Carolina Panthers

Grading the Carolina Panthers in their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston might be nothing special for an NFL quarterback, but he didn’t have to be Thursday to beat the Carolina Panthers.

The Bucs’ ground game, built around running back Peyton Barber, kept gashing the Panthers up the middle, and Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett got to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton repeatedly for a 20-14 victory at Bank of America Stadium.

Grading the Panthers in a 0-2 start to the season:

Passing offense

C-minus: So much for the “Can Cam Newton still throw downfield?” debate. He found Curtis Samuel for a 44-yard gain in Carolina’s second possession and Greg Olsen over the middle for 41 yards in the third quarter. The problem was more pass-protection, with Barrett getting to Newton in the pocket frequently in the third quarter, and drops in the fourth quarter. Tackle Daryl Williams couldn’t do anything to slow down Barrett and was called for a third-quarter hold that was declined.

Rushing offense

F: The Panthers needed one yard from the 2-yard line to keep what would have been a game-saving drive alive, but Christian McCaffrey was pushed out of bounds for a change of possession. Newton’s third-quarter fumble at midfield on a designed running play was a big momentum swing, after a Bucs holding call had negated a Newton interception.

Passing defense

C: Cornerback Donte Jackson kept getting burned by Bucs receiver Chris Godwin, who caught all five of the passes Winston threw his way in the first half. The most costly was a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter that negated the Panthers’ first lead of the season. Rookie Brian Burns got his first NFL sack in the first half. Winston broke out of a sack in the third quarter and it was costly — leading to a 24-yard completion to Godwin.

Rushing defense

D: Linebacker Luke Kuechly’s tackle for a safety early in the fourth quarter was classic, and he had 10 tackles in the first half. However, the Bucs gashed the middle of the defense in the third quarter, when Tampa Bay assembled a long drive ending with Barber’s 16-yard run. Winston kept that drive alive with a nine-yard scramble to the right sideline into the red zone.

Special teams

C-plus Two muffs by punt-returner Ray-Ray McCloud (both recovered) aren’t things the Panthers can tolerate, but McCloud made up for those bobbles with a 39-yard return in the second quarter. Placekicker Joey Slye scored all the Panthers’ first-half points, including a 54-yard field goal to end the half. Chris Hogan returned a free kick off the safety 24 yards.


F: Ron Rivera lost a challenge on a spot, off a Newton run early, but it’s possible with cameras limited by weather issues that Rivera’s challenge was right and the camera angle just wasn’t available. Rivera challenged a play in the fourth quarter — contending pass interference should have been called — but the review didn’t change anything and cost the Panthers an important timeout. Penalties keep being a problem; Samuel had an offensive pass-interference and Williams had a hold on a drive to midfield that ended up in a punt. The Panthers burned a 30-second timeout on a fourth-and-one, apparently because they didn’t like the play. The new play was no better, with Newton unable to get the ball to Samuel.