Turning Point: Tampa Bay at Carolina
On Sunday, the Buccaneers traveled to rival territory in Charlotte, NC to battle divisional opponent Carolina Panthers.
The Bucs and Panthers have been on two different paths as of late. The books have lost two straight games and at the Panthers have quietly been climbing the rankings and stacking wins on top of each other to come within A game of the New Orleans Saints for the division lead. Both teams walked into Sunday’s game needing a win in the worst way.
For the Bucs , it was a chance to save the season and not dropped two games below 500. For the Panthers it was about keeping pace with the Saints and showing the NFL how dangerous their defense could be as well as the high power running attack thanks to Christian McCaffrey. The Bucs knew the Panthers are a Run-first team. They’re 2nd in the NFL with 138.9 rush ypg and 22nd in the league in passing
With roughing 225 ypg.
They also knew Christian McCaffrey was dangerous as a pass catcher as well, and he as well as the Panthers WR’s would be running sweep plays and reverses as they have many times this season. Still, the Bucs did nothing about it.
Honestly, The Bucs didn’t do much of anything. For an entire half. AGAIN. On their opening drive, the Bucs went 3 and out. They would force a Carolina 3 and out. But the first of many head scratching plays began on the Bucs next drive as QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started again for QB Jameis Winston, threw a horrific pick over Mike Evans and right to Panthers CB Eric Reid.
The Panthers would score a few plays later right up the gut for a 1-yard touchdown run. The bleeding for this reeling buccaneers defense would continue as they ended up down 14 points before scoring one of their own thanks to a 4 yard pass from Fitz to Howard to come within a touchdown. With what seemed to be a faster start soon dwindled back into the same routine as the last few weeks. The Bucs got gashed by a double reverse that went for 33 yards and a score, when 6 Bucs had a chance to tackle the Panther WR C. Samuel.
These huge chunk plays for the Panthers would continue as the Bucs had seemingly never seen reverses, sweeps or misdirection plays as the Panthers climbed themselves to a 35-7 lead before the Bucs would march down the field and the Fitz-Howard connection would strike again for a TD to bring the halftime score to Panthers 35 ( a Franchise record in points in a half), Bucs 14.
Down 3 scores at half, the Buccaneers still didn’t feel out of the game.
Why would they? They’ve been down by as many as 20 at the half before in week 3 against the Steelers and lost by 3. They were down 17 against the Bengals at the half and scored 4 unanswered touchdowns to TIE the game at 34.. and lost by 3. As the story of this seemingly second half team continued, so did their comebacks.
The Bucs would mount another comeback thanks to…Adam Humphries? With mike Evans locked down all game, it was 4th spot WR Humphries who had himself a game, with 8 receptions 82 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bucs would come within 7 points of the Panthers before they would strike a final time on a 17 yard pass from Newton to Greg Olsen. Down 14 with less than 6 minutes to play, the Bucs tried to claw their way back but a second Fitzpatrick int trying to connect with WR DeSean Jackson would end any hope of that.
The Buccaneers can’t seem to stop the bleeding on defense as it has been the turning point to EVERY game they have lost this season. Another 400+ yards given up, Wide open recievers, double-digit missed tackles, and STILL confusion in the secondary. While Mike Smith was fired and was to blame for some of this defenses woes, you have to begin to wonder if its the personnel. Do the Bucs have enough talent in the secondary? Should they have made some move before the trade deadline to back up their “win now mode” statement?
Well moving forward, the next 3 games are winnable on any margin. If they can pull off the upset agains the NFC east leading Redskins at home on Sunday, they will have the chance to move a game above .500 as they would then face the Giants and 49ers who have a combined 3 wins between them. The Bucs will have to “win now” to have any hopes of salvaging this season.