Panthers Come Up Short in Tampa, Lose 21-18 to Bucs

It’s been an eventful week for the Carolina Panthers with the firing of Frank Reich, Duce Staley, and Josh McCown kicking the week off on Monday. Owner David Tepper has been criticized left and right in the sports media news cycle. There were distractions abound but there was still business to handle. Sitting at 0-2 in the NFC South, the Panthers traveled to Tampa with hopes of adding to the win column and salvaging some semblance of respect within the division. The Buccaneers haven’t necessarily been stellar themselves; sitting at 4-7 on the year and chasing the Atlanta Falcons.

The first half offense was unspectacular on both sides with quarterbacks Bryce Young and Baker Mayfield – both No. 1 draft picks – failing to reach 100 yards passing. Jaycee Horn was back in the lineup for the first time since the season opener and was in coverage on the big 40-yard reception on third down by Mike Evans that set up the first score of the game.┬áRachaad White ran it up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead. Carolina responded with a 23-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro to draw within four points 13:30 left in the first half. The teams traded punts up until safety Xavier Woods intercepted Baker Mayfield with 2:22 left before halftime. It was the defense’s first turnover since Week 8 but it was all for naught when the offense got the ball and moved backwards, punting from their own 34 three short plays later. They went into the intermission down four points still but looking forward to getting the ball first in the second half.

The half started off slow with Carolina punting on their first two possessions before scoring the go ahead touchdown set up by 31 yard reception by Jonathan Mingo. Running back Chuba Hubbard punched it in from inches out to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead. That turned out to be short-lived; 10 short seconds to be exact. On the first play of the Bucs’ next possession, Evans beat backup cornerback Troy Hill for a 75-yard touchdown to regain the lead with 4:54 to play in the third quarter. It was Evans’ 11th career touchdown against the Panthers – the most he has against any opponent. On the point after attempt, Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns was disqualified after taking a swipe at lineman Cody Mauch. Two possessions later, the Bucs increased their lead when Chris Godwin raced 19 yards for his first score of the season, making it 24-10 in favor of the Bucs with 11:36 to play in the game. With the struggles of this Carolina offense, being down two scores almost guarantees another loss.

However, on a make-or-break fourth down, Young took a shot downfield and connected with DJ Chark for 30 yards for first-and-goal from the 8 yard line. Two plays later, Hubbard powered it in from a yard out for his second score of the game. A face mask penalty gave the Panthers two shots at the two-point conversion attempt and they were successful; cutting the lead to three points with 5:02 to play. The defense forced the Bucs to punt, getting the ball back to the offense with 3:31 to play. After runs by Hubbard of 5, then 4 yards, the Panthers decided to throw on two straight downs with only a yard needed to continue the drive and give themselves a chance. On fourth down, Young targeted Adam Thielen too late and was intercepted by Antoine Winfield Jr., ending any hopes of a comeback or a divisional win.

Young finished 15-of-31 for 178 yards and one interception while being sacked four times. Mayfield finished with 202 yards, one interception, and one touchdown on 14-of-29 passing. Hubbard finished with two touchdowns and 104 rushing yards, making him only the second player to rush for over 100 yards on the Bucs defense this season. The loss drops the Panthers to 1-11 on the season and officially eliminates them from the postseason. Next, Carolina travels to New Orleans hoping to avenge their Week Two loss to the Saints.

Sheena Quick
Sports mom/accountant/life-long athlete and lover of all sports.