Final Grade: D
This unit looked suspicious at first and then began to emerge as the solid unit they were the past few weeks. Luke Kuechly is going to be a great linebacker as he was all over the field but like everyone else on that side of the ball with him, he was unable to make the big stop when it mattered most.
Linebackers Thomas Davis and James Anderson will need to be cautious about their level of physicality as both had hits that were costly. Davis' more so because it resulted in the game tying drive to continue.
This defense is still a good unit but given the outcome and how they played in the late minutes of the fourth quarter and into overtime, its gut-wrenching to give them a higher mark. They crumbled at the worst possible time.
Overtime Grade: F
There is no other way to grade the defense than by marking them down for a failure in overtime. It seemed as though they had nothing left in the tank after making their presence known throughout most of the game.
The lack of pressure on Freeman and the huge chunks of yards given up through the air slowly killed the chances of a Carolina victory. The inevitable was sealed when Dallas Clark was hit with the game winning touchdown.
Frustrating and disappointing may be mild terms to describe this ending.
4th Quarter Grade: C-
What started in the third period ended with a huge stop and fumble recovery by the Panthers in the end zone, ending any scoring chance by the Buccaneers. That was probably the biggest stop of the year for this young defense. That play alone could be the difference in the game's outcome.
The defense bended but it did not break. They were pushed deep into their own territory but only gave up a field goal which allowed the Panthers to keep the lead with a little over 4:00 to play. They will need the offense to chew a lot of clock to make their job a lot easier.
Carolina couldn't hold Tampa's offense as they drove down the field and scored a touchdown. Afterwards, they were fooled on play action as the Bucs tied the game. This is disappointing for a unit that looked very solid for most of the game.
3rd Quarter Grade: B+
Carolina's defense is still motivated as they forced a three and out on Tampa Bay's first drive of the second half. Josh Freeman has been taken out of rhythm and unable to make his throws. This is the tempo the Panthers need to maintain in order to win this one.
A botched special teams trick play was erased as Haruki Nakamura picked off Josh Freeman returning possession over to the Panthers.
The Carolina defense has looked amazing on short yardage situations. They have really brought it on third and short. This could be prove to be vital in the long run.
The closing minutes of the quarter featured a seesaw effort between the Carolina defense and Tampa offense. The Panthers played physical but were unable to make a stop before the quarter ended. At least they didn't give up any points.
2nd Quarter Grade: A
It seems the score has revitalized the defense as they have been physical to start the second quarter and getting the Bucs to punt early in the quarter.
There is good news and bad news at this juncture of the game; Greg Hardy has returned but Charles Johnson is still be evaluated. It hasn't affected the Panthers much since Frank Alexander is providing good defense and the secondary is making plays by defending passes and not getting beat.
Charles Johnson is back on the field and that should be motivating the Panthers to keep playing hard defensively. He is definitely back as he was able to get good pressure on Freeman and forced him to throw an incompletion. Not to be outdone is Hardy who is making his presence felt as well.
The Panthers didn't allow a score in the second quarter and because of the improvement they showed with Johnson and Hardy down for a few plays, they get a higher grade for the period.
1st Quarter Grade: B-
Not a bad way to begin their first defensive series. The Panthers gave up a huge gain on first down but then recovered to force the three and out.
Doug Martin is a strong runner and Josh Freeman made the most out of an opportunistic turnover by the Panthers. It is hard to hold giving up a score to Tampa against the Carolina defense but this unit has stepped up before so its still a bit disappointing.
Give the defense a little bit of credit. They held on their third series forcing the Bucs into a field goal situation. Luke Kuechly is doing his part and making his presence felt today. He leads all defensive rookies in tackles which is a positive given the Panthers poor season.
The defensive situation isn't looking good as both Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson were hurt on the Bucs' fourth offensive series. Hopefully, it is nothing serious but if these guys go down or miss significant time, both the defense and the team is in a lot of trouble. However, Captain Munnerlyn atoned for his earlier mishap and intercepted Freeman, taking the ball all the way back for the touchdown. The only thing that made this play stand out other than the score was the penalty accessed against Carolina after the fact. At least, the Panthers got the score.
This unit will receive the high mark for the first quarter because they have at least given their team a chance to stay in this one despite the miscues.
The unit that keeps getting better. These guys have figure it out at the right time, but unfortunately subpar play from the offense has kept the Panthers out of the win column. Despite the losses of Jon Beason and Chris Gamble for the year, Carolina has played very well defensively.
Rookie Luke Kuechly is making a strong case for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Thomas Davis has shined in his return from a nagging knee injury. Josh Norman continues to grow in the secondary and should be a bit wiser in this second meeting with Tampa.
Josh Freeman needs to be mindful about the defensive line as both Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have been terrorizing quarterbacks lately. If there is something we will probably see a lot of against the Buccaneers, it will be a constant blitz off the edges.
Another area that needs to be monitored closely is the emergence of Doug Martin as a feature back in the Tampa offense. The young man has been solid running the ball all year, and against a defense with a lot of question marks in stopping the run, he could have a big day.