It’s still going.
A slide that began four weeks ago in Pittsburgh continued Sunday in Tampa and now the Panthers’ postseason hopes are on life support.
From 6-2 to 6-6. That’s where things stand after Carolina again dropped a game it had fully expected to win.
Consider this: The Buccaneers came in with only three interceptions. All season. Through 11 games. Yet they picked off Cam Newton four times.
Like all things in a losing streak like this, there wasn't just one reason. The first two interceptions appeared to be on Newton. It didn't help that DJ Moore was knocked off his route during the first. The two others were mostly a byproduct of pressure.
Whatever the cause(s), the Panthers are in a funk they can’t snap out of. And barring a complete turnaround over the final month of the season, they’re in danger of going from playoff lock midway through the year to on the outside looking in for the second time in three seasons.
Picked a Bad Day …
For a guy who was perhaps “playing the best football” of his career, Newton had a rough day. His worst of the season.
Against a defense missing its top three cornerbacks, Newton totaled just 54 yards in the first half. He only attempted 10 passes in the first two quarters, but still. And his second pick of the half was particularly rough because a.) it ended a promising drive at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line and b.) it gave the Bucs a chance to extend their lead to 10 at the half. That difference? The 10 points they scored off turnovers.
Newton and the passing offense were more productive in the second half, but a pair of picks were killers. As was the pass he sailed high to a wide-open Devin Funchess on fourth-and-9 with 2:25 to go.
Then, Newton was for the second time this season pulled in favor Taylor Heinicke for a Hail Mary. Clearly, Newton’s shoulder wasn’t feeling up to the throw.
In a season when he’s done so much so well, Sunday was a disappointing step back.
Third Down Troubles
The 52-yard pass interference penalty on Donte Jackson midway through the third quarter was a terrible call. But the Panthers shouldn't have been in that position because they had two chances to get off the field. Yet the Bucs converted a third-and-7 (via pass interference against James Bradberry) and a third-and-11.
Tampa Bay converted six of its first nine third downs before Carolina’s defense buckled and forced four straight stops.
The Panthers, meanwhile, went 0-for-3 on third down in the first half and 3-for-8 for the game.
It was a bummer seeing Greg Olsen limp off early in the second quarter. The tight end again injured his troublesome right foot – the one he’s previously broken twice and that’s cost him 12 games over the past two seasons. Olsen knew the only way to fix the foot was surgery, but he was hoping to put that off until the offseason. Kudos to him for trying to play through it, but it’s fair to wonder if his 2018 is now over.
The Panthers also had right guard Trai Turner for only one half. He sat out the second with a neck injury, making way for Tyler Larsen.