TAMPA — For all the mystery surrounding it, the Bucs offense turned out to be an open book, an easy read Sunday.
As a result, the Carolina defense trampled the run, got pressure on nearly every pass and were threatened only once down the field in a 20-14 win over the Bucs.
After throwing two interceptions in his first 16 passes, quarterback Josh McCown rallied in the second half with two touchdown passes to bring the Bucs within a field goal by spreading the field with one back and three or four receivers.
But there was no balance between the run and pass, and except for a two-minute drill at the end of the game, no dizzying, up-tempo component as promised.
"This is a journey to find out who we are and you do that every week and there's 16 games and we're going to find out," McCown said. "You get to a season and you start to figure it out."
What might help is offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who returned to full-time duty at work Monday. He was out two weeks after a coronary angioplasty to have two stents placed in an artery near his heart. Tedford served as an "extra pair of eyes'' in the coaches' box Sunday for quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who called the plays.
Tedford conducted the offensive meetings Monday, coach Lovie Smith said, and will call plays Sunday against the Rams.
It couldn't get much worse. The Bucs had only 15 plays, two first downs and 84 yards in the first half against the Panthers. Running back Doug Martin was held to 9 yards on nine carries.
"First of all in the first half, we didn't have the ball enough," Smith said. "In order to establish an identity, you have to have the ball. And I don't think any team has an identity until you get to the season and then you see what you're going to be. What you can do. And it changes each day, each game.
"(Sunday), what we wanted our identity to be was we wanted to establish the run, which would open up other things for us. We weren't able to do that."
The biggest problem that has plagued the Bucs' offense is the revolving door at guard. Since the start of training camp, seven guards have spent significant time with the first-team offense. Two — Jace Daniels and Jamon Meredith — are no longer on the roster. Meredith signed with the Colts.
Logan Mankins, acquired in a trade with the Patriots last week, suffered a hyperextended knee and deep bruise in the first quarter and did not return. Smith provided no updates Monday but said Mankins is confident he will play.
"Logan has been injured before and he feels like he'll be able to go," Smith said.
"It does hurt you when you lose one of your starting guards right away. But that can't be a reason. So what we want to be is we want to be able to do what we need to do that day. I'm talking about some days you need to run the ball. Some days, the run isn't there, you have to be able to pass the ball. We talk about balance, so if you ask me what we'd like to be? We'd like to be a balanced offensive attack."
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McCown's two interceptions both led to Panther touchdowns drives. Meanwhile, the Bucs defense failed to produce a turnover despite facing backup quarterback Derek Anderson.
"Josh and our offense would like to have those two interceptions back," Smith said. "Both of them led to points. You can't do that. You have to protect the ball. It's about ball security."
Smith said the Bucs' biggest improvement on offense should come between the first and second regular-season games. Tedford will be back calling plays and it's his offense, so the identity should eventually be revealed.
"We're not there yet," Smith said. "But we'll figure out how to win football games eventually. Sometimes you have to keep sparring, but eventually you find out exactly who you are and what you need to be successful. I just think at the end (of the game) we at least were on the road to that."
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.