Erasing the nasty taste of a 10-game losing streak from last year was a high note. As was Ronde Barber’s 200th consecutive start at cornerback and his gut-check performance.
The game Sunday also signified head coach Greg Schiano’s first career effort at the helm of the Buccaneers ship.
Numbers were everywhere Sunday, but three stood out as the stats that mattered most from Tampa Bay’s six-point victory.
The Tampa Bay defense allowed Carolina just 10 yards on the ground Sunday.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Panthers’ game plan quickly moved away from the run when they got behind and needed to gain ground, but the fact that Tampa Bay shut the running attack down was impressive for two reasons.
First, the Buccaneers gave up a league-worst 156.1 yards per game on the ground last year. So holding the Panthers to 10 yards rushing on 13 carries was nothing short of miraculous. Yes, Jonathan Stewart—one of Carolina’s key components to the running game—was out because of an ankle injury, but neither DeAngelo Williams nor Cam Newton could get anything going.
Tampa Bay’s stoppage was even more astonishing when you factor that the Carolina rushing attack was one of the most feared in the league. At 150.5 yards per game, Carolina ranked third in the NFL last year on the ground.
Not only did Tampa Bay do a phenomenal job stopping the run, but on offense, the Buccaneers pounded the ball down Carolina’s throat.
The Buccaneers gained 130 yards on the ground, led by rookie running back Doug Martin’s 95 yards on 24 carries.
Tampa Bay ranked 30th in the league last year with just 91.1 yards per game on the ground and was one of seven teams that didn’t average 100 yards or more. Martin alone gained more than the Buccaneers as a team averaged last year.
Sure, Carolina had trouble stopping the run last year, and it looks as if those woes have carried over into 2012. But take nothing away from what Martin and the Buccaneers offensive line did Sunday. And Tampa Bay never coughed up the ball, which leads me to the final stat.
Schiano absolutely hates fumbles, and he told his stable of running backs that they’d sit if they couldn’t hang on to the rock, according to ESPN.
Last season, the Bucs were abysmal at ball control. With 24 interceptions and 16 fumbles, Tampa Bay was worst in the NFL with a minus-16 give/takeaway figure.
No one in the NFC had more fumbles than Tampa Bay in 2011, and only Denver, with 17, had more in the NFL.
Fumbles were obviously a bone of contention with Schiano.
On Sunday, Tampa Bay never turned the ball over. And in picking off two passes, the Buck landed at fifth in the NFC with a plus-2 give/takeaway figure.