CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One yard stood between the Bucs and a victory over Carolina Thursday night. But for a defense that was among the worst in the NFL a year ago and a team that rarely wins on the road, one yard might as well have been one inch.
In other years, Newton would’ve taken the snap, adjusted his cape and flown like Super Cam over the goal line like he did against the Bucs in a win at Bank of America Stadium in 2017.
But instead, the Panthers tried to fake the Philly Special, a play used by the Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
Newton walked up to the end of the line of scrimmage and receiver Curtis Samuel came in motion when McCaffrey took a direct snap. But instead of reversing it with a handoff to Samuel, McCaffrey kept the football and raced toward the yard marker.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves didn’t take the bait. He stayed home and wrestled McCaffrey out of bounds short of the first down, preserving a 20-14 win.
Across the opposite sideline, beleaguered Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston celebrated.
Winston played turnover-free football, which is news. He went 16 of 25 passing for 208 yards. His favorite target was Chris Godwin, who caught eight passes for 121 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The Bucs defense has transformed from the sorry unit that allowed 29 points per game last season.
Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett took over the game with three sacks in the third quarter, including on back-to-back plays. And the defense stopped the Panthers three times on fourth-and-1 Thursday.
The Bucs shut McCaffrey down, holding him to 37 yards on 16 carries and two catches for 16 yards.
Hargreaves, who had a pick six Sunday, looks reborn. While the Panthers appeared to target him during the game, he made enough plays to help the Bucs get the win.