QUARTERBACK Quarterback Luke McCown had a productive game vs. the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but a couple of bad plays defined his performance. McCown finished the game 21-for-28 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and one interception and was also sacked four times.
With the Bucs trailing 31-23 late in the fourth quarter, McCown had one more opportunity to lead Tampa Bay for a game-tying score. McCown hit wide receiver Michael Clayton for 5 yards on first-and-10, but was sacked for a 14-yard loss with 1:28 remaining. He found Clayton for a 12-yard reception on third-and-19, but his fourth down pass to wide receiver Brian Clark was incomplete, ending the day for the Bucs.
McCown led the most impressive drive of the game to open the second half. The Bucs drove the ball 98 yards in 10 plays, chewing up 5:44 off the clock and culminating with a 23-yard screen pass from McCown to running back Michael Bennett. It was the longest scoring drive in team history.
The drive opened at the Bucs 2-yard line with three consecutive carries by Bennett that netted the offense 17 yards. McCown hooked up with wide receiver Chad Lucas for a 4-yard gain on first-and-10 with 10:58 remaining in the third quarter. He then found tight end Jerramy Stevens for a 7-yard reception and running back Kenneth Darby with a 7-yard catch on first-and-10 at the Bucs 30-yard line.
McCown used his feet to his advantage with 8:26 remaining in the third quarter after being flushed out of the pocket by Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. He raced down the Panthers sideline for a 31-yard gain, putting the Bucs at Carolina's 25-yard line. McCown hit Bennett on a screen pass on second-and-8 and the speedy running back did the rest.
McCown made a crucial mistake in trying to make a big play late in the fourth quarter and it cost the Bucs a chance at a win. With 4:48 remaining, McCown rolled out of the pocket and saw Darby open in the end zone. His throw, however, wasn't on the mark and was picked off by Carolina cornerback Richard Marshall.
McCown opened the game 3-for-3 for 57 yards and one touchdown on the first drive of the contest. The big play of the drive came when he found Lucas for a 52-yard reception that put the Bucs at the 5-yard line. McCown culminated the drive when he hit Stevens on a 3-yard slant route for the touchdown.
McCown was unable to get the ball into the end zone despite the defense getting two turnovers in the red zone. After the first turnover with 14:19 remaining in the second quarter, McCown completed two passes for three yards and was only able to muster five yards on the drive before place kicker Matt Bryant nailed a 31-yard field goal.
Following the second turnover, McCown drove the Bucs inside the 5-yard line, but once again Tampa Bay had to settle for a Bryant field goal. On second-and-19 from the Bucs' 12-yard line, McCown hit Lucas with an 11-yard reception and then scrambled for 11 yards on third down to keep the drive alive. The Bucs had to punt after two incomplete passes and a sack, but got the ball back when Carolina fumbled the punt. On the ensuing play, McCown found tight end Alex Smith for an 18-yard reception to the 4-yard line and the ball was moved to the 2-yard line after a personal foul penalty. However, the Bucs couldn't get into the end zone and Bryant concluded the drive with a 23-yard field goal.
McCown was accurate in the first half finishing 9-of-12 for 109 yards with one touchdown, but was sacked twice.
The Bucs converted 4-of-12 (33 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Panthers McCown running or throwing for two third-down conversions.
RUNNING BACK Running back Michael Pittman saw most of his action in the first half, finishing with 12 yards on four carries. Pittman opened the first drive with three consecutive carries for 10 yards. He did have the opportunity to put the Bucs in the lead with 14:20 remaining in the fourth quarter. Pittman was open on a slant-and-go-route, but was unable to make the diving catch as the ball grazed his finger tips.
Running back Michael Bennett received the bulk of the carries for the Bucs on Sunday finishing with 15 carries for 39 yards along with two receptions for 28 yards and one touchdown. Bennett had better success in the second half as he assisted the offense in getting out of the shadow of its own end zone. He had three straight carries for 17 yards on the first drive of the third quarter. However, Bennett's biggest play culminated the drive with a 23-yard screen pass for a touchdown. He showed his speed to get to the sideline and outraced multiple Panthers defenders into the end zone.
Bennett didn't find a lot of running room in the first half finishing with five yards on six carries.
Fullback B.J. Askew missed his third consecutive game with an ankle injury, but should be healthy heading into the playoffs.
Fullback Byron Storer saw most of his action as the lead blocker for Bucs running backs.
The Bucs' running backs rushed for 60 yards on 21 attempts (2.8 avg.) on Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVERS Wide receiver Chad Lucas got his opportunity to shine and did just that tying for the team lead with five receptions for a team-high 82 yards. Even though Lucas didn't get into the end zone he was a major factor in the passing game, allowing wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard to get some rest for the playoffs.
Lucas, who was replacing Galloway who sat out the season-finale, showed his speed on the first drive of the game. He raced down the Bucs sideline, got behind the Panthers secondary and had a 52-yard reception that set up the offense with a first-and-goal. Lucas had two receptions for 63 yards in the first half. Lucas had three receptions for 26 yards in the second half, two coming in the third quarter and the one in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton finished the game with five receptions for 60 yards as he got his fourth start of the season. Clayton's reputation of dropping passes, however, was back on display vs. Carolina as he had three dropped passes. He had consecutive dropped passes late in the second quarter. The first drop came with 4:43 remaining on a deep post route to the Bucs sideline. The second was on second-and-10 from the Bucs' 34-yard line on a short crossing route in the middle of the field.
Clayton had three catches for double-digit yards in the second half and was physical with the ball after the catch. With 6:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, Clayton opened a drive for the offense with a 21-yard reception. He followed that with a 19-yard reception down the Bucs sideline to get the offense into Carolina territory. However, the drive ended with an interception by McCown. Clayton also had a 12-yard reception on third-and-19 on the final drive of the game.
TIGHT ENDS Tight end Alex Smith had just one reception for 18 yards in the loss vs. Carolina. Smith made a jumping 18-yard reception on first-and-10 from Carolina's 22-yard line. He also came down and took a big shot from Carolina safety Marquand Manuel and held on to the ball.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens was one of McCown's favorite targets as he had four receptions for 30 yards and one touchdown. Stevens gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter when he caught a 3-yard slant pattern for a touchdown. He had two catches on the following possession, 17 and 3-yard receptions, but the drive ended with a punt. Stevens had three receptions for 23 yards in the first half.
Tight end Anthony Becht had one reception for two yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Bucs offensive line gave up four sacks vs. Carolina, four quarterback hurries and the Bucs only gained 60 yards rushing by the running backs. Two of the sacks were due to McCown holding on to the ball too long, but the Panthers had a lot of success getting pressure up the middle and off the edge with the blitz. Carolina linebacker Na'il Diggs and Marshall got sacks on blitzes. Carolina defensive end Stanley McGlover and defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead recorded the other two sacks.
Center John Wade did a good job of putting multiple Panthers' defenders on their back in the running game and assisted on double-teams vs. Carolina's big defensive tackles in Kris Jenkins and Moorehead. With 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Wade put Carolina linebacker Adam Seward on his back as Bennett rumbled for an 8-yard carry. On a 3-yard run by Bennett with 11:34 remaining in the fourth quarter, Wade put Moorehead on his back as well.
Left guard Arron Sears left early in the game with an ankle injury and didn't return to the game.
Left guard Matt Lehr came in to replace Sears after his injury and did an average job of replacing the rookie. Lehr showed his quick feet when he pulled out and sealed off Carolina defensive end Michael Rucker for a 1-yard gain by Bennett. Lehr, however, was pushed back into the Bucs backfield by Jenkins on a first-and-goal running play by Bennett in the first quarter.
Left tackle Donald Penn had an up and down game in run and pass protection. Penn was beaten off the edge by Davis and forced McCown out of the pocket in the third quarter. McCown, however, bailed out Penn as he scrambled for 31 yards. Penn planted McGlover into the turf on a third-and-9 play in the fourth quarter. McGlover had to be helped off the field.
Right guard Davin Joseph had a quiet day as he didn't allow a sack or have a penalty vs. Carolina. He did a consistent job of helping out Wade with Jenkins in the middle.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had a rough game in the run and pass game vs. Carolina. Trueblood was beaten around the right end by Carolina defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead on a stunt play to sack McCown on a third-and-3 play with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter. On the final drive of the first half for the Bucs, Trueblood had consecutive bad plays to start the march downfield. He was called for a false start penalty on first-and-10 and then was pushed back by Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson on a running play by Bennett that went for minus-4 yards with 6:32 remaining in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay lost the time of possession vs. Carolina, 31:50 to 28:10, and gained 303 yards of total offense.
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