Ron Rivera has said multiple times over his tenure that one of the first statistics he looks for after the game is how many different players are targeted and how many have touched the ball each game – today at Bank of America Stadium, the stat sheet read five different pass catchers targeted and five different Panthers getting a carry on the ground with three different players finding the end zone.

And that was at halftime.

The Panthers rolled over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, using a franchise-best 35 points in the first half to propel them to an early lead and the 42-28 victory over Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs at Bank of America Stadium – the Panthers moved to 6-2 and Tampa Bay fell to 3-5 on the season.

The Buccaneers came into Charlotte with the leagues #1 passing offense – in fact, it was the second-best unit in NFL history but they couldn’t manage anything against James Bradberry and the rest of the Panthers defense; while they eventually finished with 219 net passing yards, only 113 of those came in the first half. Mike Evans entered the game with 770 receiving yards, good for fifth in the NFL – he had zero at halftime and finished with only one catch for 16 yards on 10 targets.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, who would finish with 243 yards and four touchdowns opposite two picks, was 0-for-6 with an interception when targeting Evans in the first half – Bradberry appeared to be responsible for Evans for each of those throws.

It was Eric Reid’s first quarter interception – his first in a Panthers uniform – that would kick off the highlights for the Panthers after Fitzpatrick overthrew Evans and Reid returned the pick to the 10-yard line; three plays later and Alex Armah had his second rushing touchdown of the season from a yard out. That would be the start of five consecutive drives that ended in the end zone for the Panthers – at halftime, they had scored on 15 of their previous 19 drives, beginning with their frantic fourth quarter comeback in Philadelphia.

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In a game where the team scores 42 points, there are certain to be some memorable plays, but perhaps none were more memorable than Christian McCaffrey’s taking a beautifully designed screen pass on the left side of the field, turning upfield with blockers surrounding him and hurdling rookie cornerback Carlton Davis III before racing down the sideline for a 32-yard gain. The next play equaled that yardage as DJ Moore took an end around and raced 32 yards to bring the Panthers into the red zone before McCaffrey would punch in a three-yard score to put the Panthers up 14-0.

Tampa Bay would answer back with an OJ Howard touchdown – the tight end would score twice, continuing the Panthers inability to stop tight ends – this was the fourth consecutive game the defense had allowed a touchdown to the position; Howard would finish with four catches for 53 yards and the two scores.

But the Panthers would pour it on to finish the half, first with a 33-yard Curtis Samuel reverse in which Samuel reversed his field and left a disinterested Bucs team in the dust for a score; while Samuel had an egregious drop on the Panthers first scoring drive of the game, he would finish with three touches for 58 yards. They would follow that with two sacks in the span of three plays from Mario Addison before Christian McCaffrey would take four carries for 42 yards – accounting for every yard of the scoring drive – before punching in a one-yard rush for his first game with multiple rushing touchdowns in his career.

When a one-handed Greg Olsen touchdown isn’t the most exciting play of the first half, you know everything is going right. The Panthers scored touchdowns on five of their six first half drives that weren’t kneeldowns – Olsen would finish with six catches for 76 yards and the score.

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For everything that went right in the first half, it went just as wrong in the third quarter as Tampa Bay flexed their offensive muscles to the tune of 82 yards and a touchdown to third wide receiver Adam Humphries – while the Panthers limited the Bucs’ two top options Jackson and Evans to 48 yards total, Humphries would finish with eight catches – on eight targets – for 82 yards and two touchdowns; the Bucs would go 2-for-3 on third down after only converting two of their nine attempts in the first half.

The Panthers looked incredibly sloppy, burning three timeouts – including a lost challenge – in the span of four plays, a failed fourth-down conversion in which Newton slid before securing the first down and then was flagged for an illegal shift on fourth-and-1 as the Panthers only managed 38 yards in the third quarter after 263 in the first half.

When the Bucs cut the lead to only one score on the third play of the fourth quarter, it appeared as if all of the momentum was in Tampa Bay’s favor – but a nine-play, 90-yard drive that featured back-to-back 20-yard passes to McCaffrey and Olsen and finished with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Samuel – it was his fourth touchdown in only 11 touches this season.

Newton would finish 19-for-25 for 247 yards and two scores for a QB rating of 133.2 – he would add 33 yards on the ground as he secured the third-most combined yards by a quarterback in history through the first eight years of his career.

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Additional Notes:

  • With his 32-yard end around in the first quarter, DJ Moore secured the franchise record for most rushing yards by a wide receiver; The Panthers have the most rushing yards by wide receivers in the NFL.
  • The Bucs’ second-quarter touchdown pass to OJ Howard was the sixth touchdown reception allowed by the Panthers in 2018 – that’s the most in the NFL.
  • Christian McCaffrey went over the 1,000 career receiving yards mark in this game – the fourth running back in Panthers franchise history to hit that mark; McCaffrey has played in 24 games. McCaffrey finished with 17 carries for 79 yards and five catches for 78.
  • Donte Jackson’s fourth-quarter interception was his fourth of the season, which ties him with DJ Swearinger for the NFL lead.
Josh Klein on Twitter
Josh K
Managing Editor at The Riot Report
Josh Klein is Managing Editor of The Riot Report. His favorite Panther of all time is Chad Cota and he once AIM chatted with Kevin Greene. Follow Josh on Twitter @joshkleinrules.
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