C Quarterback: When Cam Newton throws interceptions, the Panthers lose. That was the case this past year during Newton’s record-breaking rookie season, and it was the case again Sunday. Newton’s interceptions on consecutive third-quarter possessions killed the Panthers’ momentum and sullied his 300-yard passing effort.
INC. Running Backs: Tough to grade this group, considering the Panthers pulled the plug on the running game before halftime. DeAngelo Williams had nowhere to run, and tied a career low with minus-1 rushing yard. The Panthers also tied a team mark in rushing futility with 10 yards on 13 carries.
B Receivers: Just about everyone chipped in. Steve Smith caught seven passes for 106 yards and tight end Greg Olsen added six catches for 56 yards. Brandon LaFell had the Panthers’ lone touchdown, while Louis Murphy pulled down a 51-yard catch that was the game’s longest play.
D Offensive Line: The line struggled against the Bucs’ changing fronts, getting no movement in the running game early and allowing Newton to be sacked three times late. In between, there were costly penalties by veterans and rookies alike. Overall, a sub-par performance from a unit that’s supposed to be a strength.
B- Defensive Line: After allowing Josh Freeman to get comfortable in the first half, the front four generated pressure in the second half. Newcomer Dwan Edwards and Greg Hardy each had a sack on plays where DE Charles Johnson forced the issue.
C Linebackers: The linebackers were biting on Freeman’s play-action fakes in the first half, leaving gaps in the middle of the zone coverage. After a strong preseason, first-round pick Luke Kuechly was mostly a non-factor. Thomas Davis, with his thrice-rebuilt knee, had the biggest hits and plays among the ’backers.
C Defensive Backs: Cornerback Chris Gamble and free safety Haruki Nakamura were out of position on some key third-down conversions. Rookie corner Josh Norman drew a pass interference penalty that was the biggest play – yardage-wise – on a Bucs’ field goal drive.
F Special Teams: The Panthers’ supposedly beefed-up special teams allowed a blocked punt that set up the Bucs’ final score. Ron Rivera said miscommunication allowed Aqib Talib to come off the left edge and smother rookie Brad Nortman’s punt. Seems special teams are good for one of these plays a game.
D Coaching: For a season with such high hopes, the Panthers somehow came out flat. Ron Rivera and his staff took too long to adjust to the Bucs’ defensive schemes. And even with Jonathan Stewart out and the run game struggling, it seemed like Rob Chudzinski gave up on the run too soon. Joseph Person