CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five weeks after being embarrassed by the Panthers on national television, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t look like the same team that turned their season around in November.
With the calendar flipped to a new month, the Bucs were victimized by many of the same flaws evident during an 0-8 start. They were whipped up front on both sides of the ball and an overmatched offense mirrored the unit that averaged 11 points per game in September.
“Yes, they were on a roll,’’ said Panthers coach Ron Rivera, referring to Tampa Bay’s three-game winning streak that followed a dynamic losing effort at Seattle. “They had a little bit of swagger and a lot of confidence. I wanted to make sure we understood that.’’
Following up on their 31-13 triumph at Raymond James Stadium, the Panthers on Sunday more than doubled Tampa Bay’s production in total yardage (426-206) and doubled the Bucs in first downs (20-10).
“It was tough to get in any kind of a rhythm,’’ Bucs guard Davin Joseph said. “We’ve got to go back to work and do a better job on third down and in the red zone. I felt like we weren’t ourselves today. We have four tough games coming up and we have to get ready.’’
While the Bucs were quick to credit the Panthers for extending their winning streak to a franchise-record eight games, there was a sense in the Tampa Bay locker room that the visitors took a major step backward at Bank of America Stadium.
“They beat us,’’ Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “Physically, mentally, every facet of the game, they just dominated us. They game-planned us very well.’’
For linebacker Lavonte David, there were no excuses as the Bucs ensured themselves of a losing season for the fourth time in the past five years.
“They executed their offense and got the best of us today,’’ David said. “No tricks, just good football.’’
Feeling the pressure
Serious protection issues have emerged the past two weeks in front of Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
The third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State has been dropped at least twice in each of his nine NFL starts, and he was sacked four times last week in Detroit.
On Sunday, led by reserve defensive end Wes Horton, the Panthers put Glennon on the ground five times for minus-40 yards, while keeping Cam Newton clean.
“The whole plan today was to stop the run, get him into third-and-long situations and let our front four cut loose,’’ said Horton, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Cal who posted two sacks Sunday. “We did just that.’’
Horton added three tackles and two QB hits against the Bucs after entering the game with four tackles and zero sacks on the season. He saw increased playing time Sunday with Carolina’s leading sacker, Charles Johnson, sidelined by a knee injury for the second consecutive week.
Bucs left tackle Donald Penn was victimized by defensive end Greg Hardy for a second-quarter sack on third down that led to a Carolina possession at midfield, setting up a touchdown and a 17-6 advantage.
“There were two plays I wish I could really have back,’’ Penn said. “It’s killing me right now. The sack I gave up right before halftime and I had a mental lapse on the second series of the second half. That’s not me and that’s something that’s really eating me up.’’
Ground hogs in Carolina
The Panthers gashed the NFL’s No. 9 rushing defense for 163 yards on the ground, sparked by quarterback Cam Newton’s early 56-yard scamper that caught the Bucs in a full blitz.
Running back DeAngelo Williams missed the game with a quad strain, but Mike Tolbert played through a sore hamstring and gained 48 yards in nine carries, including a 17-yard jaunt around right end in the second quarter.
“We stayed consistent with it,’’ Tolbert said of Carolina’s ground success. “Coach (Ron) Rivera kept calling them and we kept doing our thing. We kept putting our nose to the dirt, trying to get yards. Teams underestimate me all the time. They see a guy that is short (5-foot-9) and fat (245 pounds) and they think, ‘Oh yeah, we got him no problem.’ Then they are like, ‘Whoa, where did he get those feet from? I didn’t know he was that fast.’ ”
Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn said sloppy fundamentals contributed to Carolina’s success.
“We didn’t tackle well,’’ said Clayborn, who led Tampa Bay’s defensive line with four stops. “We also didn’t communicate well. That about sums it up.’’
The Bucs own a 150-142 scoring advantage in the opening half, but have been outscored 143-67 in the final two quarters and overtime. ... For the fifth consecutive season, the series between the Bucs and Panthers ended in a sweep. ... Carolina’s scoring defense is No. 1 in the league, yielding an average of only 13 points per game. ... The Panthers have forced at least one turnover in 16 consecutive games, the longest streak in the league. ... Tampa Bay’s Rian Lindell has missed four field goal attempts in the past three weeks. ... The Bucs had scored at least 20 points six times in their previous seven games until Sunday’s setback. ... The 21-point loss was Tampa Bay’s most lopsided defeat of the season.