Sloppy Buccaneers hand Panthers fourth straight win
By Ben Rolfe
The second week at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium brought an NFC South clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) and Carolina Panthers (3-2). The Panthers were looking to get their fourth straight win, while the Buccaneers looked to get back on track after a loss in the Superdome.
However, things went wrong pretty rapidly for the Buccaneers as Jameis Winston was picked off on the first play of the game. At that point it was a problem, but not a huge one. Unfortunately, for the Buccaneers, it was a sign of things to come. In total, the Buccaneers turned the ball over seven times to the Panthers one. To put that into context, teams with a +6 turnover differential win the game 97.3% of the time. Even if you discount the two “garbage time” turnovers, the numbers still do not make pretty reading for the Buccaneers. Teams with a -4 turnover different win just six percent of the time!
In fact, if you believe the statistics this game was unlikely to go the Buccaneers way from the 1:40 point of the entire game. Let’s take a look at how the game unfolded, and how the twists and turns affected the Buccaneers’ chance to win.
GIVING UP THE FIRST POINTS
As I mentioned above, the very first snap of the ball was where it went wrong for Winston. An errant pass ended up in the hands of James Bradberry, and not Mike Evans as it was supposed to.
Why is that a problem? Well, it set the Panthers up at the Buccaneers 29-yard line. Now without turning the ball over yourself, it is hard not to score from that position. The Panthers actually ended up doing their best to make it difficult, with the resulting drive going backward two yards. However, Joey Slye slotted through the 49-yard field goal to put the Panthers on the board first.
What does that mean? It is not good news for any team in the NFL, but definitely not for the Buccaneers. In the last five years (since Jameis Winston was drafted) the Buccaneers are 8-25 when the opposing team scores first. That is a win percentage of just 24%, compared to a league average of 34%. If we assume with a line of -2 for the Panthers entering the game, the likelihood of Tampa Bay winning was between 40-45%. That is a drop of at least 16% in the first 1:40 of the game.
LOSING THE FIRST QUARTER
The Buccaneers could have rescued the situation by striking back immediately. In the last five years, they are 16-13 when leading after the first quarter. On their third drive of the game, they actually became favourites for the only time in the game according to ESPN’s win probability chart when Winston hit Chris Godwin for 17 yards to the TB48. However, two sacks in two plays, the first by former-Buccaneer Gerald McCoy, shut down the drive right there. We will come back to those sacks in a moment.
Despite the resulting punt being downed at the one-yard line thanks to a fantastic play by the punt unit, the Panthers extended their lead on the following drive. When Christian McCaffrey wriggled his way in from the one-yard line to give the Panthers a 10-0 lead, it was another ominous sign for the Buccaneers.
In the last five years, when the Buccaneers have trailed after the first quarter they had lost 22 of their 29 games. That is a win percentage just below 25%, compared to an NFL average of 27% in the same time span. Still not a disaster, but not great either.
POOR OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
Any stat referring to a team losing when their quarterback is sacked multiple times has holes in it. Of course you are more likely to be sacked when trailing and throwing more. However, when Winston was sacked for the third time on the first play of the second quarter it simply served to reinforce the unlikely nature of a Buccaneers victory. NFL teams who allow three or more sacks in a game win 34% of the time. The Buccaneers? Once again right around that 25% mark.
Things did look to be getting a little better. The Buccaneers evened up the turnover differential thanks to a Ray-Ray McCloud fumble on a punt return. Ronald Jones punched in the resulting drive to make it 10-7 and offer hope. According to ESPN’s win probability, a once 80% chance of a Panthers victory had swung back to below 60%. In fact, if the Buccaneers lead at the half, they are 20-9 over the last five years. Meaning, another score and they would have nearly a 70% likelihood to win the game based on their history
However, another Winston interception, followed by a sublime catch and run from McCaffrey had the game back in the Panthers’ hands 17-7. Although, if you believe the historical numbers, the killer blow came with 1:16 left in the half. After getting sacked for the fourth time prior to the second interception, Winston was sacked twice more following the two-minute warning. Both times he fumbled, the first Ryan Jensen recovered. The second time, not so lucky. The Panthers recovered the ball for a 10-point halftime lead. They were Winston’s fifth and sixth sacks of the afternoon. The league average in the last five years for teams winning who give up six sacks? 18%. The Buccaneers record? 0-3, 0% win rate.
LOSING AT THE HALF
Let’s take stock of where we are. The Buccaneers gave up the first score. They were trailing after the first quarter. They have given up not just three sacks but six in the first half. Finally, they are also -2 in turnover differential and trailing 17-7 at the half. Since Winston was drafted, the Buccaneers had trailed at the half 39 times prior to this game. They have won just six, a 15% win rate. The league average for winning from a losing position at the half in the last five years is just 21%. If you believe the numbers, this game was the Panthers for the taking.
THE FIGHTBACK COLLAPSES... TWICE
What is great about this Buccaneers team is they always fight back. Winston never knows when he is beaten and is willing to try and get his team back in the game. However, things got worse before they got better. A Carolina field goal followed by a Luke Kuechly interception in the third quarter led to the Buccaneers trailing by 20 points (turnover differential: -3). At one point in the game, they would trail by as much as 24 points.
A Cameron Brate touchdown, followed by an incredible awareness play from Evans to catch the ball off a Godwin drop on the two-point conversion, cut the lead to just 16 points, but then came the first dagger. It was an uphill battle for the Buccaneers whatever. Teams with a -3 turnover differential win just over nine percent of the time. However, as we said above that drops to just six percent when the differential drops to -4. That is exactly what happened when Bobo Wilson muffed a punt, his second muff of the game, and the Panthers recovered. That led to another Slye field goal and a 19-point lead.
When Dare Ogunbowale went in for his first-ever NFL touchdown it was likely just a consolation. However, with 3:11 left in the game and down 11 the Buccaneers forced another punt. Six plays later on a 4th-and-10 Winston forced a ball to Godwin which was picked off by Ross Cockrell. Once a team hits that -5 turnover differential, they win the game less than five percent of the time. The game would end with a fifth interception thrown by Winston, his sixth turnover of the day, and the Buccaneers seventh, ending a day to forget for the Tampa Bay offense, and putting them 2-4 heading into their bye week.