CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tom Brady said the message this week from coach Bruce Arians was about having “mental toughness.”
The Bucs showed plenty of it on Sunday.
After having practices delayed by storms earlier in the week, a mechanical issue that delayed their flight to Charlotte by 6 1/2 hours on Saturday, and the lingering memory of a 38-3 loss to the Saints last week, the Buccaneers rebounded nicely with their most impressive win of the season.
Brady threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, Ronald Jones set a franchise-record with a 98-yard touchdown run, and the Buccaneers bounced back from a dreadful defeat with a resounding 46-23 win over the Carolina Panthers.
“He said from the beginning, there’s no excuses,” Brady said of Arians’ message. “We played better than we did last week, obviously. We just have to do it consistently, continue to make plays and run the ball like we ran it today.”
Coming off the most lopsided loss of his illustrious career, Brady threw touchdown passes to Cameron Brate, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski, then ran for another score in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule described Brady’s play as “elite” and “fantastic.”
The Bucs ran the ball just five times last week.
On Sunday it was the complete opposite, as they racked up 210 yards rushing on 37 carries. Jones finished with a career-high 192 yards, including the big third-quarter burst that blew open the tight game and stripped the life out of the Carolina defense.
Although two Carolina defenders said they knew what play was coming, Jones raced up the middle behind left guard, shook off safety Tre Boston and was gone. Jones became the fourth NFL player with a TD run of 98 yards or longer, joining Tony Dorsett, Derrick Henry and Ahman Green.
“I knew he was going to break one sooner or later,” Arians said. “Blaine (Gabbert, backup QB) and I looked at each other and he said, `He’s going to take it to the house.’ I said, ‘There’s a good chance on this play.’ And he did.”
Jones was upset with himself over a first-quarter fumble that led to a Carolina touchdown, but Arians stuck with him.
“He said, ‘Let’s go, the team is going to need you,'” Jones said.
After Jones’ fumble, the Buccaneers quickly regrouped and scored on nine straight possessions. Tampa Bay racked up 544 yards on offense and outgained the Panthers 322-35 in the second half and outscored them 29-6.
Chris Godwin had 92 yards receiving for the Buccaneers (7-3), who swept the season series and handed the Panthers (3-7) their fifth straight loss.
“It was a slow, methodical bleed on defense,” Rhule said.
It was the worst loss of Rhule’s brief NFL coaching career, one that he called “unbelievably disappointing” and “unacceptable.”
Teddy Bridgewater threw for two touchdowns and ran for another before leaving in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury. P.J. Walker finished up at quarterback and was not effective.
Rhule offered no update on Bridgewater’s status after the game.
BRADY’S DEEP BALL
Despite the Bucs scoring a season-high 46 points, Brady was far from perfect.
The six-time Super Bowl champion missed open receivers on deep balls on three occasions, including his old buddy Gronkowski. Gronk was running alone down the middle of the field midway through the third quarter only to have the ball sail helplessly over his head. Earlier, Brady missed chances to hook up on long TD passes with Antonio Brown and Evans.
“He knows he left a couple out there,” Arians said. “The wind was really tricky. I know Tom is as critical of himself as I am. He played fantastic.”
With the game tied at 17 just before halftime, the Panthers squandered an opportunity to take a lead into the locker room.
When Bridgewater fired downfield for an apparent 42-yard completion to D.J. Moore, the Panthers hustled up the line of scrimmage with 8 seconds remaining — even though the clock had stopped because of a delay-of-game penalty on the Bucs. But instead of spiking the ball and moving on to the next play, Bridgewater looked to the sideline for a play call that wouldn’t come.
That allowed the Bucs to take a look at Moore’s reception and call a timeout, giving officials time to review the play. When they did, it was ruled the ball touched the ground and the completion was overruled.
Rhule said the Panthers were unaware the ball had hit the ground or else he would have just had Bridgewater spike the ball.
Buccaneers: reported no injuries.
Panthers: Cornerback Donte Jackson left early in the third quarter after reinjuring his toe. Running back Mike Davis missed part of the second half with a finger injury, but did return.
Buccaneers: host the Rams on Monday night, Nov. 23.
Panthers: host the Lions next Sunday.
By Steve Reed, The Associated Press