|Teams involved||Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers|
|First contested||October 1, 1995
Tampa Bay 20, Carolina 13
|Number of meetings||29 meetings|
|Most recent meeting||December 14, 2014
Carolina 19, Tampa Bay 17
|All-time series||Carolina leads 18–11|
|Current win streak||Carolina, 4 wins|
Division Championships (11)
The two teams met for the first time in 1995 when the Panthers were an expansion team. In 2002, due to league-wide reorganization, the teams were moved into the newly formed NFC South division, and have played each other twice a year since then--once each at the Bucs' Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and the Panthers' Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The matchup immediately became popular, and by many accounts intensified into a heated rivalry starting in 2003.
The annual games have been described by observers as "physical" and numerous players have suffered season-ending injuries. Among the most serious was Chris Simms, who suffered a ruptured spleen in 2006 and Kavika Pittman who suffered a career-ending knee injury. Return specialist Clifton Smith suffered concussions in both games in 2009, the first from a high hit by Dante Wesley, who was subsequently ejected and suspended for one game. In addition to hard-hitting play, considerable off-the-field squabbles and verbal skirmishes have provided bulletin board material, including a brouhaha between Brentson Buckner and Warren Sapp as well as the arrest of two Panthers cheerleaders in a Tampa-area bar.
Carolina joined the league as an expansion team in 1995. For the first seven years of their existence, they were part of the NFC West division, while Tampa Bay was part of the NFC Central during that time. The two teams happened to play as intra-conference opponents in that first season in 1995. The Buccaneers won 20-13 after a QB sneak by back-up quarterback Casey Weldon in the fourth quarter. This game took place at Clemson, the Panthers temporary home during their first season.
The teams met again the following season (1996), with Carolina prevailing 24-0. It was the only shutout in the series' history, on the way to Carolina's first appearance in the NFC Championship Game. It was also the first meeting at the newly constructed Ericsson Stadium.
In 1998, the two teams met one additional time prior to being placed in the same division. Tampa Bay won 16-13 at Raymond James Stadium, the third-ever game at the Buccaneers new facility. Trailing 13-3, Trent Dilfer led the Buccaneers on two touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter to take the lead. Panthers kicker John Kasay had an opportunity to tie the score with ten seconds left in regulation, but his 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
In 2002, due to league-wide reorganization, Carolina and Tampa Bay were placed into the newly formed NFC South division. They became division foes, and would begin an annual two-game, home/away series each season. In 2002, Tampa Bay swept the regular season series en route to their Super Bowl victory. The first meeting, at Charlotte, was a defensive struggle, with neither team scoring a touchdown. Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson was out with an injury, and Rob Johnson started in his place. Martín Gramática made four field goals, including the game-winning kick with 5 seconds left in regulation. Tampa Bay won 12-9.
The second meeting, at Tampa, was a highly anticipated defensive struggle - Tampa Bay entered the game ranked #1 in total defense, while Carolina ranked #3. It also saw the return of quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Rodney Peete, both on whom had sat out the last meeting between the two. However, Tampa Bay won a largely one-sided contest. The Buccaneers racked up 314 yards of offense, forced four turnovers, and sacked Peete four times. The Buccaneers won by a score of 23-10, improving to 8-2 on the season, a franchise record after ten games.
Between the two games, a feud developed between Panthers punter Todd Sauerbrun and Buccaneers kicker Martín Gramática. Sauerbrun took exception with Gramática's emotional celebrations during their first meeting, and later alleged that his youngest brother (Santiago) heckled him after the second game. Sauerbrun called all three Gramática brothers (Martín, Bill, and Santiago) "idiots" while Martín had to be restrained from attacking him. Years later, the rift still remained, as Sauerbrun called the brothers "fucking greaseballs" and vetoed a chance for Bill to join the Panthers. Martín has countered by stating "one hundred percent of the people that know [Sauerbrun] don't like him," and stated that if they were both chosen for the Pro Bowl, he would not participate if Sauerbrun was to be his holder.
During training camp in the summer of 2003, Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner created a stir when he argued that his teammate Kris Jenkins was better than Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp. The trash-talk ensued as Sapp responded by stating "I don't think Brentson Buckner has any pineapple in his diet" (a reference to the Pro Bowl). Tampa Bay was coming off their Super Bowl season, while Carolina missed the playoffs in 2002 at 7-9.
The defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers hosted Carolina in their home opener in week two. The game turned into an embarrassment for Tampa Bay, and marked the point at which the rivalry firmly established and began to intensify. A defensive-oriented game saw young Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme held to only 9-for-23, 96 yards and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Brad Johnson threw for 339 yards. Special teams breakdowns cost the Buccaneers dearly. After two earlier botched field goal attempts, the Buccaneers trailed 9-3 late in the fourth quarter. On the last play of regulation, Brad Johnson connected to Keenan McCardell for a dramatic game-tying touchdown pass in the back of the endzone time expired. The extra point would have given Tampa Bay the win. Martin Gramatica's extra point attempt, however, was blocked. The game went to overtime tied 9-9. Both teams traded possessions, and with just over 6 minutes left in the overtime period, Tampa Bay punted to Carolina. Steve Smith returned the punt 52 yards to the Tampa Bay 40-yard line. Five plays later, Carolina won 12-9 after a 47-yard field goal.
In week 10 of the 2003 season, the surging Panthers hosted the now-sputtering Buccaneers. Carolina broke out to a 20-7 lead through three quarters, but the Buccaneers rallied in the fourth quarter for 17 points. Tampa Bay took a 24-20 lead with 2:45 to go. The Buccaneer defense, however, failed to keep Carolina at bay, and Jake Delhomme swiftly led the Panthers to a game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left. Carolina, nicknamed the "Cardiac Cats" that season, swept the season series for the first time, en route to their first Super Bowl appearance.
Both Carolina and Tampa Bay were playoff contenders in 2005, and battled neck-and-neck all season for the NFC South division title. The first meeting on November 6 at Raymond James Stadium saw both teams enter at 5-2, and in a tie for first place in the division. The Panthers intercepted Chris Simms twice, one returned for a touchdown, and Carolina rolled 34-14. It was Carolina's fifth straight victory against Tampa Bay, the longest winning streak between the two teams in the series' history.
Off the field, a scandal involving two Panthers cheerleaders made headlines around the league. Angela Ellen Keathley and Renee Thomas, both members of the Carolina Topcats, were arrested the night before the game for allegedly having sex with each other in a bar in the Channel District of Downtown Tampa, Florida. Both were intoxicated, and had a subsequent run-in with police. Both were dismissed from the squad November 7 for violating the team's code of conduct.
On December 11, Tampa Bay and Carolina faced each other again, with the division title effectively on the line. Tampa Bay broke a five-game losing streak to Carolina, winning by a score of 20-10. With 11:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, Ronde Barber intercepted Jake Delhomme, which set up a game-icing touchdown by Carnell Williams.
Neither team made the playoffs in 2006, however, the first meeting between the two teams on September 24 is remembered for the injury to Chris Simms. Both teams entered at 0-2, and the game turned into a hard-hitting, physical contest in hot, humid conditions.
Late in the third quarter, Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms was leading the Buccaneers on a drive when he was hit on a two-yard bootleg play. He had to momentarily leave the game, and Bruce Gradkowski took over. Initially diagnosed as bruised ribs, Simms returned minutes later to lead a go-ahead field goal drive. Simms received several other vicious hits that likely aggravated his condition. Carolina got the ball back with less than two minutes left. With only six seconds left in regulation, Panthers kicker John Kasay kicked a game-winning field goal, and Carolina won 26-24.
After the game, Simms complained of ongoing pain, and was admitted to the hospital. It was discovered that he had suffered a ruptured spleen, was experiencing internal bleeding, and required immediate emergency surgery. Had the injury not been diagnosed in a timely manner, it could have been fatal. Simms was placed on injured reserve, and ultimately never played another down with the Buccaneers.
In the 2008 season, Tampa Bay rolled at home during the first meeting by a score of 27-3. Both teams, however, emerged later in the season as playoff contenders, and both improved to 9-3 by December.
The second meeting was at Carolina on December 8, on Monday Night Football. With both teams in a tie for first place in the division, as well as positioning themselves for a possible first-round bye during the postseason, the game had a "playoff atmosphere."
The game turned Carolina's way early, and despite a Bucs rally, the Panthers won convincingly. Carolina steamrolled the Buccaneers defense with 299-yard rushing, and essentially clinched the NFC South division with the victory. The loss started Tampa Bay on a downhill spiral, and the Buccaneers dropped the next three games as well. Tampa Bay fell to 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Shortly thereafter, head coach Jon Gruden was fired. Carolina improved to 12-4 and won the division, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the divisional round by Arizona. It was the beginning of the end of the Jake Delhomme era in Charlotte.
On October 18, Panthers defender Dante Wesley launched himself (leaving his feet) into punt returner Clifton Smith, who had signaled for a fair catch and had not yet received the ball. Wesley was assessed a 15-yard penalty and ejected. referee John Parry explained the offense as "unnecessary roughness that was also a personal foul." Smith was knocked out and lay motionless on the field for a brief time. He sustained a concussion and an injured throat and sat out the remainder of the game.
A melee between the players immediately ensued out on the field, but was quickly broken up by officials. Two days later, the NFL suspended Wesley for one game without pay. Smith suffered a second concussion in the second meeting between the two teams (December 6), and was placed on injured reserve.
In 2011, Carolina, behind rookie Cam Newton, swept the series in dominating fashion. In the first meeting, Tampa Bay wore their orange throwback uniforms, but were without Josh Freeman due to injury. The Panthers rolled 38-19, with Newton setting a single-season NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Three weeks later, Newton set the NFL rookie passing yards record, also against Tampa Bay, routing the Buccaneers 48-16.
In 2012, Tampa Bay rebounded to sweep the season series. The two teams met on opening day for the first time, with the Buccaneers prevailing 16-10. Tampa Bay held the Panthers and Cam Newton to only 10 yards rushing.
In Week 11, the two teams met again in another close game, one of Tampa Bay's most impressive comebacks in recent history. The Panthers led 21-10 with just over four minutes left in regulation. A field goal by Tampa Bay trimmed the lead to 21-13. The Buccaneers got the ball back with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter. Josh Freeman drove the Buccaneers 80 yards for a touchdown with 20 seconds to go. A game-tying two-point conversion tied the game at 21-21, sending it to overtime. Tampa Bay won the coin toss, and proceeded to score an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, winning by a score of 27-21.
Regular season results
Carolina leads the series 18-11
The series is generally a back-and-forth contest, with respective winning streaks by one team common. Carolina holds a slight edge in total victories (16-11) and also holding the longest winning streak (5 games). The visiting team has a 14-13 record, and the two teams have gone to overtime twice, with the visiting team winning both instances.
The rivalry is often headlined as a defensive struggle. Both franchises have finished in the top ten in total defense multiple times, and four times (1996, 2002, 2003, 2005) both teams finished in the top ten in the same year. However, despite several defensive-oriented games, the series has seen its share of high-scoring, high offense, outputs.
Both Carolina and Tampa Bay have managed to sweep their opponent on multiple occasions. Carolina has swept Tampa Bay seven times (2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014). Tampa Bay has swept Carolina three times (2002, 2010, 2012).
The two teams have met on Monday night twice, with the Panthers winning both meetings, which were both held at Bank of America Stadium. The first such instance (2006) saw former Buccaneer wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson facing his former teammates in prime time. In that game, Johnson became the first player in NFL history to score a touchdown on Monday Night Football with four different clubs (Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Panthers). The two teams faced each other on Thursday night for the first time in 2013, with Carolina routing a winless Buccaneers team.
The two franchises made their first respective Super Bowl appearances in consecutive seasons. Tampa Bay (2002) and Carolina (2003), both managed to sweep the other rival in their respective Super Bowl seasons.
The two franchises have never met in the preseason. Following current NFL precedent, two teams from the same division do not play one another during the exhibition season, rendering a future exhibition meeting unlikely. Despite their geographical proximity, from 1995 to 2001 (when the two teams were not in the same division), they still never were scheduled to play during the preseason.
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