Y’all are going the wrong way!
Panthers 42 – Bucs 28
Here’s the deal: having the NFL’s #1 offense only takes you so far when you’re giving up an average of 30+ points per game to your opponent. It means every game ends up being a shoot-out, something the Bucs have never been built to do. They’ve come close a few times, but over the long haul Tampa’s just never been that kind of team, and they really shouldn’t have to be. Once possessing a hungry, opportunistic, punishing defense, when the Bucs were on their game they could hold an opposing team to 17 points or fewer. With the offense they currently wield, that would be more than sufficient for the offense to carry the day.
Sometimes I really miss you, Monte Kiffin.
Instead, Cam Newton and the Carolina offense had their way with the Bucs defense during the first half of yesterday’s contest. Fakes, reverses, double reverses, runners who seemed to be coated in baby oil as they zipped and darted through the Tampa secondary, and a quarterback all but unchallenged in the pocket were enough for the Panthers to run up 35 points during the first two quarters of play. At one point during the early going, I wondered on Facebook and Twitter if the Bucs had actually made the trip, or if the Tampa coaches just found 11 eyes wandering the concourse and stuck them in uniforms. The first quarter in particular was a brutal outing for the D. Carolina had their number and just kept curb-stomping them at every opportunity.
It was, to put it mildly, embarrassing, but then the Bucs offense, guided by Ryan Fitzpatrick who started in place of the still-struggling Jameis Winston, finally started to put things together. They fought their way to two touchdowns of their own before the end of the half. There was that bit of business with an attempted fake punt that ended up about as horrible as you might imagine. It was a little trainwreck, nicely setting up the Panthers do add to their already daunting lead. I’m already trying to scrub it from my brain.
Then, as has been the case in recent weeks, Fitz and the Bucs started to click. Motivated by the good goings-on, the Tampa defense responded in kind, holding the Panthers scoreless throughout the third quarter and well into the fourth. Meanwhile, the Bucs ate into Carolina’s lead, pulling to within 7 points with almost the entire fourth quarter left to play. It only took 5 minutes of game clock for Newton and the Panthers to get back in the groove, tacking on another touchdown to extend their lead. The Bucs last two drives ended with a stall/punt and an interception to seal the deal. Unable to prevent the Carolina offense from advancing and out of time-outs, the Bucs let the Panthers get far enough so that they could run out the clock. Game over.
Their second straight loss drops Tampa to 3-5 and a commanding grip on the bottom rung of the NFC South Division ladder. New Orleans, Carolina, and Atlanta are all on winning streaks and picking up speed as they head in the opposite direction, with the Saints on a 7-game run with no signs of slowing down.
Next up? The Bucs are back home to host Washington. At the season’s halfway mark, all games are important from here on if Tampa holds out any hope of post-season play.
Bucs life, ain’t it?