Breaking News
More () »

Inside the Numbers: How the Panthers stunned the Buccaneers

The 21-3 win was the first by a double digit underdog this season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A day after the Panthers' upset win over the Buccaneers, I still had trouble wrapping my head around it. How did a 13-point underdog, the biggest underdog to date in the 2022 NFL season, pull off an 18-point win against the greatest quarterback of all time?

I steered into that curiosity and dove into the numbers to find that answer but like most results in sports, it was a combination of effort, timing, and just a little bit of luck.

Before we get into what the Panthers did right it is only fair to take an impartial look at where the Buccaneers are at this far into the season. After having the best injury luck in 2020 on their way to Tom Brady's 7th Super Bowl victory, the tide has changed this year.

The Bucs lost two members of their vaunted offensive line, starting center Ryan Jensen and starting guard Aaron Stinnie, to preseason injuries that ruled them out for most of, if not the entire year. They have dealt with injuries to two of their top receivers, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones, throughout the year. Then of course there is all the drama surrounding QB Tom Brady. From his odd absence in the preseason to his divorce from supermodel wife Giselle Bundchen. 

All of these singular instances start to pile up and start to affect the team's chemistry, no one knows that better than the 2021 Carolina Panthers. For the first few weeks of the season, the popular consensus of NFL media was that they would eventually work out the kinks, which has yet to happen. That brings us to Sunday.

Two weeks after firing head coach Matt Rhule and just a few days after trading WR Robbie Anderson and star RB Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers played their most complete game of the season. 

Defense Dominates

Carolina's defense has been one of the bright spots this season, despite their lackluster performances in the last two games. Frankie Luvu returned to action against the Bucs and the defense was back to flying around, keeping the Brady-led offense from the endzone for the first time this season. 

Brian Burns got his fifth sack of the year but his first against Brady, which he promised to celebrate Sunday night with his drink of choice.

The defense was truly dominant all game long. They held the Tampa Bay offense to just 2 conversions on third down in 12 attempts. The Bucs' lone trip to the RedZone only resulted in a field goal, but even that did not happen until early in the 4th quarter. The typically explosive Tampa offense was held to just one pass of 20+ yards and they only allowed 46 yards on the ground.

The unit really came up big on 3rd and 4th down with one yard to go in the third quarter. The Panthers were clinging onto a 7-0 lead and it felt like Tom Brady and the Bucs could break it open if they could convert. Brian Burns and Shaq Thompson combined to stuff RB Leonard Fournette's run up the middle on third down. On fourth down, Fournette got a pitch to the outside but CJ Henderson was able to slow him down enough for Corey Littleton to come over and make the tackle. It kept the lead intact and was a pivotal moment in the game. 

Credit: Sean Higgins

Points on the Board 

The Panthers' offense has struggled to score all season long, coming into this game without an offensive touchdown in the last 7 quarters. That touchdown was Christian McCaffrey's last as a Panther against his current team the San Francisco 49ers.

Carolina's rushing attack did not suffer the loss of McCaffrey instead, they set a season-high in rushing yards with 173. D'onta Foreman carried most of the load as the offensive line opened up gaping holes for him. Foreman had 15 rushes for 118 yards to average an eye-popping 7.9 yards/carry. His longest run of the day, a 63 yards romp, set up his backfield teammate Chuba Hubbard for a 17-yard touchdown run. Hubbard totaled 63 yards on just 9 carries. 

PJ Walker was excellent. Even though he threw for just 177 yards, Walker impacted the game with some timely throws. Perhaps none better than the first touchdown of the game, a 20-yard dart to the back of the endzone to DJ Moore. The only throw of his that challenges the aforementioned pass is his other touchdown pass, this one to Tight End Tommy Tremble that put the Panthers up 21-3 in the 4th quarter.

That score answered a long Bucs' drive that resulted in a field goal to cut the Panthers' lead to 11. It was a classic Brady drive and put the Panthers in an all-too-familiar position. A big Hubbard run on a 3rd and 3 kept the drive alive and a few plays later Walker would find a streaking Tremble for the score.

Credit: Sean Higgins

It was a tale of two games for Walker. His first start of the season was a tepid performance out in Los Angeles. Against the Rams, 9 of his 10 completion were at or behind the line of scrimmage resulting in -1 air yards for the game. Walker only attempted one pass that traveled 10+ yards but it fell incomplete. He was a completely different QB against the Bucs. He had 8 throws that traveled at least ten yards, he completed 5 of those passes 2 of which were his touchdowns to Moore and Tremble. He nearly tripled his yards/attempt and had a much more impressive 125 air yards against a banged-up Bucs secondary.   

Credit: Next Gen Stats

Is this game the start of an upward trend for the Panthers? I don't know, it could just be a really good day on both sides of the ball against a very vulnerable opponent. One thing is for sure, this team is too competitive to just roll over and tank to ensure that they get the first overall pick.

Carolina is now the only NFC South team undefeated in division play with their third divisional opponent coming up next weekend as they head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. If the Bucs lose to the Ravens on Thursday night and the Panthers beat Atlanta on Sunday, they will be first in the NFC South with a 3-5 record. 

In 2014, the Panthers won the NFC South at 7-8-1, eeking into the playoffs and the above scenario would certainly harken back to those days. Interim Head Coach Steve Wilks wouldn't mind the players looking back on how to move forward and navigate the rest of the season. In fact, he implored that very tactic to motivate the team to show up on Sunday and "take the leap." 

The players made that leap and with a little bit of luck and a win on Sunday, they will leap into first place in the NFC South. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out