Tampa Bay’s defense swarmed, the opposing quarterback squirmed, and the Buccaneers beat the Carolina Panthers 16-10 in their debut under coach Greg Schiano on Sunday.
The lone holdover from the Bucs’ Super Bowl champion of 10 years ago had an interception, sack and key stop on Cam Newton as a defense that allowed an NFL-worst 494 points contained the Carolina star to stop a 10-game losing streak that prompted the firing of former coach Raheem Morris.
”This was fun to watch this defense go out and play the way they played,” Barber said on a day he was honored for making his 200th consecutive start.
”I don’t think anybody really knew what we were going to get. We had one real good showing in the preseason against New England. I don’t think I even knew how it would translate to Sundays. Today, the way we played is something to be proud of,” Barber added. ”My individual performance was just a reflection of the way the defense played as a whole.”
Schiano came to Tampa after spending 11 seasons transforming Rutgers from one of the losingest programs in college football into a Big East contender.
The new Bucs defense is similar to one the coach ran with the Scarlet Knights and – for at least one game – produced the type of results that reminded Barber of some of the units he played on earlier in his career.
”It felt like old times, when we were a great defense back in the day, when guys played so fast,” Barber said. ”You turned the film on and people would say, this film is sped up, it can’t possibly be this fast. That’s what it felt like out there. They have some very talented players, and we swarmed on them all day long, and kept Cam in check.”
Newton threw for 303 yards and one touchdown. But the Panthers were shut out in the first half, and the interceptions he threw thwarted Carolina’s chances of overcoming the slow start.
”They showed us some different things that we didn’t have a chance to prepare for,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.
”We made some adjustments in the second half and controlled the ball and moved the ball pretty well,” Rivera added. ”Unfortunately, we had the big turnovers.”
Josh Freeman threw a 6-yard, first-quarter touchdown pass and Connor Barth kicked field goals of 36, 20 and 40 yards for Tampa Bay, the latter set up by a blocked punt late in the fourth quarter. Defensively, the Bucs held the Panthers to 10 yards rushing, with Newton gaining 4 yards on five carriers and DeAngelo Williams managing minus-1 on six attempts.
”It’s all about the players, their commitment to doing what we ask them to do,” Schiano said of the defense, adding that another key was Tampa Bay’s offense had a 15-minute edge in time of possession.
”That’s critical when you keep No. 1 off the field,” Schiano said, referring to Newton’s jersey number. ”The best way to defend him is not have to defend him.”
Replacement officials appeared to do just fine. Tampa Bay requested the only replay challenge, on a 16-yard, sideline reception by Carolina’s Steve Smith in the second quarter, and the ruling on the field that the receiver got both feet inbounds, was upheld.
Freeman completed his first eight passes, making use of three of the newcomers brought in to help him after the Bucs ranked 30th in rushing offense and 27th in points scored last season.
Rookie Doug Martin ran five times for 21 yards and caught a pass for 11 yards and receiver Vincent Jackson had a 7-yard reception on third-and-2 to set up Tampa Bay’s only touchdown. Tight end Dallas Clark gained 33 on his first catch as a Buc, leading to Barth’s 36-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Carolina outscored the Bucs 86-35 in a pair of lopsided victories last December, with Newton throwing for four touchdowns and running for four more in the two games.
Newton threw for a league rookie record 4,051 yards and also set a single-season mark for rushing TDs by a quarterback, while accounting for 35 touchdowns – 21 passing and 14 on the ground. He threw a 22-yard TD pass to Brandon LaFell on Carolina’s first possession of the second half, but couldn’t get his team into the end zone again.
A late Panthers drive stalled at the Bucs 3, where they settled for Justin Medlock’s 21-yard field goal, trimming Tampa Bay’s lead to 16-10 with 2:46 remaining. But the Carolina defense unable to get the ball out, with Freeman running out the clock with help from Martin, who finished with 95 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Newton completed 23 of 33 passes. Ahmad Black had Tampa Bay’s interception, picking a throw intended for Steve Smith, who had seven receptions for 106 yards.
”You can’t win with turnovers,” Newton said. ”Without any of those interceptions, I think we find a way to win this football game.”
NOTES: The Panthers flew to Florida four days early to prepare for the game in nearby Bradenton because the Democratic National Convention was scheduled to use Bank of America Stadium, which is adjacent to the team’s practice fields. … Barber is making the transition from cornerback to safety in his 16th season. Although he spent most of the game at safety, he actually started at cornerback because Tampa Bay opened the game in a nickel package.