CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One play Sunday typified the Bucs' performance against the league's hottest team.
From the Carolina 4 with a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon rolled to his left looking for an open receiver in the end zone, cocked his throwing arm and watched in disbelief as the ball slipped backward out of his hand, creating a fumble recovered by the Panthers.
It was one of those blooper-reel plays that will be good for a few giggles on the NFL highlight shows and has a chance to become a classic like Lucy pulling the football away before Charlie Brown can kick it.
But in Sunday's 27-6 loss, it meant only this: The Bucs have to do more to help the 23-year-old Glennon because sometimes he is simply going to drop the ball.
"I don't know if it was as much of a step back as much as he maybe looked a little more like a rookie than he's looked," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of Glennon, who was sacked five times, threw only his second interception in seven games and lost the fumble.
"The ball slips out of his hand going to his left. It's an awkward deal and unfortunate, but it happened. I guess everybody, including yours truly, sometimes doesn't have a great day."
Not one phase of the Bucs game had even a mediocre day. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns and took flight over the goal line. The Tampa Bay offense was outgained 426-206 and converted only 1 of 10 third downs.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Bucs, who at 3-9 clinched their second straight losing season under Schiano. In eight quarters against the Panthers, who won their eighth straight to improve to 9-3, Tampa Bay's offense reached the end zone only once.
"They beat us," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who didn't register a tackle. "Physically, mentally, every facet of the game, they just dominated us."
To make matters worse, for the second straight week, cornerback Darrelle Revis failed to finish the game, this time suffering shoulder and chest injuries during a pass breakup in the third quarter.
Newton, whose 56-yard run set up his 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell in the first quarter, wasn't perfect. He was intercepted by safety Keith Tandy and linebacker Lavonte David.
But you don't tug on Superman's cape. Facing fourth and goal at the Bucs 1, he took a shotgun snap 5 yards deep, got a running start and leaped into the end zone for a 17-6 lead with 25 seconds left in the first half.
"Why do we show up today and not perform the way we're capable of?" Schiano asked rhetorically. "We needed to play better. I did not see it coming."
The Bucs managed only field goals of 27 and 53 yards in the first quarter by Rian Lindell, who later missed from 48 yards. They rushed for only 66 yards on 20 carries (3.3 average) and had half as many first downs (10) as the Panthers (20).
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By the time Newton hit Ted Ginn on an out-and-up over Revis for a 36-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to make it 24-6, the game was essentially over.
Said Tandy, "We just weren't tackling the way we've been tackling all year."
In two games against the Panthers, the Bucs were outscored 58-19. Glennon was forced to attempt 51 passes in the 34-13 loss at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 24. On Sunday, his receivers struggled to get open, his linemen didn't protect and the running backs had nowhere to run.
Even when things went right — such as a 60-yard pass to Vincent Jackson — they went wrong. Jackson was tripped up by cornerback Drayton Florence at the Carolina 4, eventually leading to Glennon's laugh-track lowlight.
It was the first of two turnovers for the league's rookie of the month for November after throwing seven touchdown passes and only one interception in the previous four games.
"The first (turnover) wasn't a careless mistake; just the ball slipped out of my hand, and it really hurt us because we would've gotten at least three points," Glennon said. "And the second one (on a deep pass to Jackson), I should've just thrown it away. But you know those are situations I will learn from, and I'll be better for it."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.