Charlotte, N.C. - Think about the people you know. You probably know this one guy, or at least you've heard of him. You know - That guy whose girlfriend cheats on him repeatedly, and like a fool he takes her back every time, thinking she won't cheat on him again. Today, I was that guy. Despite all the warning signs, I took the Panthers back into my heart when they played so well in the third quarter. Even though I knew they had a history of ruining such leads, I couldn't help it. Just like that fool and his girl, I love the Panthers too much. I had to get excited and think this is the time we get it right.
I think we all know the result.
The Panthers turned a 9-3 lead into a 12-9 loss. Just like so many times recently, the fourth quarter has become Carolina's Waterloo. We look so good until that point, and then it vanishes – POOF! Gone in a puff of smoke.
The game started poorly enough, with Todd Sauerbrun's kickoff sailing out of bounds. But in spite of good field position for Tampa, the Panthers are able to make the Bucs punt. Here's where our offensive troubles began to show up. The Bucs punt puts us at our own 12 against the #1 defense in the league. Fasani is sacked on the first play, followed by two short Lamar
Smith runs, and we're punting. Tampa starts off with excellent field position at their own 48. They managed to move the ball very well, threatening to go into the end zone, but choke on the Carolina 13. One Gramatica field goal later and Tampa is up 3-0.
The next drive starts with a little more hope as Steve Smith returned the kickoff to our 49, a 51 yard return. Alas, it was all for nothing as our beloved team went 3 and out again after Fasani was sacked and fumbled on 3rd down. Luckily, Todd Steussie recovered the fumble so we could at least punt away.
Tampa gets the ball on the 20 and manages to briefly move into Carolina territory at the start of the second quarter before Kris Jenkins sacks them back onto their side of the field. Punting ensues and Steve Smith loses two yards on the "return," placing the Panthers on our own 17. A 3 yard Lamar Smith run was followed by a 39 yard pass to Steve Smith which turned out to
be incomplete upon further review. Throw in another incompletion and it's punting time again.
Then hope appeared. After trading penalties, the Julius Peppers sacks Rob Johnson on 1st and 20 and Johnson fumbles. Brentson Buckner recovers and shakes like a bowl full of jelly as he wobbles to the Tampa 11 yard line. But fear not, faithful readers. Carolina would be held out of the end zone as Fasani overthrows a wide open Wesley Walls on 3rd and 2. From a play
with touchdown written all over it to settling for a field goal. At least we tie it up, 3-3. The rest of the 2nd quarter was fairly straight forward, with both teams trading punts until halftime.
Now, I don't know what was said in the Carolina locker room at halftime, but it must have been good. The Panthers get the ball first and look like a whole new offense, physically dominating the Buccaneers' defense as they march down the field. While most of the drive was due to the offensive line and Lamar Smith, Fasani got into the act, completing a pass to Moose (!) and
running for 9 yards as well. The drive craps out when Todd Steussie is flagged for taking a cheap shot at a defender's knees after the play was over. This backs us up from the Tampa 18 to the 33. Unable to convert on 3rd and 26, we settle for another field goal and our first lead, 6-3.
The next Tampa drive goes 3 and out as Kris Jenkins and Julius Peppers get their second sacks of the afternoon. Things are looking good! Things look better as Carolina continues their physical play, betting down as far as the Tampa 17 before another penalty sets us back: Holding on Brad Hoover. Unable to overcome this setback, Carolina settles for yet another field
goal, leading 9-3. And I begin to believe at exactly the wrong time. After trading 3 and outs with the Bucs, it all starts to fall apart for the Panthers.
With 13:05 left in the game, Tampa moves the ball when the Carolina defense apparently goes soft. They get as close as our 34 and Gramatica nails a 52 yarder to start the comeback, 9-6. Carolina contributes an interception on the ensuing drive, but Reggie Howard steals the ball back on an interception, giving the Panthers some brief relief. Carolina goes 3 and out AGAIN and punts to Tampa, who is also forced to punt after 3 downs. And then it happened.
After a punt from the Tampa 21, Steve Smith fumbled the punt with 3 minutes left in the game. Tampa recovered on the Carolina 42 and it was on. The rest of the game was fairly predictable. With 3 minutes left, the Bucs were able to move the ball while the Panthers were unable to stop them or move it themselves. The Bucs scored twice in those final 3 minutes, with the game
winning field goal coming with 10 seconds left and the Panthers lose for the fifth straight time.
At this point, I'm not sure what the Panthers have to do to win. The answer lies somewhere between scoring more, keeping the other guys from scoring, and eliminating mistakes. I have to say these close losses are more painful than the 30-0 blowout. At least I never got my hopes up during the Atlanta game! But you want to know the funny part of it all? When the Panthers play New Orleans aft
Column: Tampa Bay Game Review
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