Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 10 September 2012|
Aqib Talib had an eventful second half. Midway through the third quarter, Talib tipped Cam Newton's pass intended for Brandon LaFell up and into the hands of Ronde Barber to stifle a Carolina threat.
When a Panthers drive stalled at midfield early in the fourth quarter, Talib knifed in from the left side and blocked Brad Nortman's punt, leading to Connor Barth's 40-yard field goal and a 16-7 lead.
"First blocked punt in my life, going back to high school,'' said Talib, who set the relentless defensive tone on the game's opening snap when he stopped DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss. "Nobody picked me up coming off the edge and I got both hands on the ball. We had a real good plan today. …Everyone was on their keys.''
Quite an opener
While first-round draft picks Doug Martin (95 yards rushing) and Mark Barron (three tackles) contributed prominently as the Bucs ended a 10-game losing streak, LB Lavonte David couldn't have asked for a better pro debut.
The second-round choice out of Nebraska led Tampa Bay with six tackles while assuming defensive play-calling responsibilities.
"The game plan was to stop the run and come out and run the football ourselves,'' David said. "At the end of the day, we just played in the system, everybody did their job and the result was great.''
Let's get physical
Carl Nicks, signed as a free agent in March, earned Pro Bowl honors for the pass-heavy New Orleans Saints. He has already taken a shining to Tampa Bay's balanced attack.
"I love running the ball and wearing a defense out,'' Nicks said after Tampa Bay gained 130 yards on the ground in 36 attempts and maintained possession for 37:27. "You get tired, but the defense gets more tired. Time of possession was real important to us in terms of keeping Cam Newton off the field.''
With the game on the line, Tampa Bay imposed its will by grinding out a first down on the ground and literally running out the clock.
"They know you're going to run the ball in that situation,'' Nicks said. "It was bigs on bigs and we won.''
Connor Barth proved once again he has developed into one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. After making 26 of 28 field goals last season, Barth converted from 36, 20 and 40 yards Sunday to extend his streak to a franchise-record 18 consecutive kicks. Barth bypassed Martin Gramatica and Michael Husted, who previously shared the franchise mark with 16 consecutive successful field goals.
Paint it Black
Former University of Florida standout Ahmad Black made his first NFL start a memorable one. With the Panthers facing a third-and-12 situation from their 31-yard line, Black picked off a Newton pass intended for Steve Smith on the final play of the third quarter. "The guy is always around the ball,'' Bucs MLB Mason Foster said.
The Bucs opened the game in a nickel alignment and Black lined up at safety next to Barron.
Mixing it up
First-year offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was pleased with Tampa Bay's early execution as the Bucs scored on their first three possessions, capped by a 90-yard drive.
"I'm very proud of our players,'' said Sullivan, who served as Eli Manning's quarterback coach with the Giants the past two seasons. "Even when things started to waver a little, we showed great resolve. I thought Josh Freeman had a great feel for what we wanted to do today.''
Job well done
In his mid-week conference call with Tampa media, Panthers coach Ron Rivera portrayed the Bucs as a dangerous club flying under the NFL radar. He wasn't feeling any differently when Sunday's game concluded.
"They played really well, they really did,'' Rivera said. "They are a physical football team and they got after us. I've got to give a lot of credit to what Coach Schiano and his staff have done with that football team. Those guys play very hard.''
Tampa Bay's inactives were WR Arrelious Benn, CBs Myron Lewis, Anthony Gaitor and E.J. Biggers, rookie LB Najee Goode, T Jamon Meredith and DE Wallace Gilberry. …The announced attendance was 51,533 and the game was blacked out locally. …LB Jon Beason, who missed most of the 2011 season with a torn Achilles, led the Panthers with 10 tackles and Smith (7-106) posted his 39th career 100-yard game.