For all the preseason talk about the offensive line woes, the Carolina Panthers’ front line kept Derek Anderson relatively clean the entire game Sunday.
The offensive line surrendered one sack and an intentional grounding against a vaunted Tampa Bay front seven in the 20-14 victory, and the line quieted critics who have second guessed the unit for months
“Overall I think we played a pretty good game,” left tackle Byron Bell said. “A couple of pressures here and there we need to tighten up, but that’s all technique. We’ll watch it on tape and make the proper corrections.”
Fernando Velasco got the start at right guard on a very humid day. Rookie guard Trai Turner entered during the third offensive series, but the two rotated because of Turner’s recent groin injury.
The Panthers rotated the interior of their line early and often. Velasco also subbed in for left guard Amini Silatolu.
“It was pretty hot the first couple of quarters,” Turner said. “I have to be honest – it was hot in Charlotte this past week. I think that heat wave in Charlotte prepared not only myself but the team. It helped us out more than it hurt us.”
The sack came with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter on a third-and-3 from midfield. Velasco released Gerald McCoy early as the Panthers were attempting a screen, and McCoy made his way easily to Anderson. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game there was a breakdown in communication among the team on that play.
The offensive line also blocked for a Panthers running game that got 113 yards on the ground, including 72 yards from DeAngelo Williams on 14 carries.
“We knew going into this game that we were going to have to run the ball,” Williams said. “The O-line made it possible for us today. This is a great starting point.”
Kuechly’s big play : He had a bone-crushing sack of Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown, but reigning defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly’s biggest play was the one that clinched the game for the Panthers.
On a short pass to Bobby Rainey with less than 90 seconds to play, Kuechly tackled Rainey after 2 yards and popped the ball out. Rookie cornerback Bené Benwikere made the recovery.
“The running back burst it out and I was able to get my hand in there,” Kuechly said. “A lot of credit goes to Bené who was able to run around and scoop it out and get it out of bounds.”
The Panthers had a shutout through the first 52 minutes of the game, but Tampa Bay scored consecutive touchdowns within five minutes in the fourth quarter to pull within three points.
“We just had a couple communication breakdowns,” Kuechly said. “We need to do a better job of that in practice so it transfers to the game. I think the one thing that was good was, even though those breakdowns occurred, we were able to rally.”
Gano’s shove : Curiously, the marching band for Bethune-Cookman started its set with 3 minutes remaining in halftime. Panthers kicker Graham Gano was warming up on the field, and during the 2-minute set he pushed a band member out of the way so he could continue warming up.
After the game, Gano was extremely apologetic. He was trying to find a way to reach out to the band member and apologize.
Gano was told the band took four hours to get to the game despite it being a one-hour drive, hence the late arrival.
“The Tampa Bay staff came up to me afterward and apologized for the band to be out there,” Gano said. “I know I shouldn’t have pushed the guy. I asked him nicely to move. I was just having fun with it, and it’s not like I tried to knock the guy out or anything. Hopefully I can get a hold of the guy and say sorry.”
Franchise man: After getting franchise tagged by the Panthers this spring, defensive end Greg Hardy has $13.1 million coming his way this season. In previous years, he’s been fined for wearing his trademark face paint. It hasn’t affected him before, and he said it won’t affect him moving forward.
“These days I honestly don’t know what I get fined for,” Hardy said. “They just take it out of my check and I’m like, OK.” Hardy said he hadn’t thought about the rule until asked by media after the game. “Football’s football. If the league wants to take the entertainment part out of the game, that’s fine,” he said. “I’m here to make people smile. Other than that, I get sacks.”
Hardy sacked Josh McCown once Sunday after tying a team record with 15 sacks last season. Before the game, Hardy knocked over a railing displaying the Buccaneers logo while coming from the field back to the locker room. He said out loud that the team should charge him for it. Minutes later with Hardy in the locker room, a stadium staffer picked up the railing by himself.
• Referee Pete Morelli, who has officiated one Super Bowl, was Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin’s high school principal at Saint Mary’s in Stockton, Calif. The two shook hands and hugged before the game.
• Anderson and Kelvin Benjamin weren’t on the same page on what could have been a big play in the second quarter. Benjamin stayed wide on a route and Anderson wanted him to cut in on what would have been a 30-yard reception.
• The Buccaneers gave out two free tickets to season ticket holders since 2007. It didn’t matter much. There were plenty of empty seats in the upper deck to start the game.
• Despite a 50 percent chance of rain from start to finish, the players stayed dry.
• Running back DeAngelo Williams dyed his dreadlock tips pink in memory of his mother. He spoke to the media for the first time this year but fielded only football-related questions.
• Rivera is 3-9 all-time on challenges after losing another one Sunday.
By the numbers
1 win in three tries for Ron Rivera against his former boss Lovie Smith.
71.5 Josh McCown’s quarterback rating.
48 total rushing yards for the Bucs minus the 54-yard rush by Jorvorski Lane.
140 yards of total offense for the Bucs before their first score in the fourth quarter.
11 targets for Greg Olsen, a game-high.
• “Even when you think there’s going to be growing pains, there are still things you don’t plan for. I’ll own this one.” – Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown
• “I wouldn’t say impressed is the best word. I would say proud, because he (Derek Anderson) did what I knew he was going to do.” – Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy
• “Yeah, I made the play. If I was 10 pounds lighter I would have scored.” – Tampa Bay fullback Jorvorskie Lane.
• “I think (offensive coordinator Mike) Shula did a great job of calling the plays today. He definitely did his homework.” – Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams