Looking at Josh Freeman’s final stats (28-of-38 for 274 yards one TD and one INT) the numbers look pretty good. While Freeman can't be blamed for the loss today, the third-year QB struggled at times holding onto the ball taking sacks and also continued his propensity for turnovers at critical times. Freeman’s third quarter interception was similar to Preston Parker’s muffed punt two weeks at Jacksonville. After the Panthers stretched their lead to 27-10 following the Freeman pick, any air that might have been inflating the Buccaneers’ balloon quickly vanished.
Freeman was better than he has shown in a few weeks – just not good enough Saturday.
While probably too late, Raheem Morris continued his send-a-message theme on Saturday. After fumbling on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play, LeGarrette Blount was banished to the sidelines to observe from afar.
Kregg Lumpkin entered the game and actually seemed to provide a bit of a spark. While he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry on seven attempts, the contrast in running style over Blount was apparent and the former Georgia Bulldog also contributed 38 yards on four receptions. Mossis Madu also benefited from Blount’s benching and saw his most extensive action of football since he was wearing a Sooner helmet last fall. Madu, who like Lumpkin provides a change-of-pace style to Blount, carried the ball four times for 20 yards and added another 42 yards as a receiver.
The Panthers best weapon in stopping the run was actually offensive coordinator Greg Olson who only called 13 rushing attempts on the day.
Without benefit of whole field camera views it is hard to say why the Buccaneers receivers were held in check for the most part all day in Charlotte. Mike Williams rebounded from his shutout last week against Dallas with four receptions for 39 yards on Saturday afternoon. Little used Sammie Stroughter actually led the Bucs receivers with four catches for 42 yards including a game-long 29-yard pass reception from Josh Freeman. But Arrelious Benn was held in check as was Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker managed just on 16-yard reception before a head injury forced him out of the game.
Veteran tight end Kellen Winslow had a good game receiving but two critical errors were drive killers for the Bucs on Saturday. Winslow’s push off that resulted in a pass interference call and an inexcusable fumble in the second half were two mistakes a player of Winslow’s experience shouldn’t be making at this point in his career.
Winslow finished the game with as the Buccaneers leading receiver hauling in six Freeman passes for 63 yards. Luke Stocker caught a career-high three passes but for only 14 yards.
Donald Penn continued his unexplained late season swoon giving up two sacks, one of which came on the Buccaneers fourth quarter two-point conversion attempt. And teammate and fellow tackle Jeremy Trueblood struggled also. Trueblood may not have given up a sack but did allow a few QB pressures and also committed two penalties, something that hadn’t been a problem through the first half of this season. Center Jeff Faine was also guilty of giving up a sack and the Buccaneers offensive line allowed Freeman to be taken down three times on the afternoon.
The Buccaneers did average 4.2 yards per carry against an average at best Panthers defensive.
This unit hasn’t been stellar very often all season and when it was announced DTs Brian Price and Albert Haynesworth were inactive you had the feeling today wasn’t going to be a rebound day. Other than Michael Bennett’s lone sack this unit was manhandled and pushed around at will by the Panthers offensive line. I will give them some credit for hustle as exemplified by Adrian Clayborn being driven to the ground in the second half, rolled on top up, yet still getting up and finding Cam Newton for a one-yard gain.
Unfortunately hustle was overshadowed by Roy Miller, Jovan Haye and Frank Okam’s numerous mistakes with gap integrity and missed tackles.
Another extremely poor performance by this unit on Saturday as Geno Hayes, Quincy Black and Mason Foster ran themselves out of many plays and weren’t able to provide containment particularly on the Panthers option-runs.
This group appears lost at times although Foster did seem to have a few nice licks as did Redskin package linebacker Dekoda Watson who lit up Newton in the second half, catching the rookie in the ribs and driving him out of bounds.
The play of the linebackers has been a mystery all season and Black and Hayes may have played themselves to the bench – if not off the roster – next season.
Everyone knew the Buccaneers would miss Aqib Talib who was placed on IR this week but maybe not this much based on the secondary play the last two weeks. It’s one thing to give up four TD passes to Tony Romo but another to allow a rookie – regardless of how good Newton is – to torch you for 171 yards on just 12 pass completions.
E.J. Biggers came into this season with a great opportunity to prove his worth and establish himself as a legitimate starting cornerback. As it stands now the Buccaneers would be best served to do their homework in free agency and the draft.
Even veteran Ronde Barber had an off day. The frustration of the entire season showed today as the pursuit hustle we have been accustomed to was lacking on several plays.
The play of the safeties also left much to be desired as Sean Jones and Tanard Jackson both look like shells of their former selves. Both were guilty of being completely out of position and both had a few missed tackles. For Jackson maybe you can pin it on being out of football for a year but Jones has no excuse. Like Hayes, Jones is in a contract year and has done little to make me think the Buccaneers will attempt to bring him back next season.
Michael Koenen and Conner Barth both did exactly what they have done the majority of the season and that is perform at a high level. Both should earn some Pro bowl consideration. Koenen’s kickoffs were all touchbacks and he had one punt for 58 yards on the day. Barth was perfect on his only FG attempt from 42 yards.
Sammie Stroughter made a Preston Parker-type blunder today, failing to secure the football on a kick return that was recovered by the Panthers. But where was the blocking on the play?