The Bucs were the better team for most of the very low-scoring and field goal-dominated game. They led 19-15 with three minutes remaining, and that significantly understated their dominance, particularly in the second half.
Jameis Winston had a particularly outstanding game, despite an offensive line that was barely holding it together. Winston completed 21 of 27 passes for 359 yards and one touchdown. He did fumble the ball three times, although one of those appeared to be the center’s fault as it occurred at the snap. The one problem: the Bucs couldn’t really get the ball in the end zone.
With DeSean Jackson out with injury, other Bucs receiver had a chance to step up. Chris Godwin had a big game, with a 71-yard run-and-catch as his highlight-reel play. Mike Evans put up over 100 receiving yards, while Freddie Martino and Jesus “BoBo” Wilson passed 50 receiving yards, with Wilson catching the team’s lone touchdown. Meanwhile, Peyton Barber turned into the Bucs’ primary running back, with 51 yards on 13 carries.
The defense was stout, too. The Panthers kept marching down the field, but could only score field goals, while the defensive line even got to Cam Newton a couple of times. The Panthers’ only touchdown until the final two minutes came on a kickoff return. In fact, Newton had a terrible game in the air, barely cracking 100 passing yards and throwing one interception to no touchdowns until the final drive.
That final drive is where everything fell apart. With three minutes left in the game, the Bucs were leading 19-15 and set to ice the game. But rather than trying to put in the dagger, the Bucs settled for a 51-yard field goal—which was missed by Patrick Murray, leaving the Panthers with a short field and plenty of time to win the game.
And win it they did. Cam Newton found the holes in the Bucs defense that he’d been unable to see in the first three quarters, and led the Panthers down the field. Chris Baker gifted them the game by jumping into the neutral zone on a fourth-and-short at the goal-line, and the Panthers turned that opportunity into a game-winning touchdown. Jameis Winston’s third fumble then sealed the game for the Panthers.
Overall, this was a pretty strong performance out of the Bucs, who have played close game after close game in the past month. But, as was the case in the previous four games, the Bucs simply couldn’t turn their quality play into an actual win in the end.