You know those older couples who order one sandwich at a restaurant and then split it down the middle?
Yeah, that’s not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers.
If the Bucs and Panthers were bringing a baby to King Solomon, they’d both be the real mother. (That’s a good thing.) If the Bucs and Panthers went on MTV’s “The Challenge,” one would play Johnny Bananas to the other’s Sarah. (That’s not.) But forget the legendary decision made by that wise man (and by King Solomon, too); we can put it much more simply: The Buccaneers and Panthers don’t like to share.
This is not particularly good news if you’re a Bucs fan because Carolina won the first game between the two teams this season and are thus the only team that can get a 2018 sweep. If they do so, it will mark the 10th straight year that one or the other team refused to share. The Buccaneers swept in 2010, 2012 and 2016; the Panthers were stingy in the other nine years.
Tampa Bay will try to forge the first season series split with Carolina since 2008, and if they can do so it might end up being a little piece of much-delayed revenge (which means it had time to get cold, which is how it’s best served, we’re told). In 2008, the Buccaneers pummeled the visiting Panthers, 27-3, at Raymond James Stadium in mid-October as they rushed out to a 9-3 start that seemed destined to put them in the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Panthers, who were also 9-3 at that point, invited the Bucs to Charlotte in Week 14 for a friendly (ha!) rematch. This time it was Carolina that rolled to a 38-23 victory to take over the lead in the NFC South. That, unfortunately, was the beginning of a four-game skid that, incredibly, kept the Bucs out of the playoffs and marked the end of Jon Gruden’s tenure as head coach.
Well, now the Bucs have sent out their own rematch invitation to a Panthers team that beat them 42-28 in their home in Week Nine. Carolina isn’t 9-3 but it is in serious playoff contention, currently tied for the second Wild Card spot. Just like the Panthers did to the Buccaneers in 2008, Tampa Bay could forge a season split and at the same time send their foes down the wrong patch in the playoff race.
If one rewinds all the way to the genesis of the NFC South during the NFL’s 2002 expansion and realignment, this is still a series that is dominated by season sweeps. The only other splits came in 2005 and 2007; Tampa Bay swept in ’02 while the Panthers took both in ’03, ’04 and ’06. That 2005 season was an interesting one for the rivalry. When the Bucs and Panthers decided to split, the settlement gave Tampa Bay the division title on a tiebreaker but Carolina was awarded the car and a Wild Card berth and eventually went all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
The 2007 split was interesting for a different reason. Tampa Bay won decisively in Charlotte in Week Four, 20-7, and the rematch had to wait until the final week of the regular season. By that point, the 9-6 Buccaneers had already clinched the NFC South and been locked into the fourth seed in the playoffs. Thus, Gruden elected to deactivate seven starters – including quarterback Jeff Garcia, running back Earnest Graham and wide receiver Joey Galloway – and put the game mostly in the hands of reserves. The results were predictable as Carolina won, 31-23.
So, can the Buccaneers come away with a trend-busting split this year? Well, like your little brother, the Panthers don’t want to share. Unlike your little brother, though, the Panthers can’t be held at arm’s length with a hand to the forehead. Whichever team wins this game – whether it ends up a sweep or a split – it’s going to take a serious fight.
Here’s the all-time series scoreboard:
Tampa Bay 13
1. Tampa Bay 20, Carolina 10, Dec. 11, 2005
The Buccaneers and Panthers battled for division supremacy throughout 2005, but the Panthers had an ace in their hand thanks to a dominant 34-14 win in Week Nine. When the Bucs went to Charlotte for the rematch in Week 14, it was the middle game of a weird stretch in the schedule that looked like a minefield for a postseason hopeful: three straight road games in the span of 14 days. The Bucs were clear underdogs to the 9-3 Panthers on the road, but they controlled the action for much of the afternoon, thanks to Ronde Barber and Cadillac Williams. Barber had a critical interception near the Bucs’ goal line in the fourth quarter, plus a sack of Jake Delhomme that was a milestone play in his career, making him the first cornerback in NFL history with 20 interceptions and 20 sacks. Williams ran 29 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns and the Bucs never trailed after his first-quarter score. The Bucs and Panthers would go on to finish with identical 11-5 records but the Bucs would get the division title on a tiebreaker.
2. Tampa Bay 12, Carolina 9, Oct. 27, 2002
With Brad Johnson too sick to play on this afternoon smack dab in the middle of the Bucs’ Super Bowl run, the team turned to Rob Johnson, whose saving grace during a 179-yard, one-interception performance was that opposing quarterback Randy Fasani, in his only NFL start, could do even less against Tampa Bay’s incredible defense. Buccaneer defenders caught almost as many of Fasani’s 18 passes (three interceptions) as did the Panthers’ offensive players (five catches for 46 yards), with S John Lynch getting two of those picks. Still, the Bucs couldn’t run the ball, only got into the red zone once all day and had no plays longer than 22 yards. And, as such, they found themselves losing, 9-3, as the fourth quarter began. Luckily, the Buccaneers had one remaining weapon who was on the top of his game that day: Martin “Automatica” Gramatica. Gramatica started the comeback with a 52-yard field goal with 10 minutes left. Seven minutes later the Bucs were still trailing as they punted away from their own 21…and miraculously got the ball right back when Steve Smith fumbled and Aaron Stecker recovered at the Carolina 42. No first downs followed but Gramatica calmly nailed a 53-yarder to tie the game. Finally, in the closing seconds, Rob Johnson scrambled on third-and-nine from the Carolina 44 and got just enough for a first down but was hurt on the play. Shaun King came in for one play and it was a big one, a seven-yard completion to Karl Williams that set up Gramatica for the 47-yard game-winner.
3. Tampa Bay 27, Carolina 21 (OT), Nov. 18, 2012
The Buccaneers opened their 2012 campaign with a 16-10 home win over the Panthers that included another important late-game pick by Barber and a run defense that held Cam Newton and the Panthers to a team-record 10 yards. When the two teams got together again in Week 11 in Charlotte, it looked like Newton and the Panthers would get their revenge, taking a 21-10 lead with six minutes to play. However, one of the more impressive comebacks in Bucs history followed, beginning with a crisp two-minute field goal drive keyed by Vincent Jackson’s 22-yard catch. The Panthers picked up two first downs in their subsequent “four-minute drive,” but Ahmad Black stopped Newton one yard short on a third-and-12 scramble and Carolina punted with just over a minute left. Josh Freeman was able to get the Bucs down to the Carolina 24, spiking the ball with 20 seconds left. On the next play, Vincent Jackson made a brilliant catch down the middle for the score, and then also caught Freeman’s pass on the necessary two-point conversion. The Bucs got the ball first in overtime and never gave it up, with Doug Martin’s 27-yard run setting up Freeman’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark.
1. Carolina 12, Tampa Bay 9, Sept. 14, 2003
Yes, each team’s highlight list includes a 12-9 win, and they came in back-to-back years and essentially defined the diverging fortunes of the Buccaneers in ’02 and ’03. While the win noted above was a successful comeback that proved critical to the team’s title run, this one was another comeback that fell short in the most unexpected and depressing of ways. Weird losses and key injuries told the tale for the Bucs in ’03 as they tried unsuccessfully to defend their title. In this case, the Bucs returned home from an invigorating Week One win in Philadelphia only to come out completely flat against their division foes. The defense held Carolina to 258 yards and no touchdowns on the day, but the Buccaneers got nothing out of three early drives into Panthers territory, one ending on a blocked field goal and another on an interception. Brad Johnson and the Bucs’ offense didn’t really wake up until the two-minute warning, when they were down, 9-3, and had the ball on their own 18. Johnson hit Karl Williams for 43 yards and Keyshawn Johnson for 17 down to the Carolina six, where the offense hurried up to spike the ball with five seconds left. That was enough time for Johnson to hit Keenan McCardell for the game-tying touchdown as time expired. It was not a game-winning touchdown because Gramatica’s extra point was blocked by Kris Jenkins. Carolina won it in overtime on a 47-yard field goal by John Kasay.
2. Carolina 38, Tampa Bay 23, Dec. 8, 2008
Above we described a Buccaneer win in 2012 in which the team set a franchise record (since broken) by allowing just 10 rushing yards. This game was, shall we say, the other side of that coin. Carolina ran for an incredible 299 yards on 37 carries, just shy of the most the Buccaneers have ever allowed in a game. Jonathan Stewart started and had 115 yards and two touchdowns but was overshadowed by DeAngelo Williams and his 186 yards and two scores. The game featured two teams that came into the contest with 9-3 records and a division title in dispute but a pretty clear path to the playoffs. Carolina did go on to win the division but the Bucs’ season unraveled from here as it was the first of four straight losses to end the season and Jon Gruden’s seven-year run as head coach.
3. Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 0, Dec. 1, 1996
This is the only shutout for either team in the series and it starkly demonstrated the difference between two eras of NFL expansion. When the Buccaneers and Seahawks began play in 1976, before the advent of real free agency, they were forced to stock their rosters with washed-up veterans and untested rookies. The result for the Buccaneers was a rough beginning, with 26 straight losses before a very impressive rise to playoff status in season four. The Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, however, had the benefit of free agency and lots of money to spend and were able to build contending teams almost immediately. The Buccaneers did beat Carolina in its inaugural 1995 season, but by December of ’96 the Panthers were steaming towards a conference championship game in just their second campaign (as were the Jaguars in the AFC). Tampa Bay was about to start its own extended run of playoff contention under Tony Dungy and had won their three previous games during a second-half turnaround in ’96, but the Panthers interrupted that with a defensive smothering. Actually, the Buccaneers outgained Carolina, 284 yards to 215, but the Panthers won the turnover battle, 4-0, including a fumble returned for a touchdown. Tampa Bay never got into the red zone until the closing seconds of the game, and saw three of their last five drives end on failed fourth downs.
Bucs’ Top Performers Against Panthers:
Among players currently on the roster, here are a few Buccaneers who have fared well against the Panthers.
· WR Mike Evans…9 games, 37 receptions for 518 yards and 3 touchdowns, 27 first downs
· LB Lavonte David…13 games, 108 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed
· CB Brent Grimes…8 games, 31 tackles, 3 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), 10 passes defensed, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
Panthers’ Top Performers Against Bucs:
· QB Cam Newton…12 games, 9-3 record, 207 of 323 passing (64.1%), 2,629 yards, 219.1 yards per game, 18 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 109 carries for 477 yards, 9 touchdowns, 4.38 yards per carry
· DE Julius Peppers…20 games, 63 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 15 QB hits, 5 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception (returned for a touchdown), 7 passes defensed
· TE Greg Olsen…15 games, 62 receptions for 784 yards and 3 touchdowns, 12.6 yards per catch, 52.3 yards per game
Bucs’ Game-by-Game Record vs. Panthers:
· Overall Season Series: Carolina leads, 23-13
· Bucs’ Home Record: 6-11
· Bucs’ Road Record: 7-12
· Current Streak: Lose 3 (2017-18)
· Buccaneers’ Longest Winning Streak: 3 (1998-2002)
· Panthers’ Longest Winning Streak: 6 (2013-15)
· Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 622, Panthers 806
· Most Points in a Game, Tampa Bay: Buccaneers 31-16 (2010)
· Most Points in a Game, Carolina: Panthers 48-16 (2011)
· Most Points, both teams: 70, Panthers 42-28 (2018)
· Fewest Points in a Game, Tampa Bay: Panthers 24-0 (1996)
· Fewest Points in a Game, Carolina: Buccaneers 27-3 (2008)
· Fewest Points in a Game, both teams: 20: Panthers 17-3 (2017)