New quarterback rotation, same old result.
Carolina lost its fifth straight game Sunday, as Tampa Bay blistered the Panthers, 32-6, in the final NFL game of the season at Bank of America Stadium.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule alternated quarterbacks Cam Newton and Sam Darnold, once even on the same possession. But the Panthers still couldn’t get in the end zone. And Brady, even without several of his primary weapons, still carved up the Panthers defense.
Panther fans? They weren’t happy. In the fourth quarter, a “Fire Rhule!” chant broke out in one pocket of Bank of America Stadium. In his second season, Rhule is now 10-21 with Carolina.
Now 5-10, the Panthers will close the season with consecutive road games against New Orleans and this same Tampa Bay team. Once 3-0 and then 5-5, the Panthers are in real danger of losing their final seven games in a row in the 2021 season and finishing the season 5-12.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile has now clinched the NFC South for the first time since 2007. The Bucs (11-4) are trying to defend their Super Bowl title from a year ago.
Cam, Sam comparison
Neither Newton nor Darnold played well, although again they were both hampered by bad offensive line play. Darnold finished the game 15 of 32 for 190 yards and no TDs or interceptions, playing more than Newton.
Newton completed 7 of 13 for 61 yards, with one interception and no TDs in what was likely his final home game as a Panther. He stood on his own at the 25-yard line, helmet off, for much of the fourth quarter. After the game, Newton made a beeline straight to Brady, hugged him and then ran off the field.
Tampa Bay had seven sacks.
Newton started and took the first two series. He got the Panthers to a field goal on their first drive, which was mostly due to Newton’s 33-yard designed QB run that was Carolina’s longest of the year.
But the drive fizzled inside the Tampa Bay 10. On Newton’s second drive, offensive tackle Taylor Moton got pushed back into his face, and on a sideline throw Newton’s right elbow hit Moton’s helmet as he was passing the ball. That sent a wounded duck into the air, which Tampa Bay intercepted.
Darnold started the next three series, and on his very first pass he found Shi Smith behind the defense on the run. That resulted in Carolina’s best play of the day, a 63-yarder. That brought the Panthers to Tampa Bay’s 10, and Newton jogged back in to run the goal-line package. After two unsuccessful plays, however, Darnold ended up taking the third-down play and got sacked.
Darnold then took the next two drives and got a field goal out of one of them. Newton started the second half but, again, couldn’t get much going. Nor could Darnold, as the Panthers went scoreless in a dispiriting second half.
Brown, Brady carve up Panthers
Tampa Bay was without three of its offensive stars — wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and running back Leonard Fournette. It didn’t seem to matter, as Tom Brady still had Antonio Brown.
You remember Brown, the ultra-talented receiver who has been in trouble off and on for most of his NFL career. It was controversial when Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians signed him last year, and Arians made a lot of tough-guy pronouncements to the effect of “If he screws up one time, he’s gone.”
So Brown claimed to be vaccinated this year with a forged vaccination card. That cost him a three-game NFL suspension. But Arians let Brown back on the team, and Brown was Brady’s favorite target Sunday.
Final stats for Brown Sunday: 10 catches for 101 yards.
Other notes from Panthers vs. Bucs
▪ Carolina won its first two home games of the season, then never won again in Charlotte. The loss to Tampa Bay meant that the Panthers finished 2-6 this season in Bank of America Stadium and never won a home game after September.
▪ The Panthers still haven’t allowed an opening-drive touchdown, remaining the only team in the NFL not to give up one of those.
▪ There was a touching moment in the pregame when TJ Olsen, the son of former Panther great Greg Olsen, banged the “Keep Pounding” drum. Olsen, born with a congenital heart defect, has survived and thrived after several surgeries and is doing well. Before TJ hit the drum, Newton came over and took a photo with him and then hugged Olsen, who had three 1,000-yard seasons under Newton 1.0 at Carolina.
▪ Panther wide receiver DJ Moore went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the third consecutive year on Sunday. Only Steve Smith and Olsen have done that in Carolina history.
▪ Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn went over 100 tackles for the season Sunday. Only linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason have also done that as a Carolina player.
▪ The Panthers saluted radio play-by-play man Mick Mixon during his final home game Sunday, and the crowd gave him a nice ovation.
▪ Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore left the game in the third quarter due to a groin injury and didn’t return.