In the early days of the NFC South, the Buccaneers and Panthers played games that more closely resembled street fights.
Those days may be back, and the Bucs got the upper hand in the first one this year.
Greg Schiano spent the offseason preaching physical and tough, and his guys bloodied the collective noses of the Panthers Sunday in a 16-10 win.
The Bucs did just enough on offense, with quarterback Josh Freeman playing a clean first half, throwing a touchdown, and making sure not to turn the ball over.
That was enough, as the Bucs defense harrassed the Panthers into mistakes. Cam Newton was 23-of-33 passing for 303 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
But more problematic was the fact the Panthers ran just 13 times for 10 yards. Whether Jonathan Stewart was out or not, that’s embarrassing. It tied a franchise low for rushing yards in a game set in 2000, when George Seifert made no attempt to run.
Of course, neither did Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski Sunday. In the absence of Stewart, DeAngelo Williams got just six attempts.
But don’t turn this into anything other than the Bucs punching them in the face.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in particular was a problem, setting up shop in the Panthers backfield. The Panthers like the potential of rookie left guard Amini Silatolu, but he was overmatched in his first NFC South game.
The Panthers own defense played better after they were a liability last year. Linebacker Thomas Davis made several plays in his comeback from three ACL tears, and Jon Beason was back on the field after missing most of the year with a torn Achilles.
These two teams are similarly built, and should have plenty of games like this one over the next few years. But the Panthers need to get back to their roots if they want to compete.