The Panthers, who had lost six straight coming into today's game, decided not to keep their long-suffering fans in suspense. They blew the game late in the third quarter instead of late in the fourth. Variety, you understand.
One thing became perfectly clear today: The coaching staff has absolutely no faith in Chris Weinke at all, as if we needed more proof. The coaches started Rodney Peete despite a torn ligament in the middle finger of his right (throwing) hand. Peete didn't have much today, throwing 3 interceptions and showing little accuracy or zip in his throws.
Carolina actually fought well early on, scoring the first touchdown of the game to go up 7-0. They even held on to go into halftime tied 10-10. Considering recent history, I guessed the Panthers would take over in the third quarter and kick two field goals to take a 16-10 lead into the fourth quarter with around 4 minutes left in the game. This would lead to the obligatory last minute score so the Bucs could win 17-16. It didn't get that dramatic.
The game remained a tie until Rodney Peete threw his second interception with around 3:10 left in the third quarter, and the loss was on. Having shown little when the score was even, the Panthers mustered even less when playing from behind. The offense was unimaginative and the defense allowed 13 more points despite having limited the yards Tampa accumulated.
Let's talk about that offense. How many draw plays can we run? Tampa figured out that call about mid-way through the third quarter, which was a quarter and a half before we stopped running it – Around the end of the game. I know we don't have many weapons on the offensive side of the ball, but try switching things up. If a shmoe like me can see what coming, it's a good bet the opposition can see it too. And they did, period. If we're so dedicated to running, try a toss. How about a sweep? Or how about ANYTHING up the middle other than a draw? I don't know if this is coming from Henning or Fox, but it's a consistent problem. You remember that promise we got in the offseason about changing the style of play to fit the strength of our personnel? Maybe we don't have a strength, but I don't see any effort towards change, either.
The defense? Good on paper, bad for wins and losses. The play of the defense can be summed up on the play where Tampa went up 17-10. Brad Johnson threw to Keenan McCardell, and there wasn't a Panther on my TV screen. The closest man was Terry Cousin, who was closer to the bench than to McCardell. Our defense does keep the score low and looks nice in yards per game and so forth, but it hasn't quite gotten the job done in over two months.
With the Cincy game being the only one left on the schedule that looks remotely winnable, the Panthers will continue to sludge through the season and drag the rest of us with them. It's only die-hards from here on out, true believers. Fair-weather fans would be nuts to put up with this.