Charlotte, NC (Sports Network) – Josh Freeman passed for 178 yards and two scores and ran for 43 yards, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers, 20-7, at Bank of America Stadium.
Freeman connected on 12-of-24 throws, while rookie Mike Williams and Earnest Graham had touchdown catches for the Buccaneers (2-0), who earned a 17-14 come-from-behind victory over Cleveland in their season-opener last Sunday. Cadillac Williams rushed 27 times for 51 yards in the victory.
“It feels good to win. It was a team effort,” Freeman said. “Offense played alright, got some points on the board. Defense played lights out in the second half, held them out of the end zone. Playing like that just felt great.”
Matt Moore, who suffered a concussion in the late stages of Carolina’s 31-18 loss at the New York Giants last week, completed only 6-of-16 passes for 125 yards with one touchdown and an interception before being replaced by rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Clausen completed 7-of-13 throws for 59 yards with a pick.
Steve Smith pulled in three balls for 66 yards, including a 37-yard TD for Carolina (0-2), which got 54 yards rushing from DeAngelo Williams and 43 on the ground from Jonathan Stewart.
“Offensively, I think we are capable of running the ball, but just not consistent enough,” Panthers head coach John Fox said. “We had people open, we just didn’t seem to get the results.”
Tampa Bay opened the scoring with 7:11 left in the first quarter when Freeman hit Graham for a 14-yard touchdown pass that finished off an eight-play, 54- yard drive. Freeman kept the drive alive by converting a 3rd-and-10 by hitting Kellen Winslow for a 24-yard pass across the middle and later scampered for 17 more than took it to the Carolina 14.
The Panthers pulled even early in the second as Moore spotted Smith in the middle of the field for a short completion on a 4th-and-4 from the 37, and the receiver waltzed into the end zone to tie it at 7-7.
The Buccaneers answered on their next possession with seven, going 80 yards on eight plays. Facing a 3rd-and-17 situation from their own 25, Freeman broke a couple of tackles and hit Winslow for 40 yards that took it to the Panthers’ 35. Then on the next play, the signal-caller connected with Mike Williams for the score with 7:43 left in the half.
Carolina was forced to punt after a lengthy drive stalled, and Tampa Bay went conservative to run out the clock and take a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
Ronde Barber’s interception of Moore in the early stages of the third led to Connor Barth’s 24-yard chip shot that put the visitors up by 10 with 7:40 left in the quarter.
Barth’s 33-yarder 14 seconds into the fourth capped a 10-play, 50-yard drive for a 20-7 Bucs lead.
Carolina had a good drive fizzle out on its ensuing possession when Moore was sacked and fumbled, giving Tampa Bay the ball on its own 43. However, the Bucs were unable to turn it into points when a drive stalled at the Carolina 33 and elected to punt.
Clausen entered in relief of Moore and led a lengthy drive, but facing a 4th- and-goal from the one, Stewart was unable to bang in for the score ,and Tampa Bay took over on downs with nearly 3 1/2 minutes to play.
The Bucs were forced to punt, but Aqib Talib picked off Clausen to essentially seal the win with just over three minutes to go.
Carolina will host Cincinnati next Sunday, while the Buccaneers host Pittsburgh…The Panthers were without starting receiver Brandon LaFell (hamstring), defensive end Tyler Brayton (ankle) and defensive tackle Louis Leonard (elbow)…Despite the loss, Carolina still owns a 12-8 lead in its all time series with Tampa Bay…Winslow had four grabs for 83 yards for the Bucs.