Key 1. Corral Cam
Cam Newton came into Sunday’s game with 464 yards rushing and ten TD’s on the ground. Newton flew back to Charlotte Sunday evening with 54 more yards on the ground and added three rushing touchdowns to break the NFL QB TD rushing mark formerly held by Patriots' QB Steve Grogan.
While Newton was dangerous with his legs he looked even more like a veteran when dropping back on pass plays. Finishing 12-of-21 for 204 yards and one touchdown Newton ended the game with a QB rating of 106.1.
There once was a time when the Buccaneers defense made rookie quarterbacks shudder but those days appear long gone and not coming back any time soon.
Final Grade: F
Key 2. Keep Blount Churning
After two straight 100-yard games and facing a team that gave up an average of 137.5 yards on the ground, Tampa Bay had to feel pretty good about the prospect of achieving this key.
But for the day the Panthers defense held Blount to just 19 yards on 11 carries. Knowing Josh Johnson was the starter, the defense of Carolina frequently put eight men in the box daring Josh Johnson to beat them. While Johnson fared pretty well, the fact that Tampa Bay was playing from behind right out of the gate made it difficult to achieve much balance and the element of surprise was taken out of the equation.
The running lanes just weren’t there on a consistent basis and the offensive line must share in some of that blame.
Final Grade: F
Key 3. Stifle Steve Smith
When Aqib Talib went down with a hamstring injury in the first quarter most assumed Steve Smith was in line for his seventh career 100-yard receiving game against the Buccaneers. But if a bright spot could be found in Sunday’s devastating loss, it was the secondary play and keeping Smith in check. Of course with the balance and weapons the Panthers boast, how much was Smith even needed is debatable.
For the game Smith was targeted six times and came up with just two receptions for 32 yards, including a long of 23 in the second quarter.
With Myron Lewis being deactivated and then Talib’s injury, it created a shuffling of the Buccaneers secondary and forced E.J. Biggers to take the majority of the responsibility of covering the Bucs killer and Biggers had a decent day. Overall the secondary was average at best, but at least Tampa Bay forced someone else on the Panthers' roster to inflict most of the damage as opposed to Smith.
Final Grade: B
Key 4. Keep Your Hands To Yourself
While there wasn’t one specific penalty that cost the Buccaneers the game, once again Tampa bay continued to be their own worst enemy. Penalties at the worst possible time continue to haunt this team and Sunday it again reared its ugly head.
On a first-half third-down stop, Quincy Black was called for holding on tight end Greg Olson that gave the Panthers a first-and-goal from the 1 and they eventually scored.
Later in the game after another third-down stop, defensive tackle Brian Price was flagged for an after-the-play skirmish that gave the Panthers new life keeping the drive alive. It again led to a Panthers touchdown.
For the game Tampa Bay was penalized nine times for 73 yards.
Final Grade: F
Key 5: Play Like There Is No Tomorrow
With any chance of making the playoffs before Sunday’s game against the Panthers being slim, the Buccaneers needed to let it all hang out and play with reckless abandon. Instead it was the Panthers who played with imagination on offense and committed to making Josh Johnson beat them by stacking the box and taking away the running game.
On the Panthers second touchdown drive in the first quarter Cam Newton threw a lateral pass to his wide receiver then became the primary receiver totally catching the Buccaneers off guard. Tampa Bay’s imagination on offense was limited to another unsuccessful handoff to Arrelious Benn that lost 12 yards on third-and-2.
Then in the third quarter, down by three scores, the Buccaneers chose to punt at the Panthers 44-yard line on fourth down. At that point it was clear the Buccaneers weren’t going to take any chances and in my opinion seemed resigned to the fact they weren’t going to win.
Final Grade: F
The wheels are officially off the bus. Perhaps they were a few weeks ago and I was in denial but a scenario where anything can be salvaged from this season is a probably a far-fetched pipe dream.
The Buccaneers needed this win desperately for their psyche but more importantly for their head coach. Now in the middle of a six-game losing streak it may take a miracle for Raheem Morris to save his job.
Cook’s Prediction: Buccaneers 27-20
Reynold’s Prediction: Panthers 27-23
Horchy’s Prediction: Buccaneers 33-30
Actual Final score: Panthers 38-19