Panthers kick units nothing special despite change
After firing special teams coach Brian Murphy on Monday and replacing him with Richard Rodgers, the Carolina Panthers special teams struggled again Sunday in the loss to Tampa Bay.
A fake punt failed.
Captain Munnerlyn lost a fumble on a punt return.
Justin Medlock missed a third straight field-goal attempt.
On the bright side, rookie punt returner Joe Adams played for the first time since the second week of the season and averaged 13.5 yards on two returns.
Munnerlyns mistake came early. After stopping the Bucs on three plays on their first offensive possessions, the Panthers gave the ball back when Munnerlyn lost a fumble at the Panthers 29 after being hit by Jacob Cutrera.
Im definitely disappointed in my play. I take pride on what Im doing out there, Munnerlyn said. I felt like I had to make a play because I felt like I put my team in a hole. Ive just got to hold on to the ball. I made a couple good moves and let the ball get loose from me.
Shortly before halftime, the Panthers had an opportunity to extend their 14-10 lead, but Medlock missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.
I just pulled it a little bit, Medlock said. I hit it pretty good and looked up and it was way off line. It went dead straight. Its disappointing.
After making his first seven attempts this season, including a 5-for-5 performance at Chicago, Medlock has missed his last three attempts.
Its really about getting into a groove. Its not happening right now and it needs to happen, Medlock said.
Ive been hitting the ball great. Its just one of those things. ... It was the only ball I missed all day. Even in warm-ups, I didnt miss one. Its got to get turned around fast.
Asked after the game if he will consider bringing in another kicker, coach Ron Rivera said it was a discussion he would have later.
On their first possession of the second half, the Panthers tried a fake punt from their own 41 with a direct snap to safety Haruki Nakamura. Shortly before the snap, the Bucs pulled two defenders in to the line of scrimmage from outside, and the play never had a chance, losing four yards.
One play later, Nakamura nullified the special teams gamble by intercepting a Josh Freeman pass deep in Panthers territory. Rivera said the fake punt, which called for Nakamura to throw a pass, has been in the Panthers game plan for more than a month.
What you would like to see is Haruki go ahead and call it off, Rivera said. What happened was by the time the snap was made, they had sent their guy out there to defend (the pass). So rather than throw it and possibly get it intercepted, Haruki said he pulled it down and tried to get what he could.
Newton hit: Quarterback Cam Newton was shaken up briefly during the third quarter after taking a hard hit while throwing an incomplete pass on the Panthers first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson began throwing warm-up passes on the sideline but Newton remained in the game.
It was all right, Newton said. I took a kind of unorthodox hit to my leg but it was temporary pain. Its all right. Its football.
Several other key Panthers left with injuries at various times but each returned. Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy collided in the backfield and both stayed on the ground for an extended time.
Hardy returned quickly after a leg injury, and Johnson went to the locker room before returning after taking a hit in the head.
Running back Jonathan Stewart suffered an ankle injury but continued to play in the second half.
Sitting out: The Panthers inactives were quarterback Jimmy Clausen, receiver David Gettis, safety D.J. Campbell, linebacker Jason Williams, offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges, tackle Bruce Campbell and defensive end Antwan Applewhite.
The Bucs inactives were running back Michael Smith, cornerback Danny Gorrer, defensive back Keith Tandy, linebacker Najee Goode, receiver Chris Owusu, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin and defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo.
There arent many more blatant unnecessary hits than the one Tampa Bay center Ted Larsen laid on Dwan Edwards near the end of Captain Munnerlyns 74-yard interception return for a touchdown. Edwards was doing what defensive linemen do on such plays he was laying on Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman to make sure he couldnt get up. Larsen blindsided Edwards, earning a bouquet of yellow flags for his hit.
• When officials initially announced Tampa Bay had declined an offensive pass interference call on Steve Smith on an apparent third-down touchdown in the first half, Bucs coach Greg Schiano rushed the field to clarify what the Bucs wanted when the Carolina players began signaling touchdown.
• It took Jonathan Stewart until Week 11 to get a rushing touchdown. Stewarts lone score of the season came in Week 2 on a pass from Newton, and his second-quarter 1-yard run was his first of the year.
By the numbers
Number of coin flips the Panthers have won this season in both pregame and overtime flips.
3 Number of career interception returns for a touchdown for Captain Munnerlyn, one shy of Mike Minters franchise record.
Number of overtime losses for the Panthers in 15 all-time overtime games.
Number of Panthers penalties, for 91 yards.
Cam Newtons passer rating, his second-highest in the past six games.
Staff writer Jonathan Jones contributed.