Game 9: Panthers 24, Bucs 10
For most of the first half, the Bucs had us fooled. A 7-0 lead. Stout defense. Then came a streak of three Bruce Gradkowski turnovers in seven plays.
The Panthers, appreciative of the Bucs' largesse, scored 17 points in the third quarter. And that would be plenty against the Bucs' all-thumbs offense.
The Bucs are 2-7. The grateful Panthers are 5-4 and a game behind Atlanta.
The Monday Night Football planners surely envisioned a marquee matchup when they looked to Nov. 13.
Carolina, a team on many preseason short lists for the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay, the defending division champ with 21 of 22 starters returning.
Well, the Bucs have fallen off the marquee.
Here are some notable stories from Monday's St. Petersburg Times:
- Gary Shelton puts out an all-points bulletin for the Glazers. Where are they?
- Rick Stroud has a Q&A with general manager Bruce Allen.
- Stroud also says the Bucs' stressed offensive line, and rookie tackle Jeremy Trueblood in particular, faces a tall order in Julius Peppers, right.
- Stephen F. Holder provides a scouting report.
Here's one near-certainty: Barring an unlikely turnaround, the Bucs will not be playing on a Monday night next year.
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Our announcers are Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser.
- Now for something completely different: a Bucs first down on the first possession. Michael Clayton makes amends for a drop with a crisp catch-and-run on a quick slant.
- And another oddity: a Mike Alstott carry.
- Correction on Theismann: This is not Cadillac Williams' offense. (Remember that eight-carry game?) It's Jon Gruden's offense.
- Ratzinfratzit. One of those squandered opportunities where you feel there goes the Bucs' best chance. Two beautiful ball fakes, but Bruce Gradkowski misses Joey Galloway -- open by five yards, fer crissakes -- near the goal line.
- Oh boy. Steve Smith vs. Torrie Cox? That's not fair. On 3rd-and-long, though, with Cox isolated on Smith again, Carolina strangely calls draw play. The Panthers' offensive coordinator will get a Christmas card this year.
- Not throwing to Smith is the same as not giving Jimmy Chitwood the last shot in Hoosiers. (Coach Norman Dale thought about it, but Jimmy said, "I'll make it.")
- Add Keyshawn Johnson to that card list. Ronde Barber strips him. Bucs ball.
Bucs 7, Panthers 0. Whoa, Nellie! Gradkowski to Ike Hilliard. For only the second time this year, the Bucs take a first-quarter lead. (The other time? Bucs at Saints.)
- Despite the Bucs' 31st-ranked offense and its inadequacies, Gradkowski has seven TD passes to one interception. Also, this note: On the Bucs' official website, on Gradkowski's personal page, there is no mug shot. "Image not available," it says.
- Another one of those third-down throws short of the first-down marker. Criminy!
- Would mentioning that the Bucs defense looks pretty feisty be the same as talking about your pitcher's ongoing no-hitter? All right, I won't mention it.
- Ronde sees Steve Smith sitting near the first-down stick and leaves Keyshawn to come up and tackle Smith. A yard short. Nice.
- Three consecutive disruptions by Peppers. He's a beast. And "disruptions" should be an official statistic. Can't be any worse than a hurry.
- A beautiful Josh Bidwell punt, great coverage and Panthers penalty amount to a 60-yard kick. Panthers lose another chance at field position.
- Whoa, nice open-field tackle of Smith by Torrie Cox.
- Third-and-2. Barrett Ruud, playing for the injured Shelton Quarles, stuffs the run.
- Haven't seen the screen in a while. This one to Alstott is a beaut.
- Sweet third-down throw by Gradkowski, nice route and catch by Hilliard and then a heady move by Hilliard stepping between Clayton and Panthers DB Chris Gamble. No flags. First down Bucs at the Carolina 47.
- So much for prosperity. The bomb to Clayton is underthrown. Interception by Ken Lucas.
- Ronde ties Donnie Abraham for the franchise record with his 31st career interception.
- And Gradkowski responds with another brutal, unforced error. Another pick in the red zone. Gradkowski has left perhaps 14 points on the field.
Cadillac, 8 carries, 20 yards;
Allstott, 2 carries, 2 catches, 2 first downs;
Galloway, 2 catches, two huge missed opportunities;
Hilliard, 3 catches, touchdown;
Gradkowski, 11-of-20, 110 yards, touchdown, 2 interceptions;
Jake Delhomme, 9-of-14, 74 yards, interception;
Keyshawn, 3 catches, 18 yards, fumble.
- On a third down, Steve Smith leaves Juran Bolden flat-footed twice on a long gain.
- Jermaine Phillips' mediocre year continues with a missed interception that becomes a Keyshawn catch.
Bucs 7, Panthers 3. Bucs defense takes the Steve Smith haymaker and then shows resolve. What's the over-under on Smith fly patterns for the rest of the night? I say three. Well, wait a minute. The camera shows Smith politely barfing on the sideline. Yes, politely. He covered his head with a towel.
- From selfish to sieve. Fumble at midfield. Gradkowski gives away the football for the third time in seven plays. Positively Dilferish.
- Wonderful adjustment and catch by Keyshawn. But he's out of the end zone.
- Who's more dangerous than Steve Smith after catching that 3-yard stop? Ask the turf-eating Torrie Cox.
Panthers 10, Bucs 7. No pass rush and Delhomme finds Keyshawn in the back of the end zone.
- The positive spin? Another chance to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Ehhhhhhhhhhhh, no.
- Spotted a creamsicle Lee Roy Selmon jersey in the stands. I miss Lee Roy but not those jerseys.
- I feel like Gradkowski got suckered. Panthers show blitz. Gradkowski looks for quick slant. Panthers lineman knocks down ball at line.
- Great play by Dewayne White. He stays home on the reverse and gets Smith on the ground.
- Philip Buchanon's debut as a punt returner is a mess. Negative yards.
- Cadillac fumbles off Davin Joseph's butt. The fact is, the Panthers have no business winning this game. Gruden, pacing on the sideline like a man in a padded cell, just said, "Four (expletive deleted) turnovers." Well put.
Panthers 17, Bucs 7. You can taste the depression, can't you?
- Consecutive muffs by Cadillac. To paraphrase Keyshawn: Catch the damn ball. But no worries, his drop is nullified by Trueblood's tripping penalty.
- Panthers lineman pimp-slaps Joseph in front of the ref. Thank you, that's 15 yards.
- Say this for Cadillac: He never, ever runs easy. But he's stuffed on 3rd-and-short.
- It's nowhere near as frustrating as the Bucs offense, but I believe Carolina has been penalized on each of its punt returns.
- What's that Godfather line about reeling you back in? Two completions to Galloway and the hopelessly lost Bucs are at the Carolina 12.
- Kornheiser points out that Bucs haven't won a game in which they trailed by 8 or more points since 2000. (I must have heard him wrong. Couldn't find it among 2000 victories.)
- Third-and-10 at Panthers 12: Ah, the underneath route for 2 yards.
Panthers 17, Bucs 10. Bryant's aim is true. Bucs need Jake to spit the bit.
- There's no two ways about it: The defense needs a stop, but that's two first downs.
- Three first downs, and the clock will be at 2 minutes before the Bucs offense might see the ball again.
Panthers 24, Bucs 10. Smith blows by Ronde. Was Ronde gambling or counting on help? Eight catches for Smith for 149 yards. Bucs are the ones puking now. Theismann suggests Jermaine Phillips missed an assignment. I hope not. After the Saints debacle, his career may be in jeopardy.
- Peppers ends it with his third sack.