Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers report card vs. Bucs: Defense making A’s a habit

Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game against at Tampa Bay:

C Quarterback: Cam Newton was pretty average – one TD, one interception and a 66.4 passer rating. But Newton was clutch on the Panthers’ first TD drive he had four of the five successful third-down conversions. Newton ran for a first down and threw for the three others.

B- Running backs: Christian McCaffrey caught five more passes and became the Panthers’ single-season receptions leader with 49. Jonathan Stewart’s 1-yard TD run was his first of the season. Cameron Artis-Payne had an 11-yard gain in his first real action.

C+ Receivers: It was mostly a blase day for the receiving corps until Kelvin Benjamin skied in the end zone for a 25-yard, put-away TD catch. It was Benjamin’s first game in his home state since his mother died last summer. Newton took four deep shots that fell incomplete, including three to Devin Funchess.

B Offensive line: The Panthers’ line protected Newton well, allowing no sacks for the first time since a Week 1 win at San Francisco. The run blocking was better, although DT Gerald McCoy was a handful for the guards. Right guard Trai Turner left in the second half after aggravating his left knee injury.

A Defensive line: Julius Peppers had a strip-sack against Jameis Winston, marking the 15th time in 16 seasons he has notched at least sevens sacks. Mario Addison had 1.5 sacks, and Kawann Short had a tackle for loss and a hit on Winston.

A Linebackers: Luke Kuechly had six tackles and an interception in his return from the concussion protocol. Kuechly also recovered a fumble. Thomas Davis added six tackles, including one that drew a personal foul penalty. Shaq Thompson wasn’t on the field as much as the Panthers played more traditional nickel.

A Secondary: The defensive backfield kept the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense in check. CBs James Bradberry and Daryl Worley held Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson to 60 and 37 receiving yards. Mike Adams had the first interception by a defensive back this season, and nickel Captain Munnerlyn was effective blitzing.

A Special teams: Michael Palardy helped swing field position by averaging 50.4 yards on seven punts, with a 47.1-yard net. Four of his punts were inside the 20, and one backed the Bucs up to their 3. Kaelin Clay took over the punt return duties from McCaffrey and averaged 7.3 yards per return. Russell Shepard had a 33-yard kick return.

B Coaching: Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks had a good game plan for Winston, and picked his blitzes well. Mike Shula called more deep throws for Newton, but probably could have mixed in a few more play-action passes. The Panthers reached midseason at 5-3 and look like a playoff team.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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