Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
C Quarterback: Cam Newton’s lone interception was not his fault (see below). But that doesn’t mean he played well. Newton held the ball too long in the pocket waiting for receivers to get open. But he was money on the final drive, which he capped with the game-winning, 2-yard TD run.
C Running backs: Christian McCaffrey caught everything thrown his way, but couldn’t shake loose for any long gains in the run or pass games. Jonathan Stewart was invisible, with seven carries for 19 yards and one reception for minus-1 yard.
D Receivers: Brenton Bersin’s drop in the third quarter resulted in a Kwon Alexander interception. Devin Funchess, who was questionable with a shoulder injury, was a nonfactor. He had three catches for 11 yards – all of which were in the first quarter.
D Offensive line: The line did a decent job protecting Newton, but it wasn’t as stout as the first meeting vs. the Bucs. Newton was sacked twice, although he had good protection during the game-winning drive. The run blocking was so-so.
A Defensive line: The defensive line was responsible for five of the six sacks on Jameis Winston. Julius Peppers had one of them, along with a pair of fumble recoveries. Kawann Short’s strip-sack on Winston with 30 seconds left sealed it.
C Linebackers: Playing without emotional leader Thomas Davis, this group seemed to lack its usual fire. Luke Kuechly had eight tackles, although only three were solo stops.
F Secondary: The defensive backs did a poor job making plays on the ball and gave up way too many big gains. Winston threw for 367 yards, but fumbled three times. James Bradberry had flags thrown at him all day, picking up two pass interference calls on one fourth-quarter drive alone.
B Special teams: The special teams were nothing if not eventful. Damiere Byrd’s 103-yard kickoff return was the longest in team history. Michael Palardy’s fake-punt pass drew a pass-interference flag. Graham Gano made three FGs, but had a PAT blocked.
D Coaching: Ron Rivera has done a remarkable job of keeping his team’s focused through a slew of off-the-field distractions. But that was not the case Sunday. The Panthers were outplayed in virtually every area by a four-win team, and we’re still trying to figure out what Mike Shula’s game plan was.