TAMPA — After 10 games, the Bucs were 5-5 and had 20 takeaways, tying them for the fourth-most in the NFL in a statistic central to coach Lovie Smith's defensive philosophy.
In the past five games the Bucs have just one total takeaway, fewest in the NFL, and the team went 1-4.
"You go through spells like this is all I can say," Smith said Monday about his worst turnover drought in 11 years as a head coach. "We're stressing it. We're not stressing it enough. We're preaching it. We're not preaching it enough and we're not executing it enough."
That's unlikely to change in Sunday's finale at Carolina. The Panthers lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-19, and in the past seven games Carolina has just five turnovers — one interception against 19 touchdown passes, with four lost fumbles.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Bucs play their final game Sunday, but Smith said his defense is "not a finished product." Asked why this defense hasn't executed his scheme as well as past defenses, Smith said it was because of personnel, something to address in the offseason.
"The way you get a finished product is, first off, you have to have the type of player that you are looking for at every position," he said. "We're not there yet. When I talk about not being able to rush one-on-ones and beat someone or cover, it's that. … You continue to build and you strengthen some positions and we need to strengthen more. After 15 weeks, that's the conclusion I've come to."
RUN DEFENSE: The Bucs let the Bears rush for 174 yards in Sunday's defeat, the most of any opponent since the Texans in Week 3. The run defense has been a source of pride for the Bucs, who now face the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense in the Panthers, who average 144 yards per game.
"They came out and ran the ball well, something we pride ourselves in stopping," LB Danny Lansanah said. "When you can't stop the run, nine times out of 10, you're going to lose the game. For them to come out and be able to run the football like they did, it was surprising to all of us. At the end of the day, we didn't get the job done."
STEPPING UP: Keith Tandy filled in for the injured Chris Conte at safety Sunday, had a career-best 10 tackles including a tackle for loss on the game's first series. "You could say I was in a zone, but we're just trying to finish the year out strong," Tandy said. "We weren't playing for the playoffs, but you always have that pride that any time you go out on the field, you want to win the game. That's what I was trying to do."
THIS AND THAT: The Bucs had a season-low four penalties Sunday, so they're now not the most penalized team, one behind the Bills with 138. They've set the team record for penalties in a season, and can set the team mark for penalty yards with 7 against Carolina. … Sunday's game at Carolina was flexed to the 4:25 p.m. window and will air on Fox (Ch. 13 locally). … RB Doug Martin trails Minnesota's Adrian Peterson by 64 yards for the NFL rushing title. … The league fined DE Will Gholston $8,681 last week for unnecessary roughness Dec. 17 against the Rams. He appeared to kick at a Rams player on the ground; Gholston said his leg was "in a vise" between the players' legs and he was only trying to free himself.
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.