Insider's Take: Panthers vs. Bucs

One step forward, two steps back. That is the mantra of this year's Carolina Panthers, who showed progress on offense but fell apart on defense in losing to the Tampa Bay Bucs, 31-16. Here is a look at what worked, what didn't and what's next for John Fox's squad.

What Worked

--Playing without three of its top six players (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Jeff Otah), the offense showed some progress. Jimmy Clausen protected the football and completed a career-high 55 percent of his passes; Mike Goodson authored the first 100-yard game by a Panthers running back this season; and the team's top three receivers each finished with three receptions.

The offense posted 300 total net yards, converted a respectable 40 percent of its third-down attempts and lost time of possession by less than two minutes.

--The defense, despite being shredded for 421 total net yards, featured some solid individual performances. Nic Harris slid into the starting lineup on the weakside and led the team with 11 tackles. His solid performance will allow Jon Beason to make the permanent switch back to his more natural position of inside linebacker. Also, DE Everette Brown picked up his first sack.

The Panthers also recorded two takeaways, although both came on fluke plays -- one was a muffed punt recovered by Dante Rosario and the other a botched handoff picked up by James Anderson.

--John Kasay connected on all three field goal attempts to keep the Panthers close late into the fourth quarter. Rhys Llyod also had a strong game, recording touchbacks on three of his five kickoffs; Tampa Bay's average starting position after kickoffs was its own 16-yard line. In the return game, rookie Jordan Pugh looked impressive in averaging 22 yards on three returns.

What Didn't

Safety Charles Godfrey
Margaret Bowles/AP
--The offense showed some guts in battling without so many key players available. Unfortunately, the team's fortitude will be tested to an even greater extent next week. Clausen (concussion), Brandon LaFell (concussion) and Travelle Wharton (toe) were all injured in Tampa Bay. Their status for next week has yet to be determined.

If Clausen cannot play, fellow rookie Tony Pike would make his first career start. Brian St. Pierre, signed to the practice squad last week, would likely be called up to be the No. 2 QB, allowing Armanti Edwards to remain as the emergency QB. David Clowney would replace LaFell, possibly allowing WR Devin Thomas to be active for the first time. Mackenzy Bernadeau would be the starting left guard if Wharton cannot go.

--It will not matter who is healthy on offense if the defense does not do a better job of competing. The Buccaneers ran over Ron Meeks' unit, carrying 30 times for 186 yards (6.2 ypc) and two TDs. Tampa Bay was equally efficient in the air, with Josh Freeman completing 75 percent of his passes and piling up a passer rating of 134.2. As a team, the Buccaneers converted half of their third-down opportunities.

There have been questions the last few weeks about whether Carolina's defense would get frustrated by the offense's ineptitude and lose its edge. That certainly looked to be the case in Week 10. If that is a trend and not just a one-time thing, it could be an ugly homestretch for this 1-8 squad.

--Sunday was another missed opportunity in terms of evaluating more of the team's young players. Edwards again saw no action, which raises the question of how serious the Panthers are about developing the player they traded next year's second-round pick to acquire. Also, Corvey Irvin, R.J. Stanford and Rashawn Jackson remain on the practice squad and could benefit from some regular-season seasoning. Jackson should be first in line for some playing time, since FB Tony Fiammetta has been inconsistent as a lead blocker.

What's Next

This one could get ugly. The Panthers will host the 6-3 Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is among the league's most physically dominant teams, especially on defense, which could create a nightmare match-up, even more so if Pike is under center. Also, the Ravens last played on Thursday, giving them three extra days to prepare.

If the Panthers are not 1-9 by this time next week, one of the season's most startling upsets will have taken place.

How will Clausen's concussion change Week 11? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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