Tampa Bay's offense struggled throughout Sunday's loss to the Panthers, but especially on third down, where the Bucs went 1-for-10 against one of the league's toughest third-down defenses.
"To say we struggled on third down would be an understatement," coach Greg Schiano said. "We were non-effective. … I'm anxious to see the video. Didn't feel like there were a lot of people open and I felt like you're not going to have very long against that front to get rid of it, so if we don't get open fast, then we're going to have a problem."
The Bucs' only conversion came on third and 4 early in the third quarter, when QB Mike Glennon hit WR Chris Owusu for a 20-yard gain. Most of the third downs weren't so manageable —the Bucs needed 7 or more yards on seven of the 10 third downs, including five times needing 10 yards or more.
The key miss was inside the 5-yard line, when the Bucs, trailing 7-6, had third and goal and Glennon, scrambling left, had the ball slip out of his hands and Carolina recovered the fumble. Officially, it was one of three sacks by Carolina on third down, and the costliest mistake for the offense.
"The ball slipped out of my hand, and it really hurt us because we would have gotten at least three points in that situation," Glennon said. "Their red-zone defense is so good that we knew going into the game that we were going to need touchdowns, not field goals. That definitely hurt us."
Carolina came into the game tied for fourth in the league, allowing just 34 percent conversion on third down, while the Bucs came in averaging 35 percent conversions, tied for 16th in the league.
. Carolina's Cam Newton made big play after big play while the Bucs couldn't come up with consistent pressure, finishing with zero sacks and zero hurries.
"They game-planned us real well," DT Gerald McCoy said. "They actually didn't run what you'd expect. They threw a lot of stuff in there because I guess of how we've been playing against the run, changed a lot of stuff up."
In the first meeting with Carolina, the Bucs had three sacks. But Sunday, the Panthers were much improved in their blitz pickup, according to coach Ron Rivera.
"The offensive line has done a great job," he said. "They have worked very hard at picking up blitzes. I think there is a little bit of residual from what happened earlier in the year when we did give up some big plays. Our backs did a really nice job with the blitz pickup when they had to and then the tight ends (also)."
McCoy, who had three sacks against Atlanta two weeks ago, was held without a tackle of any kind. Despite playing without injured leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, Carolina ran for 163 yards, gaining 4.8 yards per carry.
Leading just 10-6 in the final minute of the first half, Carolina coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera took a calculated gamble, going for it on fourth and goal from the Bucs 1-yard line rather than kick a field goal. QB Cam Newton rewarded the confidence with a leaping touchdown, crossing the plane of the end zone just before the ball was punched loose.
"With the league rules, that ball clears the invisible line, it's a touchdown. So thank God for that rule," Newton said.
After timeouts by both teams, Carolina lined up with a huge line — offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner and Nate Chandler, each more than 300 pounds, lined up as tackles-eligible, with another tight end flanked outside each. Newton took a running start and leaped over the right side of the line, using his 6-foot-6 frame to stretch the ball across the goal before the Bucs poked it loose. S Dashon Goldson came down with the ball, but officials had signaled the TD.
"We knew that was coming. He just made a great play," LB Lavonte David said. "He put the ball over the goal line. Slim margin for one of us hitting it out. He got it over before we could hit it out. It's a split-second type thing."
Two other times — including the previous drive — the Bucs defense held at the 5-yard line, limiting Carolina to short field goals, but when the Panthers needed seven before halftime, Newton came through.
"I felt really confident and really comfortable in our ability right there," Rivera said. "To me, it was a point in the game where if you can score points going in, I think it sends a really good message."
The momentum swing gave Carolina a 17-6 lead with 25 seconds left in the half. Bucs DE Adrian Clayborn said even with good penetration from the defensive line, it's a difficult play to stop.
"(At the) 1-yard line, you get a good push, but when somebody's 6-6, he has a yard right there just reaching the ball," Clayborn said. "It was just too late."
. The Bucs' top two receivers had a promising start with 111 receiving yards in the first 16 minutes, but they disappeared the rest of the game as Carolina pulled away.
Tiquan Underwood had three catches for 51 yards in the opening quarter, helping the Bucs to a 3-0 lead, and Vincent Jackson caught a 60-yard pass from Mike Glennon in the first minute of the second quarter to the 4-yard line, setting the Bucs up for what looked like a sure lead.
But Carolina recovered a Glennon fumble, and Tampa Bay's top two receivers went dormant for much of the rest of the game, not catching anything until Jackson caught two short passes in the final five minutes.
"That's a good defense. During the course of the game, as a receiver, sometimes balls are going to come your way, sometimes they're not," Underwood said. "They did a good job. They took us out of our run game. We tried to stick with it for as long as we could, but when you're down, you have to start getting chunks and passing the ball."
Jackson, who did not speak to reporters after the game, had a big game two weeks ago against Atlanta, catching 10 passes for 165 yards and a score. But in the other four of the Bucs' past five games, he has a combined 10 catches for 185 yards and no touchdowns.
. On a day full of missed opportunities, the Bucs got interceptions from LB Lavonte David and S Keith Tandy but were only able to convert those takeaways into a combined three points.
The Panthers' Cam Newton had thrown only two interceptions in the previous three games combined, but the Bucs grabbed one early, as Tandy pulled in his team-best third interception on a pass that went high and through the hands of WR Brandon LaFell.
"The (defensive) line got good pressure on him, and the ball was thrown, and it went off the guy's hands and right to me," said Tandy, who saw the Bucs offense lose yardage after the turnover and settle for a 53-yard field goal by Rian Lindell.
Carolina had driven to the Bucs 22 in the third quarter when David picked Newton off at the 11, matching Tandy for the team lead with three. Again, the offense couldn't build on the momentum, as Mike Glennon was sacked on the next play, setting up a three and out.
Tampa Bay went into the game with 15 interceptions, one off the league lead, and the team's three interceptions returned for touchdowns are also one short of the league lead.
For the second week in a row, CB Darrelle Revis finished the game on the Bucs sideline, his immediate future unknown due to injuries to his shoulder and chest.
"I don't know much more," coach Greg Schiano said after the game when asked about Revis' condition. "He didn't return, as you saw."
Revis, who did not speak to reporters after the game, nearly had an interception on the first play of Carolina's second drive of the third quarter, but he couldn't hold onto the pass intended for WR Steve Smith and stayed down on the sideline. Trainers attended to him for a few minutes, then he walked off the field, with reserve Danny Gorrer replacing him the rest of the way.
On the previous drive, Revis was beaten for a 36-yard touchdown, as Panthers WR Ted Ginn made a stop-and-go double move, getting open behind Revis and catching the pass for a 24-6 lead. Revis, who missed the second half of last week's game at Detroit with a groin injury, was limited in practice but played and started Sunday, finishing with four tackles and one pass defensed.
"They'd been setting that play up the whole game. He was running curls," rookie CB Johnthan Banks said of Ginn. "You know how Rev plays. (Ginn) ran a double move, and most corners, double moves are hard to cover. They ran a double move, and he caught it."
. The loss combined with a win by the 49ers eliminated the Bucs from playoff contention.
. The Bucs faced second and long (10 yards or more) seven times. They ran the ball four times on those plays (for a total of six yards), threw the ball twice (for 18 total yards) and were sacked once. Only once (after a 10-yard pass) did the series result in another first down.
. Tight ends continue to give the Bucs fits on defense. This time it was Greg Olsen, who led all Panthers receivers with five catches for 85 yards.