The Bucs had moved the ball on their first series of the game, gaining 47 yards on their first eight plays. Facing a third-and-9 play from the Panthers' 24, Jeff Garcia hit Ike Hilliard for a 9-yard gain that gave the Bucs new life at the Carolina 15. Tampa Bay scored three plays later and the rout was on.
The Bucs had a first down at the Panthers' 30 late in the first quarter, but they were still reeling from the loss of Cadillac Williams to a severe knee injury on the play that put them there. The Panthers seemed to have a slight edge, if only because the Bucs figured to be a little distracted by their devastating loss. As it turned out, the Panthers were the team that looked lost. On the ensuing play, they allowed Jeff Garcia to complete a 17-yard pass over the middle to fullback B.J. Askew. Right then and there, the Bucs proved they were the better team Sunday, even without Williams.
It was early in the second quarter when David Carr dropped back to pass on second-and-10 from his own 22. He threw a soft pass over the middle that appeared to be headed for Steve Smith's hands when cornerback Phillip Buchanon reached up and got a hand on it first, deflecting the ball away. The Panthers threw the ball Buchanon's way all day long, but most of those plays turned out like this one. With Brian Kelly out because of a sore groin, teams are going to test Buchanon. With plays like this, Buchanon has served notice that ploy isn't a path to success.
In the second quarter, the Bucs faced a second-and-8 from their own 34. Having already allowed some big plays to Ike Hilliard, the Panthers threw a double team at the 31-year-old Bucs receiver. It didn't matter. Jeff Garcia hit him in stride as he streaked down the middle of the field, and Hilliard, who momentarily bobbled the ball, broke away from two defenders for a 56-yard gain that made it first-and-goal at the Carolina 10. Tampa Bay settled for a field goal but took a 17-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Any thoughts of a Panthers comeback were pretty much destroyed when DeShaun Foster ran off right guard on third-and-10 from his own 20 with about six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Rookie safety Tanard Jackson hit Foster with a devastating blow that forced Foster to fumble and lose the ball to defensive tackle Greg Peterson. The Bucs didn't capitalize on the turnover, but the takeaway further demoralized an already-beaten team.