Kicking troubles again
On a day when the Bucs could have used offense in any possible form, they saw K Connor Barth miss two attempts, including a 36-yarder that hit the left upright. He later missed a 42-yarder in the fourth quarter that would have made it a one-possession game.
After tying a league mark by becoming just the third kicker to convert three kicks longer than 50 yards in the same game Nov. 15 at Miami, Barth has been spotty. He is 3-of-6 since.
"The one that hit off the upright didn't feel that bad," he said. "I thought it was going to squeeze in. The last one, I just left my hips open, and you can see it just went off to the right a little. It was a bad day at the office, and all you can do is keep pushing."
Barth is the team's third kicker this season after Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus were cut for poor performance. Morris was not pleased Sunday.
"We'll go back and look at the tape and see what the problem was and get with him and see what's going on," he said of Barth. "He didn't kick the ball off well, either. We'll evaluate the young man."
Bryant's banner day
It will likely be lost in the shuffle of another loss, but WR Antonio Bryant notched the team's best receiving performance of the season, catching five passes for 116 yards. He had a pair of sideline-straddling receptions that put his athleticism on display, including a 40-yard grab that was ruled a catch after a replay challenge.
And something that was telling about the team's play-calling was the fact that Bryant was targeted 11 times. A week ago in Atlanta, he was thrown just four passes and made a point to speak out in the media about it.
Sunday at Carolina, he was satisfied with his level of involvement in the game.
"That's what it should look like," Bryant deadpanned.
Bank of America Stadium was the site of one of Bryant's best performances, when he wowed a Monday Night Football audience in December 2008 with 200 yards on nine receptions, including a one-handed touchdown grab that made all the highlight reels.
Bryant said he never took his complaints to the coaching staff, nor did he put pressure on QB Josh Freeman to get him the ball. He does it more subtly than that.
"I just give a little input on what I see and what I know about the guys who are covering me, the tendencies and behavior I see out there," Bryant said. "That's kind of what I relay. I try not to really say too much to the quarterback. I don't want to be in his ear in a negative manner because maybe the way I deliver it might not come off the right way. So, I just let it get to him slowly but surely."
Bryant notched his 14th 100-yard game. This season, he has 12 receptions of 20 yards or more.
Clifton clobbered one more time
Bucs return specialist Clifton Smith can't catch a break against the Panthers. For the second time against them this season, Smith sustained a concussion, this one coming on the opening kickoff and knocking him out of the game. Smith was on the coverage team as the Bucs kicked off, but he said he took a blow to the head from an opponent's knee, leaving him dazed for quite some time. This one, Smith said, paled in comparison to the hit he took against the Panthers in October when he was slammed into by Dante Wesley while fielding a punt. Wesley was suspended and fined for that illegal hit, and Smith missed the Bucs' game against New England in London with recurring headaches.
"It really is nothing compared to the last one," Smith said. "I feel a lot better this time." But given the increased scrutiny on concussions leaguewide, it's conceivable Smith could miss a game this time, too. Coach Raheem Morris said it was too early Sunday afternoon to speculate about next week. Rookie Sammie Stroughter replaced Smith and had five kickoff returns for 129 yards (including a 33-yarder) and a 16-yard punt return. He had a longer punt return negated by a penalty.
Caddy revs up
Bucs RB Cadillac Williams came close to the team's first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, finishing with 92 yards on 17 carries, including a 25-yard run.
"We basically got a body on a body," Williams said of the blocking effort. "The offensive line started coming off the ball, and we started scheming things a little better, and it gave myself and Derrick Ward some running room."
But few of those opportunities came in the red zone, where the Bucs repeatedly failed to convert drives into points. That is, in part, because the Panthers were showing fronts that seemed favorable to throw against.
"I would like to have run the ball more in the red zone, but we have a big-time quarterback," Williams said. "(The Panthers) were doing some things where they were giving us the looks we wanted, but we just didn't make the plays."
Bucs bailed out
The Bucs caught a break — sort of — when the Panthers called a timeout just before the expiration of the play clock on a bizarre play in the fourth quarter. Facing fourth and goal at the Panthers 3 and trailing 13-6, the Bucs initially ordered the field-goal unit onto the field. But seconds later, coaches changed their minds and decided to try for the touchdown. It was not an effort to be deceptive, said C Jeff Faine, above. It was more a matter of indecision. All the while, the play clock was running. Once QB Josh Freeman got under center, it became clear the Bucs were not going to get the play off in time. But the Panthers, scrambling to get the correct personnel in the game, called timeout at the last second. "Yes, they kind of bailed us out," Faine said. "There was no kind of deception. (Coaches) were just torn between what to do, and once we decided, it was too late." It all became moot on the ensuing play. Freeman threw an interception to SS Chris Harris to end the drive.
D buckles down
The Bucs gave up 75 yards to Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart on his first nine touches and seemed headed for a repeat of the past two meetings with the Panthers when they allowed three individual 100-yard rushing performances, including two in last season's Monday Night Football debacle. But this time, the defensive line settled in late in the first half, and the Panthers struggled to get much afterward. Stewart finished with 120 yards on 26 carries, but he had 45 yards on his final 15 attempts (3 yards per carry). "We gave up some runs in the beginning, but we had it set up perfectly," DT Ryan Sims said. "We just missed the tackles. We just plain missed. We knew that once we made those tackles, it wasn't a matter of a guy just running free. Once we got that solved, I thought we did it right. I thought we played solid." Said DT Chris Hovan: "You can't arm tackle Jonathan Stewart. Once we realized that, we were fine and we were able to get it going."
• DE Tim Crowder's sack in the second quarter gave him 31/2 for the season, 21/2 of those coming in the past two games.
• The Bucs' 469 yards of total offense marked the most by the team this season. The previous high was in their season opener against the Cowboys (450). They set a season high with 315 net yards passing, and their 154 rushing yards were second best this year.
• With four catches, Kellen Winslow now has 58 receptions, within four of tying Jackie Harris' single-season club record for a tight end set in 1995.
• Among those inactive: CB Aqib Talib and WR Michael Clayton, both injured.