CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have found a complementary running back for Doug Martin once their No. 1 back returns from a hamstring injury.
Jacquizz Rodgers finished with a career-best 101 rushing yards on 30 carries — 32 yards and 17 carries more than he had in the Buccaneers’ previous three games combined — as Tampa Bay defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-14 on Monday night.
The Bucs (2-3), who came into the game ranked 28th in the league in rushing, made a conscious effort to move the ball on the ground early on. They handed the ball off to Rodgers on the first six plays of the game, and Rodgers had 62 rushing yards before the end of the first quarter. Tampa Bay maintained possession for 21:45 over the first two quarters en route to a 6-0 halftime lead.
“I saw him carry it about 50 times in one game at Oregon State against USC a few years back, so I knew he could do it,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.
The Bucs have a bye next week and Martin could return after that if he continues to make strides with his rehab.
Things we learned from the Bucs win over the Panthers:
BATTERED BUCS, CATS: Both teams should be thankful for their upcoming bye weeks, as battered as they were entering Monday night’s game.
Tampa Bay had six players listed as inactive with injuries, including five starters — Martin, tight end Luke Stocker (ankle), defensive tackles Gerald McCoy (calf) and Clinton McDonald (hamstring) and defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle).
Carolina was down four starters, including league MVP Cam Newton (concussion), running back Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) and cornerback James Bradberry (toe). Defensive tackle Vernon Butler (ankle), the Panthers’ first-round pick in the 2016 Draft, was also out.
Tampa Bay has its bye next week, while Carolina’s comes the following week.
PANTHERS NEW SECONDARY: The Panthers had three new starters in the secondary after getting torched by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for 503 passing yards last week — including 300 yards to All-Pro receiver Julio Jones.
The Panthers waived cornerback Bene Benwikere and brought up rookie Zack Sanchez from the practice squad.
So how did Carolina’s “new” secondary perform against the Buccaneers? The jury’s still out.
Winston didn’t put up Ryan-like numbers Monday, and he didn’t attempt any passes longer than 20 yards until the second half, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans late in the third quarter.
Evans finished with 89 yards on six catches, but he was targeted by Winston 12 times. Six other Tampa Bay players had receptions, including a 38-yard catch by tight end Cameron Brate after he slipped behind Panthers linebackers A.J. Klein and Luke Kuechly.
TURNOVER-PRONE PANTHERS: One of the big reasons the Panthers are 1-4 this season: turnovers.
Carolina led the league in turnover margin while posting a 15-1 regular-season record, winning the NFC title and advancing to Super Bowl 50 last season. But this is a different team — one that is not only turning the ball over more, but not forcing opponents into as many turnovers.
The Panthers had four turnovers against the Buccaneers — two fumbles and two interceptions — giving them 11 on the season, tied with Buffalo for third-most in the league.
Even worse, Carolina’s defense didn’t force a turnover for the second straight game. They are now a minus-7 overall, tying for third-worst in the league with Miami and the New York Giants.
NO PASS RUSH: A big reason the Panthers are struggling on defense is their inability to generate a pass rush without blitzing. Carolina’s starting defensive ends Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy have yet to record a sack this season. In fact, defensive tackle Kyle Love — who has been with the team only two weeks — leads all D-linemen with 1 ½ sacks.
AGUAYO’S FUTURE: While Roberto Aguayo came through in the clutch with Tampa Bay’s game-winning score Monday, his rookie season has been inconsistent at best.
The Buccaneers’ second-round draft pick was the third-most accurate kicker in NCAA history at Florida State with 69 of 78 field goal attempts made and made all 198 extra points.
While Aguayo made a pair of 35-yarders in the first half against the Panthers for a 6-0 halftime lead, he also bounced a 33-yard attempt off the right upright in the first half and pulled a 46-yarder left in the third quarter.
After Monday night’s game, Aguayo is 4 of 8 on field goals for the season, putting him last in the league in percentage (50 percent) among kickers with five or more attempts.
AP Freelance Writer Bill Kiser contributed to this report.