CHARLOTTE – The Panthers defense has held its own against the majority of its opponents this season, but the unit continues to struggle with holding teams down for all four quarters.
Tampa Bay scored 17 points after the start of the fourth quarter in Sunday's 27-21 overtime victory over Carolina.
"It was a tough loss, very disappointing, very frustrating," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "For a large portion of the game, defensively we played well with what we held them to and with three takeaways and a score on defense. That said, we've got to finish the job.
"We've got to get rid of the penalties in critical parts of the game defensively, and we have to understand situational football. And quite frankly, we've got to believe in ourselves, believe that we can win those situations."
In the last four games, opponents have scored more points from the start of the fourth quarter on (52) than they have in the first three quarters combined (47).
"Wherever they put the ball and whatever situation you're in, you've got to believe in yourself and that you can get the job done and get off the field," McDermott said. "The mindset has to be a smart, situation-football mindset to understand what we're trying to get done and what the offense is trying to accomplish in those situations."
OFFENSE SEEKS SOLUTIONS: The Panthers undoubtedly miss Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, out for the season with a foot injury, but the impact is being felt more at guard than at center.
Eight-year veteran Geoff Hangartner has filled in admirably at center since shifting over from right guard, but the search for Hangartner's replacement is a work in progress.
Jeff Byers started his fourth consecutive game there Sunday, but the Panthers inserted Garry Williams at the position after a couple of possessions.
"Garry had been doing some good things in practice, and the opportunity came to shuffle them around a little bit and give him an opportunity," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "After looking at the film, we'll be continuing to try to find the best guy at that position."
The Panthers could consider Jeremy Bridges when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. The veteran signed with the team last week and showed flashes in his first practices since a preseason thumb injury, but he was inactive versus the Buccaneers.
"It was a combination of his first week of practice since the injury and learning the offense," Chudzinski said. "You can be in shape but not in football shape. That takes a little time. We'll have a better idea as he's out there more this week.
"He's a competitive guy, and he's very serious about it. Obviously, he's been in the league for a while, so he knows what it takes. He's a little bit rusty, but he's got good size, and I like his attitude."