The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have beaten the Carolina Panthers handily, had their offense shown up. Instead, the Bucs lost a close game in ugly fashion, 17 to 3.
The Bucs were coming off a stellar offensive and horrible defensive performance against the Buffalo Bills, and we were expecting them to continue that trend. Instead, we found the exact opposite: the Bucs defense was absolutely dominant against Cam Newton, even though they were missing their top two cornerbacks.
Vernon Hargreaves had what may have been the best game of his career, while Ryan Smith was impressive on the other side. At safety, rookie Justin Evans continued to show off his considerable talent, while Chris Conte grabbed an interception and made a few other impact plays.
The Bucs held the Panthers to just 17 points, and stifled Cam Newton and company for most of the game. And yet they couldn’t win, because the offense didn’t show up. Jameis Winston had one of the least productive games of his career and simply couldn’t move the ball until it was too late in the fourth quarter. And while he moved the ball then, he turned it over when they got into scoring range.
On three occasions it seemed like the Bucs offense was finally ready to get going, when Winston turned the ball over. To be fair, he got hit while attempting to throw on two of those occasions. Still, Winston had a terrible game, especially by the standards he set this year.
Winston came into the game nursing a shoulder injury, and finished completing just 21 of 38 passes for 210 yards, the vast majority of which came too late in the game to make a difference. His top receiver was Cameron Brate, catching four balls for 64 yards. Doug Martin at least had a reasonably productive game, with 18 carries for 71 yards.
The Carolina Panthers weren’t offensive juggernauts by any means in this game, but they got enough done to win the game, particularly in the red zone. A one-yard Jonathan Stewart touchdown gave them an early lead, and a late Kelvin Benjamin catch sealed the game.
All of that leaves the Bucs with a 2-5 record, their first division loss, and no realistic playoff scenario in sight. They can afford to lose maybe one game the rest of the way if they want to make it to the postseason for the first time in a decade. Instead, we may have to start talking about coaches’ job security and the NFL draft before long.