Buccaneers 19, Panthers 22: Observations and reactions

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs with the ball against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs with the ball against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Buccaneers once again fell apart when it counted most, losing 22-19 to the Panthers on a last-minute touchdown. Here, we have observations and reactions from Tampa Bay’s fifth straight loss.

48. 22. 87. Final. 19

Another Christmas Eve game, another disappointing loss for the Buccaneers. Last year, it was a disappointing, dream-killing loss in New Orleans. On Sunday, it was another last-minute collapse that led to a 22-19 loss in Carolina. Let’s get to some reactions.

Observations and Reactions- General

-The Bucs have no real clue how to finish. That was the theme of Sunday’s loss, as the offense struggled to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. Then, it was the defense failing to finish off an otherwise-strong performance by allowing a late touchdown drive to send Tampa Bay to another loss.

-The Bucs shot themselves in the foot with penalties all day. Even on a late drive where they needed to kill clock, the offensive line was called for at least two false starts. Overall, the team was flagged twelve times for 72 yards.

-If it weren’t for turnovers and red zone struggles, the Bucs very likely would’ve dominated this game. They outgained the Panthers 392 to 255 and stifled the Carolina offense for most of the day.

-The all white look isn’t good. That’s all.

Observations and Reactions- Offense

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-Personally, I didn’t want Jameis Winston to come back this season after the Bucs were eliminated from playoff contention. I thought it made more sense to let him fully heal and rest up for next year, since there was nothing on the line. I was wrong. Since his return and especially in the last two weeks, he has been spectacular.

-The third-year quarterback faced extreme pressure on Sunday, but still stepped up and made some huge throws. He completed 21 of his 27 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown. His three fumbles were unfortunate, but at least two of them came from the offensive line’s ineptitude. His playmaking ability shined.

-If you watched Winston the last two weeks and still think he isn’t a franchise quarterback, you’re lost. He isn’t the problem even one bit.

-Winston’s touchdown pass tied him with Dan Marino for the most touchdown passes before reaching the age of 24. His 300-yard day was his fifth this season, which marked a new Buccaneer record.

-Speaking of pressure, the makeshift offensive line is a problem. Even when fully healthy, the offensive line wasn’t so good this year. But now? It’s downright dangerous. The line allowed six sacks and killed all hope of a last-minute comeback from Tampa Bay.

-The Bucs got production from a variety of receivers on Sunday, which was good to see with DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard sidelined. Mike Evans led the way with six catches for 107 yards. It was his first 100-yard game since Nov. 27, 2016.

Chris Godwin got a start on Sunday and went for 98 yards on three catches. He had a key drop in the end zone at the end of the first half, but overall, it was a good day for the rookie.

Freddie Martino stepped up with two catches for 57 yards, while Adam Humphries hauled in three for 51.

Bobo Wilson even got in on the action, pulling in his first career touchdown on his first career catch.

-Of course, as there are every week, there were some questionable calls from Koetter on Sunday. Just one instance:

-What was the point of giving Doug Martin carries on Sunday? He had six for seven yards. Thankfully, Peyton Barber got the start and ran for 51 yards on thirteen carries. However, when Tampa Bay needed to run the ball to kill the clock, Martin was getting the ball. It made no sense whatsoever, unless Barber was shaken up.

Observations and Reactions- Defense

-Even with a number of injuries all over the defense, the Buccaneer defense put up another good performance on Sunday. Tampa Bay’s offensive struggles in the red zone made this game closer than it should’ve been. The defense deserves tons of credit for stepping up against Cam Newton and company on Sunday.

-Regardless, the defense lost this game. Tampa Bay was in position to win, needing just one last stop. These guys were getting stops all day, so one more wasn’t going to be a problem, right? Wrong. It never fails. That is three straight games that the defense gave away in the final minutes.

-On Carolina’s game-winning drive, Chris Baker jumped into the neutral zone on fourth down and three. How does that happen? Baker has been nothing but a disappointment this year, which is frustrating considering Tampa Bay’s pass rush problems.

-Newton had thrown for under 100 yards before the game’s final drive. The defense really stepped up for 58 minutes, but fell apart in the final two. How many games has the defense given away in the final minutes these last few years? Too many to count.

Gerald McCoy is a stud. He is playing through a bicep injury because he just cares so much. Early in Sunday’s game, he fought through the line and picked up his sixth sack of the year.

Kwon Alexander came up with an interception on a ball that Chris Conte knocked loose. Alexander is still playing lights out and even Conte is delivering to an extent.

Must Read: Spotlight on Mike Evans

Observations and Reactions- Special Teams

Patrick Murray connected on four field goals in Sunday’s game, but his miss from 51 yards out will be the one that everyone remembers. The miss set up Carolina’s game-winning drive.

Bryan Anger punted just one time on Sunday and it went for 50 yards. Nothing to see here.

-Will Gholston blocked another kick on Sunday, the fourth of his career. It was on an extra point this time around, but regardless, his knack for getting through the line has been impressive.

-The Bucs allowed a 103-yard kick return in the first half, which turned out to be one of just two touchdowns for the Panthers. Missed tackles were a big reason why.

Final Thoughts

What a disappointment. The Buccaneers deserved to win that game, but one final stop from the defense was too much to ask for, apparently. Sure, Tampa Bay struggled in the red zone and experienced some woes on special teams. The problem is, the Bucs were still in position to win the game. Late-game collapses are a frightening pattern for this franchise, especially in recent years. Regardless, some good things happened on Sunday. Jameis Winston played another lights-out game, aside from his fumbles. Chris Godwin and Freddie Martino stepped up, while Mike Evans put together a great day. Overall, the Bucs have some very good pieces to build with. But there is heavy work to be done in the trenches. The offensive line is dreadful and the defensive line still isn’t getting pressure. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The loss doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things. It actually helps Tampa Bay’s draft position. Bradley Chubb. Oh, did the North Carolina State edge rusher’s name slip in right there? It sure did. Tampa Bay will finish up its letdown of a season next week. Isn’t that a nice Christmas gift by itself? Of course it is. In all seriousness, this game is over. Let’s all forget about it. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and have a Happy New Year, Bucs fans.

Next: Buccaneers Round Table: Who's next for the Ring of Honor?

The Buccaneers finish up their season at home on New Year’s Eve against the New Orleans Saints (11-4). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.