The Carolina Panthers hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC South battle on Thursday Night Football. Both teams entered this game having dropped their season opener less than a week ago.
It was an important early-season affair for the two teams. It was equally important for struggling quarterbacks Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.
In the end, Tampa Bay came out on top by the score of 20-14 in an ugly overall affair. Winston did not make the same mistakes we saw last week. That was big for the Bucs in a close game. Meanwhile, Newton continued to struggle.
Here, we take a look at the winners and losers from the second Thursday Night Football game of the NFL season.
Winner: Chris Godwin
Most expected this third-year receiver to break out even more after he put up north of 800 yards as a sophomore last season. Much like the rest of Tampa’s offense, Godwin was stuck in neutral during the team’s Week 1 loss to San Francisco. That was in no way the case Thursday evening. Godwin put up 79 yards and this beautiful touchdown while catching all five of his targets in the first half.
The Penn State product ultimately finished Thursday night’s win over Carolina with eight catches for 121 yards on nine targets and that touchdown. In another game that saw the Jameis Winston to Mike Evans connection falter, he stepped up big time. That’s going to be huge for Tampa Bay moving forward.
Loser: Cam Newton
Even after connecting with Curtis Samuel on a 44-yard pass in the first half, it became clear that Newton’s arm strength has not returned. We were somewhat concerned about this following the performance the former NFL MVP put up in Week 1. But he was out there throwing some dead ducks against the Buccaneers on Thursday night.
Is this an indication that Newton is not fully recovered from off-season shoulder surgery? It could also be an example of the quarterback’s new throwing motion taking more time to get accustomed to than we expected. Either way, Newton is nowhere near 100 percent after the first two weeks of the regular season.
Winner: Luke Kuechly
This former NFL Defensive Player of the Year was flying all around the field for Carolina Thursday evening. He racked up 10 tackles in the first half alone, including one for loss.
Sure Kuechly dropped a would-be interception immediately prior to Tampa Bay taking the lead in the third quarter, but he can’t be blamed for that. He netted the Panthers two points after tackling Peyton Barber in the end zone early in the third quarter when it seemed like all momentum was in the Buccaneers’ favor.
We really want to see how he performs moving forward now that the Panthers have Gerald McCoy and Kawann Short in front of the linebacker on defense. It should free Kuechly up to do more things away from the line of scrimmage. That’s what we saw Thursday evening.
Loser: Norv Turner
After seeing Christian McCaffrey go for 209 yards and two scores on 29 touches in Week 1, Carolina’s offensive coordinator somehow figured it made sense to rely more on Cam Newton in what was a close game. In fact, Newton attempted 26 passes in a first half that was marred by rain and a wet field. McCaffrey? He ran the ball just nine times and touched it 11 times in the first two quarters.
It did not get much better in the second half. Knowing that Turner had pretty much abandoned the running game, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was able to draw up blitzes in Newton’s direction. It led to him being sacked three times in the final two quarters.
When all was said and done, Newton dropped back to pass 55 times while McCaffrey ran the ball 16 times. If this weren’t enough, Turner drew up an absurd direct snap to the running back on fourth and inches inside Tampa Bay’s two-yard line late in the game. It did not work, and the game was over.
Winner: Shaquil Barrett
One of the most underrated free-agent signings of the spring, this former undrafted free agent from Colorado State more than made his presence known for the Buccaneers on Thursday night. Barrett put up five tackles and a sack last week against San Francisco.
He followed that up by getting to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton three times in the Buccaneers’ impressive Week 2 win. We asked before the game who would step up from a pass-rush perspective in this one. Barrett more than did that. What an amazing performance from the relatively unknown pass rusher.
Loser: Donte Jackson
If Godwin is to be a winner here, it stands to reason that the player responsible for covering him is a loser. It might sound harsh, but this second-year cornerback was downright atrocious for the Panthers on Thursday.
Jackson legitimately allowed Godwin to average north of 15 yards per reception while catching eight of his nine targets. You can’t get a worst performance from a cornerback. One now has to wonder if Jackson is going to be out of a starting job here soon.
Winner: Greg Olsen
Despite being bloodied in the first half, this Pro Bowl tight end provided Cam Newton with the consistent target that the struggling quarterback needed in this one. Perhaps taking advantage of the injury to rookie Buccaneers linebacker Devin White, Olsen caught six passes for 110 yards on nine targets.
This could potentially be big for Carolina moving forward. With the team having started 0-2, it will need this type of production from Olsen moving forward if the Panthers hope to get back to their winning ways.
Loser: Ronald Jones
After putting up a career-best performance against the 49ers last week, we expected this second-year back to continue his ascension. He seems to be a perfect in the Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich offense. That is to say, a dual-threat running back out of the backfield.
This did not come to fruition against Carolina Thursday evening. Jones touched the ball a total of four times for nine yards and did not have a single catch in the game. How in the world does that happen less than a week after averaging 6.6 yards on 14 touches?