Buccaneers vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 11
The two teams met for the first time in Week 1, and on that day, the Bucs outplayed the Panthers in every facet of the game.
The second matchup did not unfold like the first one, but the result ended up being the same.
The Panthers found themselves up by two scores with four minutes left in regulation, but as it turned out, their 11-point lead failed to hold.
This loss is an indictment on the coaching staff and is another disappointing occurrence in what has been a frustrating and sad season.
Let's look at the winners and losers from the Panthers' heartbreaking defeat.
Winner: Brandon LaFell
Brandon LaFell turned in one of his best performances of the season, as he hauled in five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
LaFell also had a pair of explosive 29-yard receptions, with one of those being a touchdown that appeared to ice the game for the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter.
Making LaFell's game even more impressive is that he caught five of his seven targets, an effort that Steve Smith matched.
Cam Newton struggled with his accuracy from the pocket at times, but the duo appears to be progressing in terms of chemistry and communication.
While this season has been nothing short of heartbreaking thus far, the continued improvement of LaFell is something that the Panthers can build upon.
LaFell still has to improve against press coverage and must find a way to cut out drops that have cost the team in the past.
That being said, the three-year veteran is finally starting to show glimmers of excellence.
Loser: The Coaching Staff
The Carolina Panthers coaching staff has been on the hot seat for weeks now, and that will not change after this choke job.
There are no excuses for losing a game when you hold a double-digit lead with less than four minutes left in the game, which is exactly what happened against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs drove down the field with one minute left in the fourth quarter without timeouts and scored a touchdown and then converted a two-point conversion.
Making matters worse, Tampa Bay wideout Vincent Jackson burned them for both the touchdown and two-point conversion receptions.
The coaching staff is responsible for the mistakes that are made by their team, so they should be criticized for all of the penalties that were called on their players against the Bucs.
Carolina was flagged 11 times for 91 yards, with many of those penalties coming early in the game and in crunch time.
Ron Rivera is now 8-18 in his tenure with the Panthers, which is not good enough in the NFL. The odds of Rivera and his staff returning for a third season appears to get slimmer by the week.
Winner: Thomas Davis
Thomas Davis was the Carolina Panthers' best defensive player against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as he compiled 16 tackles, with 10 of those being solo takedowns.
By game's end, Davis had six more tackles than any other defensive player on either team.
Davis also forced Doug Martin to fumble right before he broke the goal line, which, at the time, appeared to be one of the final nails in the Bucs' coffin.
It appeared as if Davis found a way to be involved in almost every play, as he flew around the field in an effort to slow down Josh Freeman and Martin.
The Panthers may not have triumphed over Tampa Bay, but their loss cannot be blamed on the play of Davis and the rest of the linebacking corps.
Loser: Justin Medlock
The Carolina Panthers have not asked much of Justin Medlock this season, but he has not done enough to solidify the coaching staff's trust in him.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Medlock missed a 40-yard field goal that would have made all the difference at the end of the game.
While the Panthers cannot attribute the loss to Medlock's missed kick, the game would have played out much differently in the fourth quarter had he converted it.
If the Panthers led the Bucs by a score of 24-10 in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano would not have been able to send Connor Barth on the field to attempt a field goal to make it a one score game.
Since Medlock failed to add three points to Carolina's tally, Schiano had the flexibility to make it a one-score game and keep alive the chance of a comeback.
On the season, the UCLA alum has converted on 70 percent of his field goal attempts.
Medlock has failed to convert on his last three attempts, as he has missed one field goal in each of the past three games.
Loser: The Defense Down the Stretch
After allowing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to score points on two of their first three drives, the Carolina Panthers defense kept them off the scoreboard for their next eight drives.
From the 7:40 mark in the first quarter until the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Bucs were held scoreless.
On Tampa Bay's final three drives, it racked up 238 yards and 17 points to overcome the Panthers in a shocking manner.
Making the performance of the defense down the stretch even worse is that each of the Bucs' final three drives started on their own 20-yard line.
Down 21-13, the Buccaneers drove down the field in 50 seconds without timeouts to score a touchdown.
The Bucs then converted the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
Linebacker James Anderson aided in the Bucs' effort, as he was flagged for unnecessary roughness that changed the complexion of Tampa Bay's desperation drive.
There are no valid excuses for the performance of the defense down the stretch, as the Panthers found a way to lose a game that looked like a sure win.