Panthers Playoff Hopes in Peril

Not much went right for the Panthers on Sunday, as they lose another rough one 17 - 24. The team drops its 4th straight to a Buccaneers team that has struggled on defense all year. Any team would be hard pressed to win a game in which your QB throws 4 INT’s. Greg Olsen leaving the game and being done for the year didn’t help matters either. However, time and time again in the 4th quarter Cam Newton and company found themselves with the ball and a chance to tie the game with a TD. The Buccaneers left the door wide open all second half for the Panthers to take this game and they couldn’t convert.

You can sit there and point fingers and say Cam made some bad decisions on passes that reminded us of the Cam of old. I won’t argue that at least two were on him, especially the one right before the half that swung the momentum towards the Bucs. The other two he was under serious pressure, something the Tampa Bay defense exceled at most of the day. In my preview, I mentioned the Panthers needing to apply pressure to keep Winston in check, but it was the Bucs that pressured Newton all day instead. Early on, Jameis had all day in the pocket and had the Bucs methodically marching down the field, making the smart read each time. The few times the Panthers were able to get to Winston, he didn’t compound the pressure by doing anything crazy which he has a tendency of doing sometimes. Credit Winston, he has had quite a roller coaster of a year but for the most part he played well today. Letting the game come to him and it resulted in a win for the Bucs.

Photo Cred:  David T. Foster III - Charlotte Observer

Photo Cred: David T. Foster III - Charlotte Observer

There were a few glaring things that stood out to me for the Panthers:

The first one is that Cam’s shoulder did not look right, on several passes from the pocket to the sidelines, you could see the normal “zip” that his ball has, wasn’t there. There was one early to the sidelines to Curtis Samuel that hung in the air too long and then the big one that stood out was the interception when Newton tried to find Jarius Wright along the sideline in the first half. Wright seemed shocked that the ball was so far behind him, which seemed to back my point that Cam was not right. Don’t forget the overthrow to Funchess at the end of the 4th quarter that would have at least set them up deep in Bucs territory with plenty of time to get a game-tying TD. We have seen plenty of overthrows from Cam throughout the years but that one was about as bad as I can remember in a while. He did not look good, even though he ended up with 300 pass yards and 2 TD’s. He will tell you he needs to play better and downplay any shoulder issues.

The second is that Christian McCaffrey only got 10 rushing attempts. I know that the game flow can dictate this, but the guy was gashing the Bucs defense and it was obvious Cam was not himself. When in doubt, feed this man!

Finally, the Panthers defense giving up long 3rd down conversions repeatedly. I couldn’t believe how many 3rd downs were over 10 yards that the Bucs converted no problem, with the Panthers playing such soft coverage. Couple that with this inconsistent defensive line of the Panthers. They have got to play better if they are going to have a glimmer of a shot at the playoffs. Mario Addison continues to have a nice season and today at times the line was able to get to Winston and disrupt him. Overall though, the line couldn’t consistently get pressure on the QB and left the DB’s susceptible to the speedy Chris Godwin and shifty slot receiver Adam Humphries. Our secondary needs the big guys up front to pressure the QB so they aren’t left guarding the opposing teams wideouts too long.

Just a few weeks ago, the Panthers were 6-2 and had their sights firmly set on a playoff berth. Now this team just can’t seem to get enough consistency on either side of the ball to close out a win. The lone bright spots were CMC continuing his dominance on the ground (10 carries for 106 yds) and through the air by catching (9 rec 55 yds)and picking up big time YAC. Curtis Samuel continues to look better and better each week (6 rec 88 yds). Funchess was able to come back and make it through the game healthy and catch a 10-yard TD pass from Cam in the 3rd quarter. The lone defensive bright spot was rookie Efe Obada who is a raw talent but clearly shows the potential to become a nice edge rusher.

The (6-6) Panthers travel to Cleveland to play a (4-7-1) Browns team that just lost to the Texans 29 – 13 on Sunday. They will need to turn things around in a hurry if they hope to push for a wildcard spot. Today’s loss really hurt mentally and physically, the Panthers will have to dig deep if they want to salvage their season.