Panthers 31, Buccaneers 13: Postgame takeaways & observations

TAMPA, Fla. — Stop if you’ve heard this before. The Bucs lost and, well, what is there left to say?

Another night, another ugly result. Ask yourself this: How much more can you take?

Tampa Bay fell to 0-7 with a 31-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers. And it wasn’t that close. Carolina owned a 21-6 lead by the third quarter’s end. By then, more than a few boos were barked at Raymond James Stadium.

Here are a few thoughts and observations on a night when the Bucs’ spiral kept going and going …

1. Mike James struggled in Doug Martin’s absence.

It was little surprise to see Martin listed among the inactives, after FOX Sports NFL Insider Mike Garafolo reported that the Pro Bowl running back sustained a torn labrum in his left shoulder during the loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday.

That meant more work for James, of course. The Bucs were excited about him after drafting the Miami product in the sixth round, No. 189 overall, last April. James was serviceable but not stellar Thursday, rushing for 39 yards on 10 carries.

The Bucs are optimistic that Martin can return before season’s end, and they’ll need that to happen, given his obvious talent that sparks this offense.

Martin has had his share of struggles this season — he’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry, compared with the 4.6 he averaged while earning 1,454 yards on the ground as a rookie — but Tampa Bay is a more effective offense with him. His return can’t come soon enough.

2. The Panthers’ defense did enough to handcuff the Bucs.

On paper, this looked like a tall offensive task for Tampa Bay. The Panthers entered the night third in the league in total defense by allowing 302.2 yards per game. Aside from the Buffalo Bills’ 24-point outburst on Sept. 15 and the 22 points by the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 5, no opponent had scored more than the St. Louis Rams’ 15 points last Sunday. That’s a stout defense.

There were times when Mike Glennon looked confident in the pocket on a night when he finished 30-of-51 passing for 275 yards. Still, low snaps by center Ted Larsen killed drives in the first half. The Bucs had little room for error Thursday, and field goals weren’t going to do it against this group.

3. Cam Newton was a dual-threat weapon.

Newton entered with at least 200 yards passing in six of his first seven games this fall, including a season-high 308-yard effort in a victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 6. As a rushing threat, however, he had been limited to no more than 45 yards this season.

Newton found ways to gash the Bucs, though. He finished with 50 yards rushing and 221 yards on 23-of-32 passing with two touchdowns. Newton did more than enough to earn the victory.

4. The Bucs missed Dashon Goldson.

Goldson was questionable coming into Thursday with a knee injury, and it was a bad sign for the Bucs to see him out. He had limited participation in practice all week, so it wasn’t a complete surprise to see him absent from the field.

Without him, however, the Bucs’ secondary was vulnerable. In his short time with Tampa Bay, Goldson has established himself as the emotional leader of the Bucs’ secondary.

Yes, at times, he has been undisciplined when targeting wide receivers. Yes, at times, he has appeared wild, even reckless. But the Bucs are a weaker defense without him.

5. It’s hard to see this turning around any time soon under Greg Schiano.

The Bucs lost their 12th game in their past 13 under the second-year coach. Without Martin, the Bucs are missing their best offensive weapon. By the fourth quarter, this felt like a preseason game with preseason play from the home team. Simply, this wasn’t pretty.

When does Schiano’s time with the Bucs end? It could come soon with more nights like this. It’s surreal to think how much promise and optimism this team held after the Goldson and Darrelle Revis signings. This feels like a different world.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.