Panthers 10

(3-7, 1-4 away)

Buccaneers 23

(8-2, 4-1 home)

Coverage: FOX

4:05 PM ET, November 17, 2002


1 2 3 4 T
CAR 7 3 0 010
TB 0 10 7 623

Bucs now alone atop NFC South

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Warren Sapp and Co. gathered on the sideline and had a heart-to-heart discussion about the Carolina Panthers.

Allen's Analysis
Eric Allen
Question on the Panthers: Have the injuries and close losses finally worn them down?
They're not getting worn down -- they're just playing better teams. QB Rodney Peete is doing a great job with the personnel he has, and the defense is playing well. They're just losing close games to stronger teams. Mental mistakes (like missed blocks) have also hurt the Panthers.

Question on the Bucs: Will this "revitalized offense" continue to produce against a better overall team such as Green Bay next week?
The key for the Bucs is to maintain consistency and tempo on offense. Coach Gruden likes to keep his offense up-tempo. But I'm not sure the Bucs have the personnel to consistently make plays on offense.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"They drove right down the field on us, and we kind of looked at each other like, 'What's up? No more, no more,''' Sapp said after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rebounded from a slow start Sunday to beat the Panthers 23-10 and take over sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

"This is the same team we played three weeks ago, and they ain't got nothing but a new quarterback in there with a little bit more pocket savvy, so let's go get 'em. And we went to work.''

The NFL's top-ranked defense forced four turnovers and limited the Panthers, who have lost seven straight, to 161 yards the rest of the way. Almost half of that yardage came on Carolina's last drive of the game.

Tampa Bay (8-2) is off to its best-ever start after 10 games. With the New Orleans losing 24-17 at Atlanta, the Bucs sit alone atop the division heading into crucial games the next three weeks against Green Bay, New Orleans and the surging Atlanta Falcons.

"We've just got to keep pushing right now, because we've put ourselves into a position to win this division,'' Sapp said. "Now we've got to go do it.''

Carolina (3-7) has blown fourth-quarter leads five times during its skid, but Tampa Bay took care of this one before it got that far.

Brad Johnson threw a 1-yard TD pass to Keyshawn Johnson in the second quarter, then snapped a 10-10 tie with a 22-yarder to Keenan McCardell late in the third quarter. Martin Gramatica added field goals of 20, 32 and 41 yards for the Bucs.

Rodney Peete threw a 20-yard TD pass to Steve Smith to give Carolina a 7-0 lead. But he didn't have much success the rest of the day, finishing 22-of-38 for 205 yards with three interceptions.

Tampa Bay, which leads the league with 21 interceptions, also had four sacks and recovered one of Peete's two fumbles.

"We actually were a little bit frustrated at the half,'' Bucs coach John Gruden said of the defense, which allowed 138 yards in the first half -- 8 more than Tampa Bay allowed all day in last month's meeting between the division rivals. "But when I look between the facemasks and see the eyes of those guys, they're something special. They really hold together well when things get tough.''

The Bucs beat the Panthers without scoring a touchdown last month, but Tampa Bay needed three fourth-quarter field goals to overcome a six-point deficit and win 12-9. Neither team's starting quarterback played that day, with Peete out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and Brad Johnson sitting out with a fractured rib and a stomach virus.

While neither club has been an offensive juggernaut, Peete clearly makes a difference for Carolina, and Johnson's steady play has been a big part of Tampa Bay's success. Each player directed a long touchdown drive in the first half, and their teams kicked field goals for a 10-10 halftime tie.

"We felt pretty good about ourselves,'' Peete said. "But we couldn't make anything happen in the second half, even though we got some good field position right off the bat. We didn't do anything, and eventually they're going to make something happen on their side.''

Dwight Smith interception at the Panthers 20 set up Tampa Bay's go-ahead touchdown -- Johnson's pass to McCardell, who was so wide open that he braced himself for a hit before discovering there was no defender close.

"I thought he was going to the corner,'' said Panthers cornerback Terry Cousin, who was beaten on the play. "I turned my back ... and he sat it down. It looked like he was just out there by himself.''

Tampa Bay turnovers set up all of Carolina's points.

The Panthers drove 70 yards to take a 7-0 lead after Mike Rucker forced and recovered Aaron Stecker's fumble. Rucker set up Shayne Graham's 42-yard second-quarter field goal as well, recovering Michael Pittman's fumble at the Tampa Bay 29.

The Panthers sacked Rob Johnson six times in their loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 27, but they weren't nearly as effective rushing the passer Sunday. Brad Johnson was sacked twice, once by rookie Julius Peppers, who played while appealing his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

The sack was the league-leading 11th for Peppers, whose agent said the player tested positive for a banned substance in a dietary supplement.

Game notes

Sapp played despite waking up with back spasms. ... Bucs CB Ronde Barber fractured his left thumb but finished the game. Keyshawn Johnson left with bruised ribs but returned. ... Carolina scored on its opening possession for the first time all season.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Scoring Summary

Drive info: 2 plays, 19 yds, 2:00
Drive info: 2 plays, 19 yds, 2:00
carFG6:30Shayne Graham 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 4 plays, 4 yds, 1:44
tbFG3:10Martin Gramatica 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 8 plays, 59 yds, 2:30
tbFG4:06Martin Gramatica 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 7 plays, 8 yds, 3:43
Drive info: 9 plays, 68 yds, 4:00
Drive info: 9 plays, 68 yds, 4:00
tbFG8:08Martin Gramatica 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 12 plays, 55 yds, 5:55
Drive info: 13 plays, 86 yds, 15:30
Drive info: 13 plays, 86 yds, 15:30