

The Buccaneers (3-1) defeated the Carolina Panthers (2-2), 17-0, at Bank of American Stadium on Sunday afternoon. But in doing so they lost two starting offensive players, and both could be out for an extended period of time.

Running back Carnell Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout left the game with knee injuries, though it appeared Williams' was much more serious.

Williams left the game late in the first quarter after one of the best runs of his season racked up a first down for the Buccaneers.

Williams' left cleat appeared to get stuck in the ground as he braced himself for a hit from Panthers safety Chris Harris. His right knee bent back and hit the ground, appearing to hyperextend the knee. It became obvious the injury was much more serious moments later when TV camera caught a picture of Williams in obvious pain.

The Buccaneers said Williams had a right knee sprain and would undergo more tests on Monday. There was a report during the FOX broadcast that the team feared ligament damage, but that was not confirmed.

Petitgout left in the second quarter after it appeared that center John Wade blocked a Carolina defender into Petitgout's right knee. Petitgout left the field under his own power, but with a noticeable limp. He reportedly had a right knee sprain.

The injuries didn't slow the Buccaneers, who used a quick 14-point first-quarter outburst and a heady defensive game to take a one-game lead in the NFC South into next weekend's road trip to Indianapolis.

Tampa Bay came out on the opening possession and dictated the game's pace in scoring the opening touchdown of the game. Garcia threw for 47 yards, including a critical 9-yard completion on third down to Ike Hilliard to the Panthers 15. Hilliard finished the game with his first 100-yard receiving game this season.

Garcia capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on a broken play midway through the first quarter, capping off an 11-play drive. Garcia finished without an interception for the fourth straight game, as he went 15-of-25 for 176 yards.

Tampa Bay grabbed a 14-0 lead after Williams' injury, as backup Earnest Graham scored on a 1-yard plunge.

Matt Bryant added a field goal in the second quarter to give the Bucs a 17-0 lead. It could have been much more, but the Panthers defense made a couple of key stops, including a stop of Graham on 4th-and-goal at the Panthers 1, to keep the game from getting completely out of hand.

It didn't help, though, as the Buccaneers defense rendered the Panthers offense impotent. Backup David Carr — making his first start in Carolina — threw for just 155 yards, a touchdown and an interception as the Bucs kept him off-balance all day.

Even more troubling for Carolina was wide receiver Steve Smith, who caught only five passes for 32 yards, his worst performance against the Buccaneers in their last five meetings.

The Buccaneers forced two turnovers, including safety Jermaine Phillips' second interception in as many weeks, which set up Matt Bryant's second field goal of the game

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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