Buccaneers vs. Panthers: Final Grades, Analysis for Carolina

Charles Edwards@@CEdwards80Contributor INovember 18, 2012

Buccaneers vs. Panthers: Final Grades, Analysis for Carolina

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    The Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a tough, hard fought game that resulted in a thrilling win for the Bucs and a heartbreaking, frustrating and disappointing loss for the Panthers.  Carolina falls to 2-8 as Tampa improves to 6-4. 

    Expect a lot of fallout from this game in the upcoming week.  It seems that there may not be too many safe jobs following a loss like this and owner Jerry Richardson may want to make a statement as soon as possible.

    Until then, here are the final grades for the Panthers in their loss to the Buccaneers.

Cam Newton

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    Final Grade: B

    Newton had a good game and despite a low completion percentage, he did not turn the ball over.  He finished 16 of 29 for 252 yards and one touchdown.  As usual, he employed his skills on the ground as he rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries.

    He has no reason to be down on himself as was solid in this one.  He made throws when it mattered and had a good pocket presence as he disregarded pressure in order to make plays.  It's disappointing to see the game end the way it did for him.

    Overtime Grade: N/A

    4th Quarter Grade: A

    Newton had the best series of the game as he stood tall in the pocket and found his receivers.  He was able to move the ball down the field finding Smith and LaFell for long receptions, the latter of which netted a touchdown increasing the Carolina lead to 11 points. 

    He hasn't been very accurate by any means but he is playing well enough to win this game.

    Newton made a great throw to Louis Murphy in order to extend the drive and at the very least allow Carolina the chance to burn the clock well below the two minute warning.  He was unable to extend it any further after a nice run that set up 4th and one. 

    Regardless of the outcome, he showed sound decision making in this game.

    3rd Quarter Grade: C+

    Newton looked a little shaky in the first drive of the half but did have a nice throw to Brandon LaFell.  Unfortunately, it was well short of the first down.  His line did him no favors as he was pressured twice during the short lived series.

    Even when Newton makes a great throw and picks up a lot of yards, his work is undone by a penalty which not only kills the play but adds five or 10 more yards to the previous down.  It has to be frustrating but he is trying to settle in and find his targets.

    What's working: throws to his receivers.  What's not working: the delayed hand off to Williams.  The latter has been causing all sorts of chaos for the Panthers and as a result has kept them from moving the ball with purpose in the third quarter.

    2nd Quarter Grade: B

    Carolina's first series on offense in the second quarter started out well and the Cam Newton seemed to be making some good decisions.  He was even aided with a little help from the Bucs in the form of a pass interference call that set up first and goal.  The good news here is he seems relaxed, focused and enjoying himself out there.  He needs to keep that mentality to keep his team moving in the right direction.

    Newton picked up where he left off as he has been making plays and picking up yards.  He had a nice throw to Louis Murphy which was dropped but otherwise has looked sharp.  His only mistake was the delayed hand off to DeAngelo Williams on what appeared to be a read option.  The end result was a small loss in yards.  He had a nice pass to Smith in one on one coverage but Smith pushed off to catch the ball sending the Panthers back. 

    In his final drive of the period, Newton looked good with moving the ball himself and being a game manager.  Unfortunately, he was unable to get a score for his team but that is due to the clock more than anything.   He gets a bump in grade for a bounce back quarter.


    1st Quarter Grade: C

    Newton didn't get off to the great start he was expected to entering the game.  He threw a nice completion for an early first down to Steve Smith but was inaccurate afterwards.  Hopefully, the quarter looks upon Newton a little more favorably.

    Different series, same story for Newton's second appearance on the field.  He targeted Greg Olsen twice only to overthrow him both times.  He really needs to work on his accuracy and learn to put some touch on the ball for his not so fast receivers.

    Newton had a great pass to Smith for a first down but saw it called back on a penalty.  On the next play he is sacked by the heavy Tampa pass rush.  Perhaps scrambling would have been the way to go.

    For now, he will get a slightly higher grade than his teammates on offense but that is merely due to the mistakes which nullified a couple of key plays.

    As mentioned in the intro, Newton threw for over 300 yards in his last meeting with the Buccaneers.  Can he repeat his performance?  Perhaps.  However, everyone knows that racking up a lot of yards through the air doesn't guarantee victory in Carolina.  Newton needs to stay balanced and minimize his mistakes if he wants to lead his team to victory.

    He has established a rapport with tight end Greg Olsen and has shown the ability to spread the ball out to other receivers.  His accuracy still needs a little work, but he has shown some flashes, especially a couple of weeks ago on a long bomb to Armanti Edwards. 

    Newton could really use a victory here to help boost his confidence and get the Panthers feeling good moving forward to their next game, which will be on Monday Night Football.


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    Final Grade: B-

    The line looked good at times and bad during others.  The penalties they racked up did not help their team's cause as drives were killed and momentum swung away.  The running game was par for the course as once again, there was not a 100 yard rusher for Carolina.  However, Jonathan Stewart did score his first touchdown of the season.

    Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith led the receiving corps as they each caught five passes with LaFell totaling 93 yards and a score.  Greg Olsen was disappointing as he only caught two passes on seven targets but in all fairness a couple of those were overthrown. 

    Considering the flux of the unit's combined success and failure mixed with the miscues, it was tough to grade them lower since they did put up points.  Had they converted late in the fourth to keep the ball out of the Buccaneers hands, they would have been given a higher mark.

    Overtime Grade: N/A

    4th Quarter Grade: B+

    Finally, a series where everyone was on the same page and clicking.  The line provided great protection for Newton as he found his receivers and connected with LaFell on a touchdown.  People can say what they want about LaFell being the #2 receiver but he has clearly secured the job for foreseeable future.

    Carolina's final drive of the quarter was almost good enough to get them in a victory formation but they ended up a yard short.  The good part about this series was they did burn a lot of time on the clock and making the lives of the defense much easier.

    3rd Quarter Grade: C+

    The offense was not so potent to open up their first drive of the third quarter.  The Panthers found themselves in a three and out as the line was unable to protect their quarterback or open up running room.

    Mike Tolbert was targeted for a long gain which was called back after another penalty was called against the line for illegal block. It would be costly as Tolbert's number was called again and while he picked up some good yards, he was still short of the first.

    The offense needs to identify the blitz from the outside because Ronde Barber really blew up the backfield on 3rd and short.  This series had potential but flamed out when the Panthers tried using power football to reach first down.

    2nd Quarter Grade: B

    Finally, Jonathan Stewart rushes with authority and gets his first touchdown of the year.  A nice catch by veteran Steve Smith and a pass interference call against Tampa helped the Panthers take the lead, 14-10.  If they can keep up this tempo and momentum, the game's outcome should shift in their direction.  Credit the offensive line with winning the battle in the trenches at the goal line as they got a great push.

    You have got to love seeing Greg Olsen lining up in trips left.  You have to love him even more for hauling in a 32 yard reception setting up the Panthers nicely inside the red zone.  The only knocks on this series were the penalties on Smith and Bell.  The former putting the Panthers back at 3rd and 19.  The series looked great but they were unable to put points on the board as the field goal attempt was no good.

    The Panthers finally found a way to not only move the ball but score too.  They could have had more if not for the penalties that killed big plays or set them back several yards.  Regardless, Carolina heads into the half with the lead.  They just need to play disciplined in order to preserve it.


    1st Quarter Grade: C-

    The offense wasn't spectacular in their first series.  A penalty and a quick opening drive ending in a punt didn't provide the fan base to feel good about the team's success.  However, it is still early.

    The second series of the game is suggesting a long day for the offense as the unit is struggling to get anything going.  Jonathan Stewart wasn't able to pick up any yards and as mentioned in the previous slide, Olsen was overthrown twice.  The end result being a three and out.

    How is the offense going to score when they keep making mistakes?  Center Geoff Hangartner nullified a nice pass to Steve Smith with a hands to the face penalty.  This team needs to get their act together if they want to move the ball effectively.

    The offense is going to receive a low mark due to the inability to help their quarterback and hurting their own cause.

    The offense is beginning to make a name for itself as the team with no running game.  It's easy to say that when you have great running backs in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams who have yet to reach 100 yards on the ground.  Luckily, the read option is not a big part of the playbook, which will keep both of these guys from looking foolish on the field.

    Steve Smith should have a good game as the Buccaneers traded cornerback Aqib Talib to New England a few weeks ago.  Brandon LaFell should be back in the game after suffering a concussion against Washington, and expect contributions from Greg Olsen and Louis Murphy to get the passing game going.

    The biggest area of concern is the effectiveness of the offensive line.  The unit has been banged up with the loss of Ryan Kalil, and they haven't looked overly impressive in the trenches.  Newton and the Carolina running game would greatly appreciate a great performance from these guys because they will be vital in the offense's success.


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    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.

Special Teams

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    Final Grade: D

    This grade is solely based on the fact that had Justin Medlock made the field goal earlier in the game, the ending would have been different.  Aside from some penalties, that was really the only blemish on the special teams.  This unit is still a long way from being solid.

    4th Quarter/Overtime Grade: Incomplete

    There wasn't too much the special teams did to really determine any significant moment in the quarter.  Considering the problems earlier, their play was a non-factor for the period or in overtime.

    3rd Quarter Grade: C+

    Joe Adams had another nice return and its even more refreshing to see him exhibit some ball control.  He gave the Panthers some decent field position to start their first drive of the third quarter.

    You can't argue with them trying to be creative but the botched trick play on the punt could have been a nightmare.  Lucky for them, Nakamura bailed them out with an interception.

    The punt coverage hasn't been great but they haven't given up too much either.  Its still too early to tell what adjustments, if any, were made at the half. So far, they haven't given up too much.

    2nd Quarter Grade: D

    Nice to see the special teams settling down.  Joe Adams is back and while he hasn't done anything of note, it is nice to see him back on the field.

    Its disheartening to see a great drive end in a missed kick, especially when it is so close to the goal post.  What should have been and easy 40 yard field goal was instead a wide right miss on Justin Medlock's kick.  Its safe to say that special teams is quite possibly the most frustrating unit in Carolina.

    The missed kick and the missed opportunity to put points on the board will knock their grade down considerably.


    1st Quarter Grade: C-

    Nothing like a fumble to ruin a 17 yard punt return.  That is what happened with Captain Munnerlyn.  Thus far, special teams is far from being special.

    Another mistake for the special teams guys.  This time its in the form of a penalty.  It's hard to imagine the task at hand for the new special teams coach when he takes over the job.

    Its uncertain why Armati Edwards keeps trying to take the ball out of end zone when kicked deep but coming up short of the 20 isn't helping.

    It seems each week this unit likes to take turns to see who wants to end up in Ron Rivera's doghouse.  The past couple of weeks it seemed to be occupied frequently by Brad Nortman because of his short punts.  Last week it was the entire coverage unit.

    It's bad enough to have inconsistencies with the offense and defense, but to have special teams add to the list of screw-ups doesn't bode too well for a good season.  These guys need to come together and get on the same page.  Things are changing dramatically in Carolina, and people are being held responsible.

    Speaking of which...


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    Final Grade: F

    Ron Rivera should have been more aggressive and exuded some confidence in his offense.  Rob Chudzinski should have stayed away from the read option/delayed hand offs to DeAngelo Williams.  Sean McDermott could have tried a different scheme during the Bucs' final two drives of the game. 

    All of these guys have a lot of work ahead of them and assuming they are still on the staff come next weekend, they might want to start with fundamentals.

    There is no way to describe how these three will be viewed later in the week but it will not be favorably.  This game will stand out as one that was lost due to the coaching and play calling.  Carolina should have won this game and could not close it out in the waning seconds.

    Overtime Grade: F

    The failure to let the offense score following the late Tampa Bay touchdown and the lack of defense in overtime may result more than just a loss.  After a game like this, chances are there may be some coaches losing their jobs or their seats becoming extremely hot. 

    Ron Rivera disappointed everyone with his lack of faith in his quarterback and being too conservative when the game was on the line.  The coaching staff had much to do with this loss as the team did.

    4th Quarter Grade: C+

    It's frustrating not allowing Newton and the offense to try and get into field goal position regardless of the time remaining.  It can either be read as a smart move by the coaching staff or a lack of faith in the players.

    3rd Quarter Grade: C+

    Rob Chudzinski needs to get away from that read option between Newton and Williams.  Its not working.  The good news is the Panthers haven't been giving up too many yards on penalties but when they have made them they have been costly. 

    Rivera needs to coach well in the last quarter to give his team the win.

    2nd Quarter Grade: C-

    The firing of Brian Murphy seems to not have had a positive effect on the special teams but that's another story.  The discipline and lack of basic fundamentals have proven to be a game changer as drives have either been killed or yards needlessly given up.  Seven penalties in the first half for 48 yards should say a lot. 

    Ron Rivera needs to motivate these guys to keep playing with passion and intensity the remainder of the game while minimizing dumb mistakes.  Second half coaching will be crucial to the Panthers success and whether they leave the game with a victory.

    1st Quarter Grade: D

    After the turnover and personal foul penalty set up the Tampa Bay score, let's hope the Carolina coaching staff focuses on the little things and more importantly, discipline.  James Anderson needs to tone down the intensity, especially when the quarterback is giving himself up.

    The discipline needs to be addressed as well given the mental lapses on both defense and special teams.  Hopefully, the offense fares a little better.

    The offensive line is starting to rank right up there with the rest as it committed it's own dumb penalty effectively killing the drive.  It seems as though discipline and fundamentals need to be preached during this game and all next week.

    The penalties and mistakes made by the Panthers needs to be corrected ASAP!  There is no reason for so many miscues early in the game. 

    After last week's special teams debacle, the Panthers released Brain Murphy of his coaching duties.  If anything, that should have been seen as a red flag by all the coaches on the Carolina staff.  Nobody has job security anymore, and if anything, Murphy's dismissal should be seen as a wake-up call for everyone on the coaching staff.

    If anything, Sean McDermott is making a strong case for himself to stay put as his guys are grasping the Jim Johnson system and making plays.  The same cannot be said about head coach Ron Rivera or offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who are finding their seats becoming warmer with each loss.

    Expect those seats to get hotter if they drop this game to the Bucs.