Tampa Bay Buccaneers royalty was in the house Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Four members of the greatest defense in franchise history — Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and Booger McFarland — watched from the sideline as the reeling Bucs took on the suddenly streaking Carolina Panthers in a prime-time game on NFL Network.
What they were treated to, alas, was not very regal.
Plagued yet again by their own foibles and a growing inability to get off the field and eliminate big plays on defense, the Bucs dropped a 31-13 decision before an announced crowd of 59,073.
“We really got beat tonight,'' right tackle Demar Dotson said. “Carolina just whipped us. There's really no other way to put it. They just whipped us.''
The loss dropped the Bucs to 0-7 on the year, including 0-4 at RJS. Dating to last season, they have lost seven straight home games under second-year coach Greg Schiano.
Only the Bucs' initial 1976-77 teams, which struggled through a 13-game home losing streak at the franchise's start, had a worse home-field run than Schiano's teams and the Bucs faithful is clearly growing frustrated.
As the game neared its conclusion, a large contingent of what was left of the crowd gathered around the tunnel leading from the field to the Bucs locker room and began chanting “Fire Schiano.''
“That doesn't affect me,'' Schiano said. “People are certainly entitled to their opinions. And here's the thing: My whole career, as a player and a coach, you get up in the morning, work as hard and as smart as you can, and that usually sends you to bed pretty tired. And so you get up and you do it again and that's the way I do it.
“We do the best we can here and as coaches and players we have to stick together. Sometimes it doesn't go your way, but you just have to keep doing it and look for ways to make yourself better and hopefully we'll go get a win in Seattle. You can sit there and cry and feel sorry for yourself, but that ain't going to help. You just have to go back to work.''
An offense that came in tied for 31st in the 32-team NFL in touchdowns struggled to reach the end zone yet again and a defense that recently developed a penchant for giving up big plays extended that trend.
The Bucs also suffered from another array of self-inflicted wounds, including dropped passes, a fumbled punt return and two fumbled shotgun snaps by rookie Mike Glennon.
“We had too many drops tonight in critical situations,'' Schiano said. “We dropped it on third down, we missed snaps on third down. We're not good enough to have manageable third downs and just let them go.
“We can't snap it low or drop it. We can't do that. When we have a manageable situation we have to make it. And when we do that we'll be in every game.''
Matched against a Panthers team that outscored its previous two opponents by a combined 65-25, the errors dragged the Bucs out of contention in a game that got away from them quickly.
Fueled in part by receiver Vincent Jackson's failure to secure a well-aimed Glennon pass on third-and-4 from the Bucs' 26-yard line on the third play of the game, the Panthers took early control of the scoreboard.
After one penalty by each team, the Panthers found a high gear and moved methodically down the field during the first possession, taking a 7-0 lead after a 15-play, 70-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes.
The drive culminated with quarterback Cam Newton hitting tight end Greg Olsen with a 1-yard pass on third down, but it was Newton's work on the previous three third downs that made that scoring chance possible.
Newton completed a 21-yard pass to Steve Smith on a third-and-9 play, ran for 2 yards on a third-and-1 and ran for another 16 yards on a third-and-12 to move Carolina within range of the end zone.
The Bucs responded with a 47-yard field goal from Rian Lindell on their next series, but walked away from the drive believing they could have had much more if they had done a better job of holding on to the ball.
On a second-and-8 from the Carolina 28, Glennon appeared to hit tight end Tom Crabtree in stride with an over-the-shoulder catch at the 4, but Crabtree lost control of the ball as he fell to the ground, nullifying the catch.
Settling for the field goal quickly proved problematic for the Bucs as they gave up another touchdown on Carolina's next possession. Once again, the Bucs' inability to get off the field on third down was a problem.
On third-and-3 from the Bucs 47, Ted Ginn Jr. hauled in a 35-yard pass, taking the Panthers to the Tampa Bay 12. DeAngelo Williams took over from there, running the final 12 yards for the score on the next play.
The Bucs managed to force the Panthers off the field after three plays on Carolina's next possession, and the Bucs responded with a score of their own, but once again it was a field goal, not a touchdown.
This time it was a 48-yarder by Lindell, but once again it was mistakes that forced the Bucs to settle for three points as a fumbled shotgun snap on third-and-5 from the Panthers' 26 proved to be the culprit.
The fumbled shotgun snap was the second of the half for Glennon, but as costly as those fumbled snaps were, they were not as costly as the fumbled punt return the Bucs got from Eric Page late in third quarter.
After falling behind 21-6 on 6-yard Newton touchdown run earlier in the quarter, Page's giveaway at his own 29-yard line helped Carolina extend its lead to an insurmountable 28-6 just four plays into the fourth quarter.
Newton was once again a key figure in the play as he connected this time with running back Mike Tolbert on a 3-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach and sparked a mass exodus from the stands.
Those who stuck around spent a good portion of their time booing desperation plays such as Glennon's incompletion on a fourth-and-10 from his own 16 that came with 7:51 to play in the game.