The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a beating from the Carolina Panthers in their final game of the season, losing 38-10 and locking up the last place in the NFC South in the process. The Bucs are now the first team since the AFL-NFL merger to finish last in their division for five straight seasons (h/t JC de la Torre).
Cam Newton had a field day against the Bucs, completing 21 of 26 passes for a whopping 293 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers, adding another two short touchdowns on the ground. He was sacked four times, and the Bucs defense forced two fumbles, but those were only small speed-bumps in a dominant game for the Carolina offense.
The Bucs trailed 24-3 after failing to convert two goal-line opportunities at the end of the half, and didn't look like they were going to get back into this game at any point afterward. While Jameis Winston put up a nice fight at times, his two interceptions (one of them arguably Cameron Brate's fault) ended any chance the Bucs had. A muffed punt on Bobby Rainey made matters even worse.
This game was an ugly end to an ugly month for the Buccaneers, who finished the season 0-4 after being in position to grab a playoff spot. Jameis Winston struggled the past four games, while the defense regressed and Doug Martin could no longer be the foundation of the offense he was earlier in the year. Lovie Smith has to be feeling some of the heat after these games, although the lack of reports and rumors that he's in danger make it unlikely that he'll be fired tomorrow. We've seen the Glazers do some unexpected things, though.
First quarter notes
The Panthers got the ball on offense first, which gave the Bucs a chance to show off their new secret plan: start Mike Jenkins instead of Sterling Moore. He promptly got burned and pulled out his signature move: celebrating a wide receiver dropping a big pass while he's somewhere in the vicinity. That drop, a Lavonte David sack and another good blitz for a sack by Keith Tandy forced the Panthers to punt after nearly scoring a touchdown, though.
The Bucs were forced to punt after a drive that saw Jorvorskie Lane carted off with what looked like a compound fracture, but they got the ball back quickly: Alterraun Verner punched the ball out of Devin Funchess' hands, and Lavonte David recovered. That led to a quick field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Second quarter notes
That 3-0 lead didn't last that long, as Cam Newton drove down the field with the runs and short passes the Bucs have struggled with all season, bulling his way into the endzone for a 1-yard touchdown to cap it off. After a Bucs three-and-out the Panthers seemed to get into position to extend their lead after a ridiculous tipped deep pass to Devin Funchess. A successful Lovie Smith challenge overturned a third-down conversion a few plays later, though, forcing Carolina to settle for a field goal and a 10-3 lead.
A big throw to Mike Evans had the Bucs set up to get back into scoring position, but Jameis Winston threw the ball straight to Thomas Davis down the field on the very next play. That led to the next touchdown, with Cameron Artis-Payne running it in to cap off the drive. That gave the Panthers a 17-3 lead -- and just a few plays later, the Panthers found Jerrico Cotchery in the endzone for a 24-3 lead.
That's right: the Panthers went from a 3-0 deficit to a 24-3 lead in one quarter. Good job, Tampa Bay!
Jameis Winston was in position to soften the blow with a good two-minute drill, but two goal-line throws fell incomplete to end the first half. For what feels like the thirtieth time this season, Mike Evans was not targeted in that situation.
Third quarter notes
The Bucs started the third quarter with a punt, but at least got the ball back quickly thanks to the team's fourth sack of the game. Except Bobby Rainey muffed the punt, and Cam Newton ran in his second touchdown of the day for a 31-3 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach.
That didn't stop the Bucs from playing hard, though. Jameis Winston drove the Bucs down the field, helped by a 30-yard Doug Martin run and a few solid plays from Charles Sims, and Winston scrambled into the endzone to cap the drive. The Bucs then got the ball back when Lavonte David caused and forced a fumble on a big gain, his third big play of the game.
Fourth quarter notes
The Bucs drove down the field to at least make it a competitive fourth quarter, but an interception on a route where Cameron Brate fell down ended those hopes. To make matters worse, the Panthers then drove down the field to make it a 38-10 game. Yeah. Ugly.
The Bucs drove down the field one last time and looked to at least soften the final score-line a little bit, but Mike Evans then got two personal fouls for "disrespectfully addressing an official" and was ejected from the game, leaving the Bucs with a third-and-36 and unsurprisingly, not a touchdown.
Fullback Jorvorskie Lane had to be carted off in the first quarter and did not return. The injury was serious enough to require an air cast, so that's definitely not good.
Linebacker Danny Lansanah suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return.
The Bucs head for the offseason, and the question will be: will Lovie Smith lose his job? There have been no indications that that'll be the case, but an 0-4 finish to the season in increasingly embarrassing losses won't help his case.