Lost in the bafflement over the Carolina Panthers not using their 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback to sneak the ball half a yard near the goal line late in Thursday night's 20-14 win by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was corner Vernon Hargreaves III making a heck of a play. Otherwise, Christian McCaffrey walks in for a touchdown.
"It's the Philly Special," Hargreaves said after the road win, via the Tampa Bay Times. "We've seen it in the Super Bowl. If you've watched any football, you've seen it three or four times. Once I saw Cam walk up to the line of scrimmage and act like he was talking, I had a pretty good idea what was going on. My man went in motion and he came right to me.
"Man, listen. That's a Pro Bowl running back running at me. I had to get him down. That was my only thought process."
A pseudo-Philly Special, the Panthers faked the pitch and throw-back to Cam Newton on the wide side of the field. McCaffrey kept the snap and raced to the short corner, needing just half a yard for a first down and an additional one for a game-tying score. Several Bucs defenders fell for the fake, including three linebackers in the middle of the field.
Hargreaves, however, stayed home and made a spectacular play wrangling the elusive back out of bounds before he could clearly stretch the ball out for a first down.
The corner's play to stuff McCaffrey was emblematic of the night for the Bucs D, who completely neutralized the Panthers' best offensive player, holding the running back to just 37 yards on 16 attempts (2.3 average) and two catches for 16 yards.
"It's crazy how it came down to a fourth-and-1, but absolutely, we've talked about how we want to forge a new identity for us, and I think we're on our way to that," defensive tackle Beau Allen said, via The Athletic. "You don't want to toot your own horn too much two games into the season, but I think we've come a long way. We have a lot of guys who have stepped up and made plays."
With Shaq Barrett putting a clown-suit on Panthers offensive tackle Daryl Williams repeatedly (three sacks), the Bucs defense harassed Newton into some awful throws and discombobulated an already wayward Panthers offense. Sans first-round linebacker Devin White, who left the game early due to injury, the Tampa D repeatedly stood up on their own side of the field, holding Carolina to just four field goals and zero TDs.
"They practically won the game for us," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Our defense is playing really good right now. We just have to do our part to protect the football and give us a chance to win."
It helped immensely that for one of the few times in his career, Winston didn't turn the ball over. If the quarterback can negate the bonehead plays like he did for the most part Thursday, Tampa has a chance to stay in games.
For years Tampa has had one of the worst defenses in football, a group that made a sieve look solid. Was Thursday night's result offensive ineptitude by Carolina or the dawning of a new era in Tampa? With the L.A. Rams and New Orleans Saints on tap after a date with Saquon Barkley next week, time will tell us if this Bucs D is for real or a mirage in the wilderness of Thursday Night Football.