Bucs begin Schiano era with 16-10 win over Panthers
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 10 September 2012|
The Buccaneers and Panthers had just reached their respective locker rooms for the halftime break Sunday when a bolt of lightning rocked Raymond James Stadium and threw a jolt into the crowd of 51,533.
It was nothing compared to the jolt the Bucs delivered.
A team looking to regain some respect after losing its final 10 games last season, often in hideous fashion, took a big step toward meeting its goal during Greg Schiano's NFL coaching debut.
And they did it in record manner.
A defense that allowed a franchise-worst 494 points last season tied a different kind of franchise record by limiting Carolina to 10 yards rushing during a 16-10 victory that left many in the Bucs locker room feeling renewed.
"This isn't last year anymore, man, it's a new year," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "We've got a new coach, a new defense, and you could see it today, we've got a whole new attitude."
New attitudes were in order after last season. The Bucs were accused of quitting down the stretch under former coach Raheem Morris, who was often accused of being too lenient with players.
There's nothing lenient about Schiano. He came to Tampa after 11 years at Rutgers University vowing to add structure and discipline to an organization badly in need of it, and both were evident during the opener.
A Bucs offense that led the league with 40 turnovers last year met one of Schiano's primary objectives by not fumbling or throwing an interception. Tampa Bay was penalized just four times, half its 2011 average.
The defense, meanwhile, displayed a marauding style, at least on this day, that counted as its plunder three sacks and two interceptions of Panthers wunderkind quarterback Cam Newton.
Even the special teams played at a different level than in 2011, producing a blocked punt by Talib that led to a late field goal, plus some key hits on returns that allowed the defense to dictate the Panthers game plan.
"It was a good team win," Schiano said. "I'm really happy for the guys because they've worked awfully hard and for them to be able to get a win after all that is good and so now the journey begins."
The journey got off on the right foot almost immediately as the Bucs scored their only touchdown of the day on their first offensive series, quarterback Josh Freeman capping an 80-yard drive with a six-yard pass to Mike Williams.
That was something different, too. The Bucs didn't score a first-quarter offensive touchdown last season until their 13th game and were outscored 126-34 overall in the opening quarter.
The Bucs outscored the Panthers 10-0 over the course of the first 20 minutes in this one and made it 13-0 when Connor Barth hit the second of his three field goals with 2:55 to play before halftime.
The offense stalled after that, culling just 67 yards and Barth's third and final field goal over its last seven drives, but the defense and special teams picked up the slack, repeatedly snuffing out the Panthers attack.
After surrendering the Panthers only touchdown on Carolina's first series of the second half, the Bucs got interceptions from Ronde Barber and Ahmad Black on their next two series and the blocked punt from Talib a series later.
"I don't think anyone knew what we were going to look like today, but the way we played, it was something to be proud of," said Barber who moved to his new safety position after making his 200th consecutive start at cornerback.
"It felt like it was back in the day again. We were really playing fast. If you put on the film and watch it, you might think someone sped up the film. That's how fast we were."
The Bucs looked downright slow against the Panthers a year ago, losing twice to them during that 10-game losing streak while being outscored 86-35. Barber remembered that afterward, when he gave Schiano the game ball.
"I said, ‘Congratulations on your first win and thanks for breaking that 10-game losing streak,' " said Barber, who chalked the victory up to trust in Schiano's new defensive system. "I think everybody trusted in it, believed in it."
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who earlier in the week was named a defensive captain with Barber, said the victory left him believing anything is possible for a team that appeared lost late last year.
"We have a different mindset now," said McCoy, who had one of the Bucs' three sacks and two tackles for loss. "Coach Schiano has instilled something in us that's going to take us a long way if we dive into it. And I mean dive into it. We can't just buy into it. We have to dive into it – like we did today."