Bucs Make Late Comeback, Fall Short to Panthers 20-14


Sep 7, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson (3) is pressured by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun the season 0-1 after falling to the Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers by the final score of 20-14.

For most of this game, it wasn’t that close.

Cam Newton was inactive with a rib injury, so Derek Anderson got the start for the Panthers and lit the Bucs’ defense on fire. He found an early rhythm with tight end Greg Olsen and used that connection to put Carolina’s first touchdown on the board. That score came after a Josh McCown interception.

The Buccaneers had an extremely hard time getting anything to go their way offensively. Carolina’s front seven is as good as advertised, and Tampa Bay struggled to get the running game going. Doug Martin, who is expected to be the Bucs’ main contributor in the backfield, had only nine yards on nine carries. He suffered a lower body injury during the game, but returned to limited action.

Tampa Bay combined for 102 rushing yards, but 54 of them came on one carry from fullback Jorvorskie Lane. Josh McCown threw an interception following the big play.

In the passing game, Josh McCown went 22-for-35 with 183 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Those two interceptions are the turnovers that led to Carolina’s touchdowns, which was the story of the game.

Late in the game, McCown was able to muster up enough offense to give the Buccaneers a chance to win. The first Buccaneer points of the season came with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter as McCown found Chris Owusu for the 19-yard touchdown pass.

The Buccaneer defense made a key stop as Gerald McCoy got his first sack of the year on a key third down for Carolina to give the Buccaneers the ball back with just over four minutes left in the game. Solomon Patton returned the Panthers’ punt to give Tampa Bay great field position as the offense took the field once again.

McCown found Mike Evans in the back of the endzone for another score, but it was called back after it was determined that Evans hadn’t established himself back into the field of play after stepping out of bounds. It was a controversial call, because Evans was laying on his back when he made the reception, and no part of his body was out of bounds.

On the very next play, however, the Bucs made amends for that as McCown found Bobby Rainey out of the backfield for six yard touchdown pass that made it a 17-14 game with 2:06 left to play. The Buccaneers had all three timeouts left.

On the ensuing Panther possession, Derek Anderson dropped back to pass on third and nine, was pressured and made a throw off balance that went right into the hands of Bucs’ safety Dashon Goldson, but the former Pro Bowler was unable to make the catch for the interception. If he holds on, Goldson likely takes it into the endzone to give the Buccaneers the lead. Instead, the Panthers punt, which leaves the Bucs at their 30 yard line.

With just over a minute left, McCown passes to Rainey, and the backup running back fumbles the football and gives the Panthers the ball right back. Carolina hits a field goal with 20 seconds left to make the score 20-14, and the Buccaneers were unable to make a big play in that short amount of time, and the Panthers avoid the scare and walk out of Raymond James Stadium with the victory.

Head coach Lovie Smith lives and breathes off of turnovers, and the Buccaneers lost the turnover battle today. The Panthers didn’t turn the ball over all game, and Bucs turnovers gave the Panthers 17 of their 20 total points. That’s not going to get the job done, especially when you are playing a team with possibly the best front seven in the NFL.

Josh McCown, for four-fifths of this football game, did not play like a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. Granted, his offensive line did not give him much time. But even on plays when he had time to throw, he was hesitant and sporadic in his decision making, and it cost the Buccaneers the victory today. If Tampa Bay plays a cleaner game in the first half, we might be talking about a Bucs win right now.

One aspect of the game that the Buccaneers did not exploit enough was the height of their receivers. Not many jump balls were thrown to Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, or Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and their height could have created mismatches to make the offense run a little bit easier. Instead, their passing attack was inconsistent.

While the defense got the stops late, we cannot ignore the fact that they let a backup quarterback come onto their home field and pick them apart. Derek Anderson finished the day 24-of-34 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers had a stable of backs that carried the load very well, and they were able to set up the pass. Anderson’s play action passes to tight end Greg Olsen were huge. Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin had a great NFL debut as well, catching six passes for 92 yards and a score.

Overall, if I’m the Buccaneers, I’m encouraged by the way the team fought back at the end of the game. However, if they don’t play an absolutely abysmal first half, this is a game they should win. Sadly, the team came out of the gate playing a poor and inconsistent brand of football, which allowed the Panthers to dominate the field of play. While experts and fans expect a lot from this team in 2014, today showed that there is still growing pains, even when switching to an experienced head coach like Lovie Smith. And while things did not go their way today, it can easily be turned around next week against the St. Louis Rams.