CHARLOTTE — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the NFL's reigning MVP, wasn't super except as a spectator Monday night, out with a concussion.
The Bucs had several megabucks stars lining the sideline and also out of uniform. Running back Doug Martin, defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald and defensive end Robert Ayers all were out with various injuries.
How soon those players come back — with the real possibility each could return after the bye week for the Oct. 23 game at San Francisco — could affect the Bucs' fortunes.
Martin, who has not played since suffering a hamstring injury at Arizona in Week 2, has a good chance to return against the 49ers. The Bucs need him to carry the mail. Tampa Bay's ground game has hit one roadblock after another.
First, Martin was hurt. Then Charles Sims injured his knee against the Broncos and on Monday was placed on injured reserve. Depending on how he rehabs, he could be designated for return the final five games of the season.
McCoy, a four-time Pro Bowl player, was inactive for Monday night's game with a calf injury along with McDonald, who suffered a hamstring strain in practice last week. Ayers has been out since Week 2 with a high ankle sprain. They had combined for four of the team's nine sacks heading into Monday.
In fact, six undrafted rookies were in uniform for the Bucs on Monday, and two of them started on the defensive line — DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward.
The Bucs' first four opponents were 13-7. The schedule will make a slight turn for the better. After traveling to San Francisco (1-4), the Bucs have three consecutive games at Raymond James Stadium against the Raiders (4-1) on Oct. 30, the Falcons (4-1) on Nov. 3 and the Bears (1-4) on Nov. 13.