CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From quarterback Mike Glennon to wideout Tiquan Underwood, from running back Bobby Rainey to guard Jamon Meredith, you can name the upstart of your choice because they all had a hand in it.
For a month of games, they were all so opportunistic and succeeded so well at breathing fresh air into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ ground and air attacks, it made you forget just how stale this team’s offense really is.
It is an offense that, despite all the excitement and energy created by Glennon, Underwood and Rainey, still ranked 31st overall in the NFL. And, boy, did it look like a 31st-ranked offense on Sunday.
Whether it was Glennon suffering through his first two-giveaway day in six weeks, kicker Rian Lindell missing yet another makeable field goal or the offense combining for a net loss of 5 yards on six of its 11 possessions, all the Bucs succeeded in doing during their 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium was prove they are nowhere near as close to turning the corner and heading toward prosperity as their previous run of successes might have suggested.
“They just beat us,’’ Glennon said after the Panthers broke the Bucs’ three-game winning streak. “They stopped our run game, they did a good job with our pass game, they just played better than us.’’
That really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Now at 9-3, the Panthers are in a race with Seattle and New Orleans for the top spot in the NFC. And the Bucs, well, they are now 3-9 overall.
Throw in the fact that Carolina went into Sunday’s game ranked third overall in total defense and this was always a matchup in which the Bucs needed to fully capitalize on their scoring chances just to keep pace.
From the very beginning, though, that was a problem for the Bucs. After driving smartly to the Carolina 9 during their first possession, they eventually settled for a 27-yard Lindell field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Two possessions later, after Carolina trumped that field goal with a touchdown but gave the ball away on a Keith Tandy interception at the Panthers 28, the Bucs had to settle yet again for a Lindell field goal, this one from 53 yards.
Then came the offensive coup de grace: After hitting Vincent Jackson in stride for a 60-yard pass to the Carolina 4-yard line, Glennon fumbled the ball away at the 13 while scrambling away from pressure on third-and-goal.
“Certainly you have an opportunity to go ahead there and you don’t, and that’s big,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “So, that was rough, but we’ve got to be able to overcome that kind of stuff. That’s what good football teams do, and we’ve been able to do that at times this year, but today we didn’t.’’
There were three reasons for that.
The first was the running game. The Bucs ran for a total of 519 yards during their previous four games, but were limited to just 66 yards on 20 carries (3.3) against the Panthers.
Rainey accounted for 63 of those yards, but was stuffed for no gain or a loss of yardage on five of his 17 carries and had 2 yards or less on five others.
“They mixed it up a lot against us in the run game and that made it hard to get it going,’’ right guard Davin Joseph said. “We have to do better because we can’t afford to keep getting into third-and-longs and expect to convert.’’
That inability to convert third-and-long, or even third-and-short, was another reason the Bucs struggled on Sunday. They converted just one of 10 third downs, by far their worst conversion percentage of the season.
“To say we struggled on third down would be an understatement,’’ Schiano said. “We just weren’t effective. And I’m anxious to see the video on that, because it didn’t feel like there were a lot of (receivers) open.
“You’re not going to have very long (to set up and throw the ball) against that front in the first place, and if we don’t get open fast, then we’re going to have a problem. And we did.”
The Bucs’ problems, though, were not limited to the offense or even special teams, where Lindell missed on a 48-yard attempt on the Bucs’ second possession of the second half after missing two field goal tries a week ago at Detroit.
The Bucs also had problems on defense, where their inability to defend Panthers quarterback Cam Newton as a runner or a passer allowed Carolina to slowly take control.
Newton, who was pressured on occasion but never sacked or hit, escaped contain and ran 56 yards to set up the Panthers’ first touchdown. He dove over the Bucs defensive line from the 1-yard line for their second touchdown. And he threw two touchdown passes.
He also threw two interceptions, but the Bucs all but squandered those opportunities, settling only for Lindell’s second field goal after a 2-yard loss on first down and a holding penalty on second down helped create fourth-and-13.
“Obviously we made too many mistakes, both as coaches and as players, to win that game,’’ Schiano said. “Early in the game we had plenty of opportunities to make it a good game, but we didn’t capitalize and they did.
“Again, it was coaching and playing. I just don’t feel like we, as coaches, gave them enough good opportunities, and that’s on me. So, now we have to go and figure out how we’re going to get some of these things back to where we were doing them successfully.”
Eliminating turnovers will certainly be part of that solution. Glennon, who had thrown 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his previous seven games, also threw an interception to go along with his lost fumble.
And he did it in what has become un-Glennon-like fashion, forcing a throw into double coverage on second-and-1 from Tampa Bay’s 46-yard line.
“We turned the ball over for the first time in a while today and we missed a few opportunities here and there,” Glennon said. “But at the same time, we just have to be better on all three downs so that we don’t put ourselves in those third-and-long situations against such a good defense.
“So, we’ll go back, watch the film and go from there.’’