Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay.
D Quarterback: Cam Newton talked coach Ron Rivera into letting him stay in the game. It was admirable, but maybe not the best decision given that Newton couldn’t make all the throws (particularly the deep ones) in the offense. Newton’s sore shoulder – and his game – need a sabbatical.
B-minus Running backs: Jonathan Stewart kept running hard – even when the Panthers were out of the playoff chase and when the holes weren’t there. Sunday was no different, although Stewart had at least one bust in protection that led to Newton getting sacked.
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B Receivers: Kelvin Benjamin’s up-and-down season ended on an upswing with two strong games vs. Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Benjamin caught six of the seven passes thrown at him – for 93 yards and a touchdown. Greg Olsen’s slip on the 2-point conversion was emblematic of the Panthers’ season.
C Offensive line: Left tackle Mike Remmers had a holding penalty and at least one protection issue in what might have been his final game with Carolina. The line simply didn’t have the depth this season to overcome the losses of Ryan Kalil and Michael Oher.
B-minus Defensive line: Mario Addison, Kony Ealy and Wes Horton each had a sack vs. Jameis Winston. Horton’s caused a fumble, which rookie DT Vernon Butler recovered. But the overall pressure was only so-so.
C Linebackers: Second-year linebacker David Mayo made the most of his opportunity, finishing with seven tackles. Thomas Davis nearly had an interception. With a quarterback hit and a pass breakup, Shaq Thompson showed again he needs to be on the field more.
A Secondary: The Panthers found a good corner in James Bradberry, who had an interception and two other pass breakups. Safeties Michael Griffin and Kurt Coleman combined for 15 tackles.
D Special teams: Graham Gano missed three of four field goals in the worst single-game performance of his career. Punter Michael Palardy did a serviceable job subbing for Andy Lee after the veteran was injured. Kawann Short blocked a Roberto Aguayo field goal.
C Coaching: Rivera made everyone watching at Raymond James Stadium and at home happy by going for two points at the end. With Newton hindered by his shoulder and backup QB Derek Anderson back in Charlotte with a sickness, offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s hands were tied a bit in terms of play-calling.