Panthers 27, Buccaneers 6: Takeaways & observations

Two streaks met Sunday in Charlotte, and the better team extended the run. No drama was needed. This wasn’t close.

Don’t the Carolina Panthers look like an NFC contender? They won their eighth consecutive game, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw their three-game winning streak snapped with a thud.

Rightly so, many people are talking about the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. But the Panthers handled the Bucs better (twice) than those NFC favorites. Carolina has the look of a team that could make a deep postseason run.

On Sunday, the Panthers controlled a familiar NFC South foe, after an odd second-quarter fumble by quarterback Mike Glennon in the red zone. In addition to Glennon’s struggles, the Bucs’ running game was limited. Upset hopes were dashed fast.

The good news for Tampa Bay is this: Carolina no longer appears on the schedule.

Here are a few thoughts and observations from the Bucs’ 27-6 loss at Bank of America Stadium.

1. Glennon had his worst game in awhile.

One of the most impressive things about Glennon’s ascent in recent weeks was his ability to limit turnovers. Tampa Bay had gone seven games without committing more than one turnover, and the rookie entered with 13 touchdowns to only four interceptions.

Carolina’s defense has become one of the league’s best during its run, so this figured to be Glennon’s biggest test since Tampa Bay’s uptick began. That prediction held true to form. Glennon was intercepted in the third quarter, but his inexplicable fumble in the second was the game’s turning point.

What if Glennon hadn’t committed that costly mistake? It’s interesting to consider. A short field goal would have given Tampa Bay a 9-7 lead and plenty of momentum after a competitive start.

Instead, Carolina was given a chance to extend its lead, and Tampa Bay never had an answer. Missed opportunity.

2. Cam Newton made life tough for Tampa Bay’s defense.

It’s obvious that Newton, now a third-year pro, has made improvements in his game. He’s a more confident runner, and the Panthers aren’t afraid to take chances on offense because they trust his ability to stretch a play.

He ripped the Bucs for 221 yards passing, 50 yards rushing and three total touchdowns in a Week 8 victory at Raymond James Stadium. He posted similar numbers Sunday — 18-of-29 passing for 263 yards, 68 yards rushing and three total touchdowns — and it’s safe to say the Bucs are glad they won’t see big No. 1 on their schedule any more this fall.

It will be interesting to see how Newton performs when more is at stake late in the season. He still has room to grow as a passer, as shown by his two interceptions Sunday. But the Panthers should be confident with their ability to be a long-term threat in the NFC because of him.

3. The Bucs’ running threat has lost momentum.

After big days against Seattle, Miami and Atlanta, Tampa Bay’s rushing threat stalled against the Detroit Lions last week (22 yards on 24 attempts). The Bucs didn’t fare much better against Carolina (66 yards on 20 attempts), and there should be questions about why.

Tampa Bay showed it was physical enough to blow defenses off the ball most of November, but for whatever reason, that level hasn’t continued of late.

Bobby Rainey finished with 63 yards on 17 carries. He had more room to run in the second half, but the Bucs should be concerned with how anemic the rushing threat has been the past two weeks. The struggle places more pressure on Glennon, who showed he’s not good enough to beat a team of Carolina’s caliber with his arm alone.

4. Newton had too much time to work.

One of the most important numbers of the day was zero, as in the times Newton was sacked. The Bucs reached him for three in their first meeting this season, and they had to match or surpass that amount to have a chance Sunday.

Of course, that wasn’t done. The Bucs’ defensive front is better than what it showed here. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was a non-factor most of the day, and the defensive ends didn’t do any better. It’s hard to beat a streaking team like the Panthers when the opposing quarterback’s jersey doesn’t get dirty.

5. How will the Bucs respond to adversity … again?

So much for the winning streak. What’s next? The Buffalo Bills are beatable next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, but the Bucs must not allow this stinker to linger.

This was the first time in awhile that the Bucs looked overmatched. There’s no shame in losing to Carolina on the road — really, who had Tampa Bay winning this one? — but you’d like to see the Bucs stay competitive late in the second half. That didn’t happen, and it sets up a situation where the Bucs must collect themselves quickly.

The blowout also offers a chance to recall how rare results like this have been. For all the Bucs bluster this season, they have remained mostly competitive. Before Sunday, you could point to two games they had no chance winning: A 23-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 3 and a 31-13 loss to the Panthers in Week 8.

This was a step back, certainly. But it doesn’t have to lead to more damage.

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