Bucs quarterback Rob Johnson started the game by completing 5-of-5 passes. He completed 22-of-33 passes for 179 yards and threw one interception, which stalled a drive headed into field goal range. Most of his completed passes were short completions out of the backfield and/or in the flat. Eight of his passes were completed to the team's running backs. Johnson was under tremendous pressure from Carolina's defensive line's pass rush. He was sacked six times and fumbled on one of those, which caused a fumble and eventually led to a Carolina field goal. Tampa Bay's offensive line did a terrible job of protecting him, but Johnson did a very poor job of looking downfield for receivers while he scrambled. Johnson allowed the team to take a delay penalty late in the fourth quarter, which moved the Bucs out of field goal range. But Johnson saved his best performance of the game for last when he scrambled 9-yards toward the sideline for a first down, which allowed the Bucs to kick the game-winning field goal. He rushed four times for 17 yards.
Tampa Bay third-string QB Shaun King saw brief action at the end of the fourth quarter after Johnson was injured on his 9-yard run. King made the best of his playing time by completing a 7-yard pass to wide receiver Karl Williams, which moved the ball into better field goal range for kicker Martin Gramatica. King gets an A for his brief performance. One has to wonder how close Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was to pulling Johnson out and putting King in earlier in the game. Some will argue that a change should've been made in the second half.
*The Bucs were 7-of-18 on third down Sunday.
Tampa Bay's rushing attack struggled against Carolina, but what else is new? The Bucs averaged just 2.6 yards per carry Sunday. Bucs running back Michael Pittman rushed 12 times for 36 yards (3.0 avg.).
Bucs RB Aaron Stecker saw some extended playing time. He rushed five times for 17 yards (3.4 avg.). His longest rush went for eight yards. Stecker had a 26-yard run negated after a holding penalty. He also caught four passes for 26 yards. He did a nice job of picking blitzes up in the backfield. Stecker's biggest play of the game came late in the fourth quarter when he made a tremendous block downfield that allowed Rob Johnson to gain nine yards and a first down, which set up Gramatica's field goal.
Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott had a quiet afternoon. He rushed five times for four yards (0.8 avg.). He caught three passes for 11 yards. Alstott did, however, manage to get two huge first downs for the Bucs after being stopped behind the line of scrimmage on both running attempts.
*The Bucs rushed for 71 yards against Carolina. Tampa Bay's offensive line struggled to open holes in the running game.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Joe Jurevicius stepped up big in place of Keenan McCardell, who was sidelined with a fractured scapula. He caught five passes for 55 yards, including a long of 16 yards. He caught some catches in traffic, but he left the game in the third quarter with a sprained knee and ankle.
Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson didn't catch a pass until late in the fourth quarter, but he finished the game with two receptions for 21 yards. He caught two consecutive passes that helped move Tampa Bay's offense close to field goal range with about 1:00 remaining in the game.
Tampa Bay WR Karl Williams' only reception came with under 1:00 remaining in the game. He hauled in a 6-yard pass from QB Shaun King, which secured field goal range for K Martin Gramatica.
Bucs WR Reggie Barlow saw his first action as a Buc against Carolina. He replaced Jurevicius in the third quarter. Barlow caught two passes for 10 yards. He nearly hauled in a pass deep down the sideline in the second half, but he was drilled by a Carolina defender and dropped the ball.
*Tampa Bay's offense failed to get into the end zone for the second consecutive game.
Tampa Bay tight end Ken Dilger caught four passes for 45 yards, including a 22-yarder in the fourth quarter, which led to Gramatica's 52-yard field goal. Dilger also picked up where he left off last Sunday by having a solid game in terms of blocking. Dilger did, however, drop a pass thrown to him in the flat by Rob Johnson in the first half.
Bucs TE Rickey Dudley caught one pass against Carolina, but it went for 15 yards.
Tampa Bay's offensive line was horrible against Carolina's relentless pass rush. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker had a awful game against Panthers rookie left defensive end Julius Peppers, who sacked Rob Johnson twice Sunday. One of those sacks caused Johnson to fumble and it eventually led to Carolina's first score of the game in the second quarter. Walker was also called for holding in the first half, which negated RB Aaron Stecker's 26-yard run.
Bucs left guard Kerry Jenkins also struggled and allowed a sack. He left the game in the second quarter with an injury. Todd Washington filled in for him. Panthers DT Kris Jenkins recorded two sacks against the Bucs.
Bucs left tackle Roman Oben was flagged for a false start, but didn't allow Panthers RDE Mike Rucker to record a sack.
*Tampa Bay's offensive line struggled to provide QB Rob Johnson with time to throw, it allowed six sacks and it failed to open holes in the running game.
Tampa Bay's defensive line had an excellent outing against Carolina. The Panthers had a brief period of success running the ball up the middle of the field with Lamar Smith, but it was short-lived.
Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp sacked QB Randy Fasani for an 11-yard loss in the first quarter. He also recorded three tackles and was fairly disruptive in the trenches, but Carolina was able to contain him after his first sack by double-teaming him.
Tampa Bay nose tackle Anthony McFarland recorded one tackle before having to leave with a fractured forearm in the third quarter. McFarland was replaced by backup DT Chuck Darby, who recorded three tackles.
Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice recorded two sacks and forced a fumble on one of those. But the Bucs couldn't recover the fumble. Rice finished the game with five tackles against Carolina. Bucs left defensive end Greg Spires recorded two tackles and made a huge play on third down with 5:00 remaining in the fourth quarter. Panthers QB Randy Fasani had a chance to run for a first down on the play, but Spires chased him down from behind before he could reach the first down marker.
*Tampa Bay allowed Carolina to rush for 110 yards, but they averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles led the team in tackles with 10 Sunday. Quarles did a nice job of shedding blocks in order to stop the run. He was flagged for roughing the passer in the second quarter, but Tampa Bay was still able to hold Carolina's offense out of the end zone.
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks also played well against the run. He recorded five tackles. Tampa Bay strongside linebacker Al Singleton recorded just one tackle.
*Tampa Bay's defense held Carolina's offense to just 15 yards passing in the first half.
Tampa Bay strong safety John Lynch recorded two interceptions and three tackles Sunday. Lynch was also active near the line of scrimmage on run blitzes.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly intercepted QB Randy Fasani with 9:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. Kelly did a nice job of going up in traffic and securing the football. His interception gave Tampa Bay's offense the ball on the 50-yard line. Kelly also recorded three tackles.
Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber recorded five tackles and free safety Dexter Jackson recorded four tackles.
*Tampa Bay's defense only allowed Carolina QB Randy Fasani to complete 5-of-18 passes for 43 yards and they intercepted him three times.
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica gets an A+. He was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts Sunday. He accounted for all 12 of Tampa Bay's points. Nine of those points came in the fourth quarter. Gramatica's field goals were from 32, 52, 52 and 47-yards out.
Bucs punter Tom Tupa did a nice job of holding for Gramatica and long snapper Ryan Benjamin was perfect in terms of snapping.
Tampa Bay's kickoff coverage unit struggled for the second consecutive week. They allowed Panthers kick returner Steve Smith to average 35.3 yards per return.
Tampa Bay CB Corey Ivy forced Smith to fumble on a punt return late in the fourth quarter. Bucs running back Aaron Stecker recovered Smith's fumble. Stecker recovered the ball on Carolina's 42-yard line and the turnover led to Gramatica's 53-yard field goal.
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