Dekoda Watson’s recovery of a fumble by Captain Munnerlyn on a first-quarter punt return set up the game’s first touchdown at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, and continued a season-long trend of capitalizing on takeaways by the Buccaneers. Josh Freeman’s three-yard scoring pass to TE Nate Byham came six plays later.
Unfortunately, Munnerlyn got his revenge in a big way and Freeman’s first interception in 162 pass attempts went 74 yards in the wrong direction. The Bucs were threatening to build on their 10-0 lead and a significant amount of momentum before Freeman’s back-foot lob in Dallas Clark’s direction resulted in Carolina’s first points of the game.
That put the Bucs on the wrong end of a defensive score for the first time this season, and also put them in unfamiliar territory. Scoring off turnovers has been Tampa Bay’s province in 2012, not their opponents’.
Coming into Week 11, the Buccaneers had forced 19 turnovers and committed just eight. More importantly, they had turned that into a major points-scoring edge. Here are the points off turnovers for the Bucs and their opponents through the first nine games:
The two plays involving Munnerlyn were the only two turnovers of the half, so the Bucs at least broke even in the above chart in the first half on Sunday. However, Munnerlyn’s pick was a major change in momentum. At the time, the Bucs had an edge of 84 yards to 10 for the Panthers; after, Carolina ran up 178 yards to the Bucs’ 39. And, of course, Carolina’s 14 unanswered points allowed them to take the lead into halftime.
Tampa Bay gets the ball to start the second half, and there is every reason to believe they can win the turnover battle the rest of the way. They may have to in order to leave Carolina with their fourth straight victory.