The Panthers were without RB Jonathan Stewart, who sprained his ankle in the team’s third preseason game, and the Bucs held them to negative rushing yards until late in the third quarter.
The Bucs' defense held an explosive Panther offense scoreless in the first half, something that happened only once last year, in Newton’s rookie-of-the-year season. Carolina’s 10 points were the second-lowest output in Newton’s career.
Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman was efficient, completing all six of his passes on a TD drive to open the game. Combined with 94 rushing yards by rookie RB Doug Martin, the Bucs had a commanding edge in time of possession -- 36:52 to 22:33.
Newton revved up the Carolina offense in the second half, but after a third-quarter touchdown pass, he threw two interceptions and fumbled on a third-down sack to end three late-game drives.
When the game turned: The Panthers appeared to be crafting one of the late-game comebacks that highlighted Newton’s rookie season. Newton threw a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, and the Panthers' defense got the ball back into his hands at the Tampa 41. A 21-yard pass to WR Brandon LaFell was tipped by DB Eric Wright, and S Ronde Barber caught it for the first of two Newton interceptions.
Highlight moments: After a 31-yard Steve Smith reception, Newton play-faked a handoff, then tried to throw a WR screen to his left. The play was covered, so Newton turned, and leaning off-balance, found LaFell at the 4-yard line. LaFell took it in for a 22-yard TD reception that cut the Tampa Bay lead to 13-7.
After Tampa’s special teams came close to rookie punter Brad Nortman in the first quarter, CB Aqib Talib blocked Nortman’s punt in the fourth quarter. The Bucs recovered at the Carolina 42 and kicked a field goal to take a two-possession lead, 16-7.
Carolina WR Steve Smith -- 7 catches for 106 yards, the 39th time he’s exceeded 100 yards in a game in his career. After the game, he left his shoes at midfield and walked off barefoot to show his support for a charity called Samaritan’s Feet.
What they said about Tampa Bay’s defensive performance:
- Panthers' LT Jordan Gross -- “They looked like a new team to me, especially up front. They were running the defensive scheme really well … I think DeAngelo (Williams) is a better back than 10 yards' worth.”
- Panthers' coach Ron Rivera -- “A lot of stuff they threw at us today, they hadn’t shown. They did a good job hiding stuff in the preseason.”
- Panthers' GM Marty Hurney -- “Their defensive line did a good job, they got pressure rushing three guys at times. They did a great job stopping the run. That’s an area where they basically won.”
- Panthers' WR Brandon LaFell -- “They’re a much-improved team, and they came out with a chip on their shoulders.”
What they said about Tampa Bay’s 13-play opening TD drive:
- Panthers' DT Dwan Edwards -- “I didn’t like the way we started. They came out fast. We just had to make adjustments and do our best to shut them down.”
- Panthers' GM Marty Hurney -- “For some reason, we came out tight, but they came out all geeked up with their new coach, playing at home. It took us a while defensively to settle down.”
- Buccaneers' QB Josh Freeman -- “Everybody was locked in and focused. When you get on a drive, they’re so fragile. A number of things can interrupt your rhythm. We were able to execute, play penalty-free football, convert third downs. It opened the game like that," he said as he slapped the podium.
Numbers you should know: Tampa Bay got positive yards on its first 13 plays from scrimmage. Carolina didn’t have 13 plays with positive yards until five minutes after halftime. For the game, Carolina had positive yardage on 26 of its 21 plays for 55 percent. Forty-three of Tampa Bay’s 60 plays (72 percent) were positive.
Injury update: Neither team suffered anything major. Carolina C Ryan Kalil left with an ankle injury, and DE Greg Hardy hurt his shoulder, but both players returned to the game. Carolina was without RB Jonathan Stewart (knee), and Tampa missed WR Arrelious Benn (knee), CB Anthony Gaitor (hamstring) and CB E.J. Biggers (foot).
Going forward: The Panthers and Buccaneers both needed a win in the opener to avoid the prospect of an 0-4 start. Carolina’s opening month features games against all three divisional opponents and the Super Bowl champion Giants. Carolina hosts New Orleans and the Giants, then travels to Atlanta. Tampa has three games against the NFC East, two on the road. The Bucs travel to the Giants and Dallas, then host Washington and sensational rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Carolina Panthers from blogger Shawn Krest, follow @CBSPanthers.