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What we learned from Buccaneers' win over Panthers

*The first game of Week 2 pitted two familiar foes against one another, and it came down to the final minutes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) prevailed over the Carolina Panthers (0-2), 20-14, on a game-saving tackle near the goal line. Here's what we learned for Thursday night's tight tussle: *

  1. A sloppy, sluggish affair between two NFC South teams with myriad questions was a game of inches -- literally. Down six points with 2:26 to go, Cam Newton marched Carolina down the field with a few intermediate completions and some help from the officials. Eleven plays later, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-1 from Tampa Bay's 2-yard-line. With the game on the line, Panthers OC Norv Turner called a dummy Philly Special, in which Newton strolled to the right side of the offensive line and Christian McCaffrey took the snap, faked a toss to Curtis Samuel and sprinted toward the left pylon. The Panthers do-everything back never did reach the end zone, or the first-down marker, as Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III met him near the line of scrimmage, forcing McCaffrey out of bounds before he could extend the ball for a first down. It was Hargreaves' 12th tackle of the night, and Tampa Bay's last.
  1. Tampa Bay handed Mike Evans an $82.5 million extension last offseason. That's a lot of money for a No. 2 receiver. Through two games, Tampa Bay's leading receiver is not Evans, but Chris Godwin. The third-year deep threat was Jameis Winston's favorite target against Carolina, hauling in eight passes on nine targets for a career-high 121 yards and a touchdown. Winston connected with Evans on one deep ball, but Godwin was the quarterback's preferred option and has been so far this season. Throughout the game and especially down the stretch, bell-cow back Peyton Barber was the engine of Byron Leftwich's offense, logging 23 carries of mostly short gains -- but Godwin was the accelerator. His ability to separate from defensive backs in the middle of the field helps Winston immensely. In a critical contract season for Winston, Tampa Bay's QB1 plays best when he's looking in Godwin's direction.
  1. Is Cam all right? The quarterback who entered the season third all-time in rushing yards at the position, Newton has been one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the league so far. Bothered by a mid-foot sprain late in the preseason, Newton has a grand total of negative-2 yards and two fumbles on five carries through two games. On the goal line in the game's dying seconds, Carolina didn't even consider using Newton on a QB sneak, an obvious call nary one season ago. Instead, the Panthers made him a decoy. What a waste. An immobile Newton is far less dangerous and allows for far less deception in Carolina's offense, allowing for defenses to key on the Panthers' obvious weapons, like McCaffrey, who had a rough night. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game that Newton's foot is not an issue. Carolina's actions speak louder than words.

On top of Newton's sudden lack of mobility, there is still something off concerning Cam's ability to throw with confidence. He spent the offseason retooling his throwing motion so as to prevent wear-and-tear on his right shoulder, and yet Newton still looks like he's laboring on intermediate to deep throws and continues to miss on tosses (even short ones) outside the hashes. (To be fair, Newton hit one deep strike to Samuel in the first half, a sideline bomb with a distance 35.67 air yards, his longest such completion in over a year, per Next Gen Stats.) Maybe it's the short week. Maybe it's early in the season, and he's still knocking the rust off. Maybe it's because he attempted 51 passes, the second-most of his career, and completed just 25 of them, less than 50 percent. But Newton does not look like his MVP self, and he hasn't for a while.

  1. Have a night, Shaq Barrett. The linebacker became the first Bucs player with three sacks in a game since Jacquies Smith in September 2015. Barrett turned Daryl Williams' night into a nightmare, exposing the 27-year-old Panthers left tackle with his speed around the edge. There was no one to spell Williams, as Greg Little, his rookie backup, was inactive with a concussion. Barrett currently leads the league with four sacks, matching or exceeding in two weeks his totals from his last three years in Denver. Tampa Bay's one-year flyer on the 'backer is already looking like a steal.
  1. On an evening when McCaffrey was bottled up and going nowhere (53 total yards, his lowest in a full game played since Week 14, 2017), Carolina leaned on its senior offensive weapon. Tight end Greg Olsen entered Thursday's game with a back injury and left with a team-high 110 receiving yards on six catches, his massive gains propelling a sluggish Carolina offense on its four field-goal drives. In doing so, Olsen passed Hall of Fame tight ends Jackie Smith and Ozzie Newsome for fifth all-time in receiving yards at the position. In an era where tight ends logging high reception totals is the norm, Olsen doesn't necessarily stand out like Smith and Newsome did. But with his longevity and toughness, the 34-year-old veteran of 13 seasons continues to make a case for enshrinement in the Hall with gutsy nights like these.
  1. Two very different nights from these rivals' first-round picks. Tampa Bay's rookie linebacker, Devin White, drafted fifth overall, saw nary a full drive in his first prime-time appearance. He went to the locker room with a knee injury and did not return, though the ailment does not look to be serious. On the other sideline, Brian Burns, the edge rusher to White's signal-caller, earned his first career sack and logged another QB hit on Winston that left the big-bodied thrower hobbling off the field.
  1. Whereas other organizations around the league are struggling to settle on a placekicker -- cough, Bears, louder cough, Jets -- the Panthers have two solid options on their payroll. With former Pro Bowler Graham Gano on season-ending injured reserve, Carolina has stumbled into another reliable booter in Joey Slye. The second-year kicker out of Virginia Tech was responsible for all of Carolina's offensive points Thursday night. After missing a 53-yarder last week, Slye banged home two 50-plus-yard tries in prime time. Years after Carolina developed Harrison Butker only to place him on the practice squad and lose the future starter to Kansas City, the Panthers have found another kicker in the rough. This time, he's theirs.
  1. Everyone knows the stat: If you start 1-1, you have a 41.4 percent chance to make the postseason. But 0-2? You have a 12.6 percent chance. That's where Carolina is after losing their first two contests, both at home, before hitting the road to take on Kyler Murray's Cardinals and Deshaun Watson's Texans. If the Panthers can't get over the hump against one or both of those mobile quarterbacks, their postseason odds will tank to single digits, and Riverboat Ron's job security will take on water.
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