With starter Josh Freeman inactive due to a shoulder injury sustained last week at Tennessee, Tampa Bay was forced to play fourth-year backup Josh Johnson. With little run support and suspect blocking at times, Johnson did as well as someone who hasn’t taken a regular-season snap in two years could have expected.
Johnson struggled a bit with accuracy and wasn’t ever completely comfortable in the pocket, but one thing he seemed to do was take a few more shots down the field and make a couple throws that Josh Freeman might have envied.
Johnson also added a legitimate run threat, gaining a couple first downs with his feet. For some reason it seemed offensive coordinator Greg Olson was set in his play calling to keep Johnson in the pocket. As the game progressed either Olson decided to utilize Johnson’s ability to move in the pocket or the quarterback just took matters into his own hands.
I don’t think the Buccaneers missed much with Johnson over Freeman, at least this game. For the afternoon Johnson was 16-of-27 for 229 yards, one TD and one interception. Johnson also added 45 yards on five carries.
The Panthers didn’t respect Josh Johnson and ran an eight-man front for a majority of the game, daring Tampa Bay’s seldom-used QB to beat them. Johnson wasn’t able to carry the team on his back but the running game wasn’t the quarterback’s friend Sunday, producing just 78 yards on 27 carries, an average of just 2.9 yards a carry.
LeGarrette Blount, coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, was held in check and never seemed to get going. Blount failed to produce any highlight-reel runs Sunday as the Panthers had a perfect game plan to stop Tampa Bay’s top threat. Blount was held to 19 yards on 11 carries.
Tampa Bay’s coaching staff finally gave rookie free agent Mossis Madu an opportunity. The former Sooner carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and showed a quicker and shiftier burst than Kregg Lumpkin.
With just watching from the press box, it appeared the Buccaneers receivers did a nice job of beating man coverage and also settling into soft spots when the Panthers played zone.
Mike Williams continued his second half rebound with his best output of the season, catching five Johnson passes for 93 yards. Arrelious Benn was targeted four times and caught three balls for 46 yards, including a 38-yarder in the first half. Preston Parker also was his usual steady self with three catches for 26 yards and Dezmon Briscoe made the most of his limited snaps by hauling in the only touchdown of the day for Tampa Bay on a perfect pass from Johnson in the second half that traveled 23 yards.
Kellen Winslow had four receptions for 41 yards with a long of 18, leaping to snare an overthrown Johnson pass. But other than Winslow, Buccaneers tight ends were virtually non-existent.
Fourth-round rookie Luke Stocker continues to be a non-factor and puzzling to most. While primarily used as a blocker, I assumed he would at least be a second option spelling Winslow at times. So far this season he hasn’t been effective as a receiver.
Both the offensive and defensive lines are difficult to grade without benefit of reviewing the game tape.
But when you see 2.9 yards a carry and constant pressure on Josh Johnson, it is pretty obvious that the offensive line didn’t have its best day. RT Jeremy Trueblood had his worst game of the season by giving up two sacks and getting abused by Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson for much of the day. Jeff Faine’s snap to an unready Josh Johnson led to a busted play and an interception and guard Jeremy Zuttah didn’t appear to have a great day run blocking.
Facing a team that was giving up over five yards per rush on the season, it was surprising the offensive line struggled at times.
Another Jekyll and Hyde performance for this unit with great plays followed up by poor tackling and issues with holding their gaps.
Rookie Da’Quan Bowers may have unseated starter Michael Bennett with his outstanding play today. The 21-year old Bowers had 1.5 sacks and had another that didn’t count, as the rookie was guilty of being offsides. But eight tackles including five for loss to go along with 1.5 sacks is an amazing day for a defensive lineman and Morris and the rest of the defensive coaches will be pleased.
Fellow rookie Adrian Clayborn also played well for the most part and picked up a half sack, giving him a team-leading 5.5 on the season.
Brian Price, who was sent home by Raheem Morris in the third quarter after a bad penalty, didn’t show up on the stat sheet and was still hobbled by an ankle injury suffered last week at Tennessee.
The Panthers ran 39 times for 163 yards and the linebackers accounted for just nine tackles on the day. And a few of those came on pass receptions. This unit has failed miserably this season and may be the single biggest factor in the team’s 4-8 record.
Mason Foster had five stops but Geno Hayes and Quincy Black combined for just four. Geno Hayes did have a sack but it was negated by Brian Price’s penalty that resulted in the wrath of Morris and a quick trip to the showers.
The Buccaneers' single biggest need will be an upgrade or overhaul of this unit in the offseason. And maybe even looking at Foster moving to weak or strong side linebacker – which may be a better fit for the former Huskie.
When Aqib Talib went down with a hamstring injury it spelled great news for rookie QB Cam Newton and 1,000 receiver Steve Smith.
But overall this group held its own with the exception of a few plays. Unfortunately the few breakdowns resulted in big chunks of yardage with pass plays of 31, 27, 26, and 23 yards.
The Buccaneers thought they may get their hands on few Newton passes, but it never materialized as the rookie QB was smart and decisive for the most part all afternoon.
Michael Koenen punted two times for 82 yards and had another punt downed inside the 20-yard line. Preston Parker had two punt returns for 42 yards including a second-half 34-yard return and needed just one more block to take it for a score. Sammie Stroughter was solid again, averaging 26.3 yards on his three kickoff returns.
The real star of the game offensively – if there can be one in a 38-19 loss – was placekicker Conner Barth, who made all four of his attempts and is now over 90 percent on the season. No Buccaneers player has been more consistent than Barth this year and he may get some Pro Bowl consideration – the only Buccaneer who may sniff a grass skirt.