What the hell happened? That's the question I was asking myself after my Carolina Panthers got slaughtered 27-3 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Jeff Garcia is now my most-hated NFL player. I can't stand the guy; I loathe him with a burning passion. He's the most bona fide Panthers killer there is. He's beaten us in at least three straight games—this past week, last year in Week Four—both times with the Bucs—and in Week 13 of 2006 with the Eagles.
This past Sunday, he helped the Bucs' winning effort by completing 75 percent of his passes and throwing a touchdown. In addition, his third-down-conversion rate was agonizingly high.
As matter of fact, this area of Garcia's game was so consistent that eventually, as a Panthers fan, you already knew that even if the Panthers managed to hold the Bucs on the first two downs, everything would be negated by Garcia on third down.
Garcia's performance against the Panthers yesterday was the most frustrating individual performance by an opposing player I've witnessed in a long time. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to wring Garcia's throat yesterday, as I watched him throw for yet another first down to a wide-open receiver. It was simply sickening.
But the pass defense had even more major lapses, aside from the standard poor coaching, that gave Garcia and his receivers all the room in the world to make plays underneath every time.
On a goal-to-go play from the Panthers' two-yard line, Bucs tight end Alex Smith found a gap in the coverage you could have put the whole state of Florida in, and Garcia found him for the easiest touchdown of both of their careers. That score put the Bucs up 14-0.
The Panthers' run defense turned in their worst game of the season. They allowed Warrick Dunn, at best a decent second-tier running back, 115 yards on 22 carries—that's an average of about 5.2 yards per carry. That's horrible. It's not the kind of run defense we Panthers fans are used to.
The special-teams' problems continued, too. The issue with blocking that has plagued the punt team since the Bears game reared its ugly head again.
Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes stormed into the backfield on a punt following a three-and-out on the Panthers' first possession of the game and swatted the ball off punter Jason Baker's foot. He scooped the ball up off the turf and jogged it into the end zone, 22 yards away. That made the score 7-0 and set the tone for the whole game.
The Bucs defense was even better than advertised. The Bucs' pass defense was absolutely suffocating.
If Panthers field general Jake Delhomme had enough time to get a good throw off, no one was ever open. But that didn't happen much—most of the time Delhomme hardly had time to avoid getting sacked, much less even look down the field to try to find an open receiver to throw to.
Delhomme finished 20-of-39 for 242 yards and three interceptions. But none of the three picks were bad throws or bad decisions. I specifically remember that two of them were passes that hit the intended receiver right in the hands, but weren't caught. Instead, they were both tipped to a lurking defender.
The run offense got shut down. Absolutely blanked. The thunder-and-lightning backfield combination of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams averaged only about 2.30 yards per carry.
The best rushing play of the day came on a 3rd-and-1 as the first quarter concluded. Fullback Brad Hoover collected the remaining yard for one of the few Carolina first downs of the day. That first down kept a field goal-yielding drive going. The field goal turned out to score Carolina their only points of the game.
The biggest plus of the day for the Panthers—beyond not getting shut out (I wonder how many teams in NFL history have shut out their opponent one week and gotten shut out the next week)—was the play of linebackers Na'il Diggs and Jon Beason. They combined for 22 of the team's 64 tackles (34 percent). Now that's defense on a day where the Panthers didn't have any.
All I can say as I write this and look back on this monstrosity of a game is...WOW...!!! Seriously, who in their right minds would have anticipated this kind of result from this game? I'm in shock, as is the rest of Panthers Nation.
I'm still trying to grasp the fact that we got manhandled 27-3 by the Bucs, a team that played so poorly in Denver in Week Five. Or maybe Denver just played extremely well. Frankly, I'm still numb from this ugly game for the ages. I feel like I don't know anything about this team now; this team I thought I was such an expert on such a short time ago.
In any case, we'd better put this game behind us and get ready to play an incredible game against the Saints. We can't afford to be 4-3; 5-2 sounds and looks so much better, somehow. Let's get to know the real Panthers again.