TAMPA – Former great Jimmie Giles was inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor on Sunday and it was by far the brightest moment of Tampa Bay’s day.
The visiting Carolina Panthers and rookie quarterback Cam Newton came to town and went to work on the throwback-clad Buccaneers, jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 38-19 victory.
Tampa Bay’s losing streak grew to six games as the Bucs (4-8) have now dropped seven of eight and into a last-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South.
Newton showed off his dual-threat capabilities by scoring four touchdowns and combining for 258 yards of offense. The rookie set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns that dated back to 1976 when he scored on his third 1-yard score of the day. Newton now has 13 and it tops former New England quarterback Steve Grogan’s previous record of 12.
Tampa Bay was forced to attack Carolina with its backup signal caller after starter Josh Freeman was ruled out prior to kickoff. Josh Johnson made his first start since the London game in 2009 against New England, a 35-7 loss. The fourth-year quarterback showed flashes on Sunday, going 16 of 27 passing for 229 yards, but the Bucs’ chronically anemic first-half offense could not respond to Carolina's fast start.
Further hampering Tampa Bay’s effort with the ball was a running game that never came into focus. Running back LeGarrette Blount entered Sunday’s contest averaging 19 carries and 105 yards over the past two games but received just 11 touches for 19 yards against a Carolina defense ranked 28th in the NFL. Johnson led the Bucs on the ground with 45 yards on five attempts, followed by Mossis Madu (25 on eight). Madu’s carries were the first of his NFL career.
The Bucs were outgained 385-285 and Carolina exploited Tampa Bay’s porous and disintegrating run defense for 163 yards. Running back Jonathan Stewart’s 14 carries and 80 yards led the way for the Panthers.
Making matters worse for the Tampa Bay defense was losing cornerback Aqib Talib in the first quarter to a pulled hamstring and defensive tackle Brian Price for disciplinary reasons. Talib never returned after leaving the field during the first drive of the game. Price was flagged on the last play of the third quarter for unnecessary roughness that negated linebacker Geno Hayes’s tackle for loss on Newton. Upon returning to the sideline, head coach Raheem Morris told Price to leave not only the field, but the stadium all together.
“I told him to go home, get out of the building, get away,” Morris said about the situation with Price during his postgame press conference. “It’s selfish to your teammates [and] to everybody in the organization [and] to your fans. That’s terrible. That’s just selfish behavior. Get a 15-yard penalty in that situation when that’s all we talked about [and] that’s all we discussed. You just can’t do that to your team.”
Tampa Bay’s battered defensive front also lost backup end Tim Crowder to a first-half head injury. Defensive end Michael Bennett did not dress for the second consecutive game, but rookie Da’Quan Bowers took advantage by playing his best game of the year, finishing with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and one pass defensed.
Along with the poor run defense, it was the usual suspects dogging Tampa Bay once again on Sunday. The Bucs were flagged nine times for 73 yards. They allowed Carolina to convert 6 of 11 third downs and its lone fourth down attempt. They surrendered touchdowns on all five of the Panthers’ trips inside the red zone and failed to follow suit with the ball. Tampa Bay technically only entered the Panthers 20 once, but the Bucs’ only scoring until late came on four Connor Barth field goals (50 yards, 47, 46, 44). Barth improved his season-long mark to 24-for-26.
“We had [Carolina] in some tough situations, [but] we just shot ourselves in the foot,” Bowers said from the locker room afterward. “Penalties. We had a lot of key penalties that kept their drives alive and that is all the momentum that type of team needs.”
Newton and the Panthers didn’t need any help from the Bucs in jumping out to a 7-0 lead seven plays into the game. Tampa Bay responded by going three-and-out and giving back possession to Carolina at the Bucs 43. Eight plays later and it was 14-0 in a flash. The scoring drive was extended on third down when Bucs linebacker Quincy Black was called for holding during a pass in the end zone to tight end Greg Olsen. Stewart eventually ran it in from the 1.
Tampa Bay was never able to recover and now the best the Buccaneers can hope for is 8-8 after entering the season with such lofty expectations.
“We’ve got to go out there and figure out how to play smarter and those goals that I had, as far as winning the division, it may not be able to be accomplished,” Morris said. “The thing I need to do right now is go back and make sure we continue to build this team for the future. We’ve got a lot of young players and I don’t want things to get away from us.”
Following the initial three-and-out, Tampa Bay did respond with four straight scoring drives of its own before halftime. The problem is that they all ended in Barth field goals. The Bucs appeared to get robbed of an opportunity before the first kick when wide receiver Arrelious Benn had his facemask grabbed by Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn during a third-down reception that came up eight yards short at the Carolina 32.
The Bucs gave up two third-down conversions on the Panthers’ third touchdown of the first half. The second of which resulted in Newton’s 19-yard scoring pass over the middle to wide receiver Legedu Naanee.
The teams traded field goals in the first half’s final three minutes with the Bucs trailing 24-12.
Tampa Bay took over to start the third quarter and Johnson quickly began moving the team downfield after amassing just 128 first-half yards. Wide receiver Mike Williams, who finished with five catches and a season-high 93 yards, hauled in two first down catches during the drive. Rather than pull within single digits, though, Tampa Bay’s push ended at the Carolina 30. Johnson’s pass intended for Dezmon Briscoe was picked off by Panthers defensive end Thomas Keiser to end the threat.
Carolina took advantage of the missed opportunity with a six-play, 61-yard touchdown drive capped by Newton’s second 1-yard run of the game. That sequence was highlighted by back-to-back 20-plus yard plays involving the rookie QB. Seeing a mismatch with wide receiver Brandon LaFell being trailed by Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Newton hit him for 28 yards to the Tampa Bay 23. He followed that up with a 20-yard run to the 3.
The Panthers took their biggest lead of the day, 38-12, on its next possession with its longest drive. The 15-play, 91-yard, psyche-crushing march bridged the third and fourth quarters and included Price’s unnecessary roughness penalty that resulted in his ouster. Newton broke Grogan’s touchdown record with the score.
Tampa Bay’s only touchdown of the day came with 6:35 left in the game. Johnson threw a high-arcing pass down the ride side that dropped right into the hands of Briscoe from 23 yards out.
Stepping into the role of Freeman all day, it was then Johnson’s turn to emulate the Bucs starter at the podium following another Tampa Bay loss.
“It felt good. It’s a little different. I haven’t played in a while, so I was just trying to get relaxed, trying to get comfortable.”
As for a self-assessment, Johnson simply said the ultimate objective wasn’t met.
“The grade is simple, it’s not good enough. As an offense, we disappointed. We knew we had to score some points. We have seen this team’s offense on film. We watched them play previous opponents that we play and they’ve been scoring. Field goals weren’t going to get it.”
Tampa Bay inducted former tight end Jimmie Giles to the Bucs' Ring of Honor during halftime. Giles became the third member of the Bucs' Ring of Honor, following inductees Lee Roy Selmon (2009) and former head coach John McKay (2010)
The Bucs, who are now 4-8 after losing seven of their last eight games, travel to Jacksonville next week to take on the Jaguars.
Sunday’s announced crowd at Raymond James Stadium was 56,270. The game-time temperature was listed at 79 degrees and there was a 13 mile-per-hour east-northeasterly wind.
Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Da’Quan Bowers, DT Brian Price, DT Albert Haynesworth, RE Adrian Clayborn, SLB Quincy Black, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Geno Hayes, LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones and FS Tanard Jackson.
The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Jeremy Zuttah, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB LeGarrette Blount, FB Erik Lorig and QB Josh Johnson.
Seven Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were QB Josh Freeman, CB Myron Lewis, WR Michael Spurlock, OT James Lee, DE Michael Bennett, DE Derek Hardman and DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.