Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a Thursday night, at home, against divisional foe, on national television. Head coach Greg Schiano left the field to a sea of boos as his Bucs, still winless, dropped their seventh-straight game to the Carolina Panthers 31-13, creating an array of speculation as to not if he’ll be fired, but when.
His vaunted defense, equipped with arguably the league’s best cornerback in Darrelle Revis and Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy, and linebacker Lavonte David, who continues to play like a Pro Bowler, failed to contain Cam Newton the whole night, with the elusive quarterback routinely escaping pressure and finding wide-open receivers.
Newton threw for two touchdowns and interceptions, completing 23 of 32 passes for 221 yards while accounting for 50 yards on the ground – more rushing yards than the entire Bucs offense – with a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter set up by a 19-yard run up the gut that seemed to dim any hope of a bounce-back by the Buccaneers.
“He’s a scrambling quarterback. It’s always going to be hard to play against a scrambling quarterback,” said Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, who led the team with nine solo tackles, 12 combined, two tackles for a loss, and a quarterback hurry.
David accounted for a sack too, his fifth of the season, taking down Newton on first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 33 for a 12-yard loss, forcing a second-and-22. Steve Smith took a short pass over the middle for 10 yards, with Newton escaping heavy pressure for a 16-yard scramble and a first down. It was the Panthers’ third third-down conversion of the opening drive.
“They just executed, you just got to take your hat off to them. They controlled the football. They just capitalized on their plays,” David said.
Earlier on that drive, a third-and-9 at the Carolina 35, the Bucs lined up in zone defense with a three-man rush, allowing Smith to slip between a linebacker and a safety for a 21-yard pickup, with David eventually making the stop.
On third-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 2, the defense blitzed Newton with tight end Greg Olson completely unaccounted for in the corner of the end zone, giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, on third-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 47, Panthers wide receiver Tedd Ginn took a short pass 35 yards along the sideline, with cornerback Leonard Johnson diving at his ankles to try and bring him down. The Panthers capped off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to the outside by running back DeAngelo Williams, putting the Panthers up 14-3.
Following Newton’s 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the Bucs defense forced a three-and-out by the Panthers, but a muffed punt return by Eric Page, which was recovered by Panthers free safety Colin Jones at the Tampa Bay 29, brought a tired defense back out onto the field.
Newton then hit fullback Mike Tolbert for a 3-yard touchdown pass off play-action, making it 28-6, with fans making a dash for the exits.
“We lost. They just beat us, they played us. We just took a beating. That’s it,” said McCoy. “We got outplayed. They schemed well and they executed. I think at the beginning of the game, we got a little overzealous and our eyes were all over the place. But after that, nothing else to it. We just got outplayed.”
Up until the fourth quarter, the Bucs offense, without star running back Doug Martin, failed to reach the red zone, with the closest being a second-quarter drive that stalled at the Carolina 30, forcing a 48-yard field goal by kicker Rian Lindell. That drive could have been sustained had it not been for a botched exchange between backup center Ted Larsen and quarterback Mike Glennon on third-and-5.
In the absence of left guard Carl Nicks, who continues to battle a recurrence of a MRSA infection, starting center Jeremy Zuttah had been moved to Nick’s spot, with Larsen assuming center duties. After several low snaps by Larsen, however, Zuttah was moved back to his original position with more success.
In the fourth quarter, following a 29-yard field goal by Graham Gano, Glennon engineered an impressive 81-yard drive that began at the Tampa Bay 19, hitting seven consecutive pass plays with five different receivers, before throwing a 10-yard touchdown to tight end Tim Wright, making a 31-13 ball game.
He had another opportunity to score on the Bucs’ final possession of the game but was sacked by Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson on third-and-5 at the Carolina 17 for a 10-yard loss.
Lindell attempted a 45-yard field goal, which was initially ruled ‘good,’ but later nullified due to a penalty on Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short. The penalty set up a Bucs first down at the Carolina 13 but Glennon was unable to deliver.
He finished 30 of 51 for 275 passing yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked three times, with rookie backup running back Mike James mustering 39 yards on 10 carries.
“We got licked. My hat’s off to Carolina. They played better than we did. They coached better than we did. That was the result today,” said Schiano, adding that he was unaffected by the boos of disgruntled fans calling for his job after losing 12 out of the last 13 games dating back to last season.
“It doesn’t affect me. People are certainly entitled to their opinion. Here’s the thing: My whole career – player and coach – you get up in the morning, you work as hard and as smart as you can, it usually puts you to bed tired, and you get up and do it again. That’s the way I do it,” said Schiano.
“I have no doubts about the plays that we run. I have no doubts about our coordinator, our play selection – we’ve got to execute, starting with myself,” said Bucs guard Davin Joseph. “[The fans] have a right to say whatever they want to say. My job is my job.”
Cornerback Darrelle Revis downlayed the booing, but not the pain of losing after coming into the season with such high expectations. Much like the fans, he’s still searching for answers.
“This is as low as you can get right now, being 0-7. It’s tough, man. It really is. I really don’t even know what to say. We’re 0-7. That’s where we’re at. And hopefully we dig ourselves out of this hole soon.”
Bucs free safety Dashon Goldson missed the game due to a knee injury suffered against the Falcons last week … Bucs cornerback Johnthan Banks left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury and did return … Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson left the game with a shoulder injury…Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith suffered a leg injury in the third quarter and did return … Running back DeAngelo Williams left the game with what Panthers head coach Ron Rivera described as a deep bruise to his quad … Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson suffered a groin injury.