Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart has yet to practice leading up to Monday night's game against Tampa Bay. - Photo by: Getty Images
The Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers were too much for the Buccaneers to handle for a second time this season.
For those interested in silver linings, Tampa Bay’s 19-17 loss in Charlotte drops its record to 2-12 on the year and 0-5 in the NFC South but keeps the Bucs toward the top of next spring’s NFL Draft board.
Sunday also represented the Bucs’ eighth defeat by single score and third by two points or less.
Helping to derail this latest effort was an offense that barely showed up, especially after halftime. Carolina enjoyed an overall time-of-possession advantage of 15 minutes and 2 seconds.
“Hung in there throughout and thought the guys fought hard,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “When the other team has the ball about a quarter more than you do, it’s kind of hard to overcome that.”
Patrick Murray gave Tampa Bay a 10-9 advantage before the break with 48-yard field goal, but that disappeared in less than two minutes of game time in the third quarter. Carolina took the lead for good after Charles Johnson beat backup right tackle Oniel Cousins and forced a fumble of quarterback Josh McCown that Kawaan Short recovered at the Bucs 4. Two plays later the Panthers went up 16-10 when backup quarterback Derek Anderson hit Jerricho Cotchery for a 2-yard touchdown.
McCown’s fumble to open the second half triggered a particularly poor stretch of offensive futility. The Bucs’ first five possessions after the break started with the turnover, followed up by three three-and-outs and another turnover.
What kept Tampa Bay from finding itself in an inescapable, double-digit hole was a bend-but-don’t-break defensive effort that surrendered chunks of yardage but few points.
Despite the offense’s second-half ineptitude, Carolina barely managed to capitalize after the Anderson-to-Cotchery touchdown. The Panthers’ last points came midway through the fourth quarter on Graham Gano’s fourth field goal of the day, a 45-yarder that extended Carolina’s lead to 19-10 with 8:31 remaining.
That aforementioned scoring drive also received two huge, early assists from the referees.
Carolina got the ball when the Bucs’ first decent sequence of the second half ended with a McCown incompletion that was challenged by head coach Ron Rivera and subsequently changed to a fumble recovered at the Panthers 27. Veteran safety Roman Harper blitzed and hit McCown as he was throwing and the ball went forward. Officials ruled that Harper had knocked the ball from McCown’s grip and that the pass was not a pass, but a push of a loose ball instead.
“I thought my arm was going forward,” McCown said of the play. “I don’t understand how a ball goes that far downfield that way. He certainly didn’t push it forward. It went forward somehow.”
The second beneficial call came on Carolina’s second offensive snap. Following a false start penalty that pushed the Panthers back to their own 22, Anderson’s pass to tight end Greg Olsen was tipped and intercepted by linebacker Orie Lemon. But instead of the Bucs taking over at Carolina 31, a ticky-tack roughing the passer penalty was called on defensive end Larry English that instead gave the ball back to the Panthers at their 37. Replays showed that English’s hand got to Anderson’s helmet, but with little force.
Tampa Bay had an opportunity to bounce back from the reversed call and penalty prior to Gano’s field goal, but cornerback Alterraun Verner dropped an interception on the play before the kick.
“Defensively I thought we played hard and fought hard,” Smith said. “When you get the chance to take the ball away you need to. That roughing [the passer] penalty took the interception away from us and really hurt. We dropped an interception on the other end where they got three points. That was a big swing in the game. That kind of affected the outcome quite a bit.”
The Bucs responded with their best march of the game, an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by McCown eluding more pressure from Johnson and running into the end zone from 16 yards out. Wideout Vincent Jackson picked up 44 of the yards on four catches and ended his day as the team’s leading receiver, with six grabs and 70 yards.
The 5 minutes and 20 seconds it took leading up to McCown’s third rushing touchdown of the season, however, left only 3:11 on the clock. Tampa Bay didn’t get the ball back until 23 seconds remained and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly ended the game with an interception.
Tampa Bay allowed Anderson to complete 25 of 40 pass attempts for 277 yards and surrendered 390 total yards of offense, but managed to step up when Carolina got into Bucs territory. The Panthers’ first six drives of the game spanning into the third quarter advanced into scoring range and resulted in just one touchdown. Their seventh drive ended at the Bucs 38 but Carolina opted to punt rather than attempt a 56-yard field goal.
Already without middle linebacker Mason Foster, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and safety Major Wright, the Tampa Bay defense was forced to play the majority of Sunday’s game without defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The All-Pro was forced to leave with a knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. He emerged from the locker room in the second half wearing a bulky brace on his right leg.
After the game Smith reported that McCoy hyperextended his knee on the same leg he hurt last week in Detroit.
Also not able to finish Sunday’s game were cornerback Isaiah Frey (ankle) and receiver Louis Murphy (ankle).
Even without McCoy’s presence for most of the game, it wasn’t the defense that failed Tampa Bay this week. McCown finished with less than 200 yards passing (13 of 28 for 154) for the fourth time this season, not including Week 3 at Atlanta when he was injured.
“We’ve just failed to put it all together,” McCown said of his lackluster day under center. “We get the running game going and then we bog down in the passing game. In the middle of the season I felt like we were throwing the football around, but we weren’t running it as effectively. We just haven’t gotten both of those things done.”
A running attack that has typically escaped Tampa Bay all season did produce 151 yards on 23 attempts, led by Doug Martin’s 96 yards on 14 carries. The third-year running back got going early when he took the Bucs’ second offensive snap of the game 63 yards to the Carolina 16. It’s the longest play from scrimmage of the season, topping receiver Mike Evans’ 56-yard touchdown reception in Washington four weeks ago.
The Bucs took advantage of Martin’s long run when McCown hit Evans with an 8-yard right-corner fade that gave Tampa Bay its first of two leads of the game, 7-3. It was the team’s sixth opening-drive score of the season and third such touchdown.
Sunday’s game featured two of the league’s top rookie receivers for the second time this season and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin came out on top once again. Evans was only able to pull in two of his eight targets for 13 yards and the score, whereas Benjamin secured eight of 13 targets for 104 yards but no touchdowns.
Benjamin was one of two 100-yard pass catchers for Carolina. Olsen led all receivers with 110 yards and matched a career high with 10 catches.
Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald led all defenders with 15 total tackles, followed by linebacker Lavonte David’s 12 and eight apiece from safety Dashon Goldson and linebacker Danny Lansanah. The three sacks of Anderson came courtesy of Lansanah (1.5), David (1) and defensive end Jacquies Smith (0.5).
It was a clear, sunny afternoon in Charlotte and the temperature at kickoff was 60 degrees. The announced paid attendance at Bank of America Stadium was 72,842.
Buccaneers reported defensive starters: LE Jacquies Smith, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Akeem Spence, RE Michael Johnson, SLB Orie Lemon, MLB Danny Lansanah, WLB Lavonte Davie, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Dashon Goldson and SS Bradley McDougald.
Buccaneers reported offensive starters: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Demar Dotson, LG Logan Mankins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Oniel Cousins, TE Kevin Pamphile, WR Mike Evans, QB Josh McCown, RB Doug Martin and WR Luke Stocker.
The only active Bucs players not to enter Sunday’s game was QB Mike Glennon.
Tampa Bay’s inactives were WR Robert Herron, WR Solomon Patton, S Major Wright, LB Mason Foster, T Anthony Collins, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and DT Clinton McDonald.
At halftime one player said “Coach we’re leading, we could win this game and lose the first pick”. Lovie said “relax son, Cousins is already out there and I’m sending Gilkey in to start the 2nd half. That should put us on our back with our legs in the air!”.
I can hear that speech now Mac…..as calming as the sound of the ocean surf….and with McCown as the one on the surfboard, it’s like listening to the speech on Xanax….
Baffled towards the end of the first half not taking a shot at a 54 yard field goal. Baffled at 8 minutes 32 seconds left in the game and down by 9 that it took 5 minutes and 25 seconds to score 7 points. There was no urgency in any of the two examples above. Baffled?
Funny macabee. I can’t believe that there aren’t two players sitting around at Dunkin Donuts or in an anger management class who aren’t better than Cousins and Gilkey. Gilkey should be cut today. Cousins and Warhop, who no doubt recommended these two, should be cut/fired immediately after the Saints game. Ho ho horrendous!
Can anyone tell me what is better this year, than what we had last year??? Nothing, it has gotten worse. Lovie needs to be FIRED!!! He blew this team up and everyone he brought in, has been horrible. McClown has been a joke, every o-linemen he brought in has sucked, m. Johnson has been a bust. He got rid of the best corner in the game(Revis) for what??? He is a piss poor evaluator and should be sent back to the unemployment line. I am glad we will get the 1st pick, but Lovie will mess it up.
I think the offense (outside of one run by Martin) was MIA in the first half too ..
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