CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers appeared headed to a blowout win, until they found out first hand about Fitz Magic.
Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly erased a 28-point halftime lead, but the Panthers held on to win 42-28 at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
It was the second straight week that Fitzpatrick led an epic comeback. Last week, in Cincinnati, he entered the game trailing 27-9 and rallied the Bucs in the second half, tying the game at 34.
This week, the Panthers built a lead just big enough to hold on, thanks to one of the best offensive halves in franchise history.
Carolina scored 21 points in the second quarter, fifth-most in team history and built a 35-7 first-half lead. The 35 points were the most the team has ever scored at halftime and one point shy of the best half ever — that was a 36-point second half in 2002.
Then someone let the Fitz Magic out of the bottle. The 14-year veteran threw four touchdown passes and led the Bucs on three touchdown drives in four possessions to pull Tampa to within 35-28 early in the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Panthers found some magic of their own. Quarterback Cam Newton completed three straight passes for 48 yards, then rushed twice for 13, setting up a 19-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel that put the game out of reach.
It was Samuel’s second score of the game. He had a long and winding run on a double reverse in the first half that went for 33 yards on the stat sheet but likely covered more than triple that in actual distance traveled, as he ranged from one sideline to the other to weave through the Tampa defense.
“It was an amazing play call,” Samuel said. “I came around and saw the whole sideline was open, but as I took off and started to get closer, I felt like the defense was closing down. So I was like, ‘Let me go make something happen across the field.’”
Samuel’s run was one of several first-half highlights for the Panthers. Running back Christian McCaffery scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, and tight end Greg Olsen caught a 17-yard pass from Newton for another score.
On defense, Eric Reid had his first interception as a Panther to set up the game’s first score. Donte Jackson added one late in the game to end a last-ditch Tampa drive.
The Panthers have a game on Thursday at Pittsburgh, giving them a short week to figure out what caused the early second-half lull.
“We’re grateful to get out with a win, so we can get back into the lab, watch the film and decide what caused the miscommunication,” Jackson said. “But the most important thing is to get the win, and that’s what we did. We closed it out.”