Two weeks, two divisional losses and a 1-4 record. For the Carolina Panthers, the playoffs begin next week…
The Carolina Panthers retooled their secondary as they prepared for a Monday Night Football showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite not having franchise quarterback Cam Newton on the sidelines, expectations for the Panthers remained high. A Buccaneers team riddled with injuries on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football would be no challenge for the reigning NFC Champions at home, right?
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Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) kicks the game winning field goal against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The Buccaneers won 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Despite a career performance by Greg Olsen, nine receptions for 181-yards, Carolina couldn’t overcome the four turnovers, penalties, and their own missed field goal. In a game that both teams tried to hand their opponent on numerous occasions, neither side could take advantage until the final drive. With the win, Tampa Bay enters into second place, behind Atlanta, and the Panthers fall to last in the division.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) runs as Carolina Panthers defensive back Robert McClain (27) defends in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
FIRST QUARTER: 3-0, TAMPA BAY
Tampa Bay took the opening kickoff and immediately initiated an opening drive committed to running the football. Despite knowing that the Panthers secondary had been vulnerable a week ago, the Buccaneers marched down the field on the back of third-string running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Throughout the game Rodgers was able to find running room against a defense designed to limit just that. Controlling the clock, the Bucs moved into field goal range on a 15-play, 58 yard drive that stalled in the red zone. Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo connected on his first attempt, giving Tampa Bay the lead after extinguishing 8:32 from the clock.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson (3) throws the ball during the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
SECOND QUARTER: 6-0, TAMPA BAY
The second quarter was the land of missed opportunity for both teams, leading to an overall ugly rendition of football. Following, the Panthers and Bucs owned the distinction of fewest points generated by halftime for the NFL this season, with neither team dominating on defense.
Cornerback Teddy Williams made arguably his greatest play as a Carolina Panther breaking up a pass intended for Vincent Jackson, forcing the Bucaneers first three-and-out. He followed it up with his worst play, running into punt returner Ted Ginn and handing the ball right back to Tampa Bay. Fortunately, the defense held as Aguayo clanked his second attempt off of the right upright.
Just three plays later, backup Derek Anderson would force a throw into Kelvin Benjamin that was tipped and intercepted. This time Aguayo was good from 35-yards out extending the Buccaneers lead.
Despite only 43 seconds remaining on the clock, Carolina would pull within field goal range but Graham Gano missed his 43-yard attempt wide left.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Cameron Artis-Payne (34) carries the ball during the third quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium. The Buccaneers won 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
THIRD QUARTER: 14-14, TIED
Finally, Carolina showed signs of life to begin the second half. A fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line was converted for a touchdown and the lead. After a three-and-out, the Panthers would march back down the field and Artis-Payne would get his second rushing touchdown.
The Carolina Panthers appeared to be waking up and returning to form, but it would be short lived. Receiver Mike Evans struck on a double-move around rookie corner Daryl Worley as Jameis Winston found him for the 26-yard strike. The Bucs elected to go for two, converted, and the game was tied.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) runs off the field after the game. The Buccaneers defeated the Panthers 17-14 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
FOURTH QUARTER: 17-14, TAMPA BAY
After the hot start to the third quarter, Carolina recessed back to first half action for the final frame. The final three Panthers’ drives resulted in a Derek Anderson fumble, interception, and three-and-out series.
After driving to the doorstep and a possible touchdown lead, the Panthers went play-action pass on first down and Anderson tossed a ball into double coverage.
However, Tampa Bay couldn’t capitalize as Aguayo missed his second field goal of the evening. With 1:49 remaining in the game Tampa Bay had the ball and drove down the field using time outs, both their own and some of Carolina’s, in route to a 38-yard field goal attempt for the win. Aguayo wouldn’t miss a third time splitting the uprights and sending Carolina to the basement of the division.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera argues a call in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium. The Buccaneers won 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Missed opportunities abounded during the game for both teams, but the Panthers didn’t help matters with their costly penalties. A false start in the first half led to the third timeout being used to avoid the 10-second runoff required. A late hit moved the ball 15 yards for the Bucs, though they would miss the eventual field goal. Finally, a facemask penalty added another 15 moving the ball in for a closer field goal opportunity on the final drive.
“We can’t be careless with the football, we can’t make mistakes and that’s what we did … Again, the disappointing part was that we came out and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had,” head coach Ron Rivera stated following the game.
While this week felt like a must-win game, the reality is that 11 games remain on the schedule for 2016. If Carolina can somehow win three in a row and get to 4-4 by the midpoint their playoff chances will remain. However, a third divisional loss and falling to 1-5 would likely end any hope for this year. Next week is critical.