This is why we talk about there being no easy victories in the NFC South. Despite the Panthers being the dominant team on paper, this was a game where the team who wanted it more was going to win. For all the newspaper ads, bravado, and big talk it was the Buccaneers who hit harder, ran faster, and made more plays- they simply wanted it more. Greg Schiano needed to make a statement, and he made one.
We saw an offense that was rife with trickery, but little substance. Prior to the game there was the sense that missing Jonathan Stewart wouldn't play a huge role, and yet we saw an offense that lacked any of the basics. If you wanted to see a game with end-arounds, and a seemingly endless stream of option plays then you were in for a treat, if you wanted a game where the Panthers moved the football then you were probably disappointed.
On defense: Where do we begin? Josh Freeman needed confidence to start the season, and the Panthers were happy to oblige. As bad as I've seen Carolina's secondary over the last two years, I can't remember seeing as wide open receivers, or as open windows for a QB to throw to.
More after the jump
Is the sky falling? No, it sure isn't; but it's completely deflating to wait so long for Panthers football and be treated with this. Earlier in the day the Washington Redskins, another team who built through the draft succeeded almost entirely using their home grown talent. Meanwhile the Panthers couldn't do a thing against Schiano's new look Bucs.
The two biggest headaches for the Panthers were unfortunately both players we'll be seeing for a while- on the defensive line Gerald McCoy cut through the Panthers like butter, and in the secondary Mark Barron looked like a seasoned veteran who took away deep routes, and denied the Panthers from utilizing their vertical passing game.
Cam Newton did everything he could, sometimes he did too much. Finishing with over 300 passing yards, Cam had an excellent completion percentage (69%), and he made some very good throws, but there were also times where he looked out of sorts. This wasn't the same, confident, Cam Newton who we're used to seeing take over games, and yet he still managed to have a big day. Ultimately, the rest of the offense needs to do more, especially the interior offensive line. Concurrently, the playcalling was woeful. Sure, without Jonathan Stewart perhaps Chud couldn't do everything he wanted to- but that's no excuse to completely abandon the run; after all, it's hardly like DeAngelo Williams is chopped liver, and yet he got just six carries. Fun fact: Kealoha Pilares was the Panthers' leading rusher. Depressing fact: He had one carry for five yards.
Steve Smith- Extremely Optimistic
It was a slow start for Smitty, but he found his way during the second half as he finished with 7 receptions, for 106 yards. He was the same old Smitty we know, but it just wasn't enough.
Greg Olsen- Extremely Optimistic
Olsen was heavily used when Cam Newton couldn't find a way to get enough time to throw vertically, and that was a-okay. Six receptions later he was the most targeted Panther, and found ways of being used in the offense.
There wasn't a whole lot to be excited about on defense, but the return of the Panthers two star linebackers from season ending injury in 2011 was a sight to behold. Both Beast and TD were as effective as they've ever been, and when the rest of the defense is in step it will be great.
The biggest concern on defense entering Sunday's game was the lack of a pass rush by the Carolina Panthers. There needed to be a way of getting to the quarterback, and while the rush wasn't always perfect, at least Hardy and Edwards were bright spots. If this is when the light is coming on for Hardy it's a good thing.
Louis Murphy and Brandon LaFell- Extremely Optimistic
They didn't get a lot of opportunities, but when Newton was able to get some time in the pocket it was the 2nd and 3rd receivers who beneffitted, and made the most of their opportunities. In time they'll be effective.
Cam Newton- Somewhat Optimistic
This wasn't Newton's fault. Yes, he threw one ill-advised interception (the other was a tipped pass he couldn't have helped), but for all intents and purposes he was the entire Panthers offense on Sunday. Was he as good as we've seen? No, but he made the best of a series of bad situations.
Offensive Line- Extremely Pessimistic
Yeesh, that was pretty ugly, wasn't it? Fingers are being pointed at Amini Silatolu, and yes the Panthers' rookie played poorly. However, the issue was with the entire offensive line. Every player on the line under-performed, and it gave Newton no time to to work.
Secondary- Extremely Pessimistic
Almost as bad as the offensive line was the Panthers secondary, who gave Josh Freeman huge windows to throw in. Ultimately there wasn't a huge need to use the passing game for Tampa Bay, but if they wanted to open up their vertical offense, there was no way Carolina could stop it.
DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert- Extremely Pessimistic
Part of this was on the play calling, but despite that the way the Panthers ran the ball, and caught out of the backfield was incredibly average. Getting Stewart back will help this, but this was still an average display.
Brad Nortman- Somewhat Pessimistic
There is a lot that's understandable about why Nortman struggled, but he has to get his punts off faster. He showed good positioning, particularly on short punts, but anytime you see a blocked punt you look for a reason, and in this case it was Nortman's speed.
There is no reason to be concerned. The Panthers fell for a trap game, and that happens sometimes. Yesterday we saw plenty of teams fall for traps, and thankfully it's a long season. The lack of quality play in the trenches, and in the secondary is extremely disconcerting, but this was a situation where there was no real way of knowing what the Buccaneers would look like in 2012, and now we know- they're hard-nosed, play good defense, and are determined. At the end of the day the Panthers didn't want it as much.
Sadly it gets harder from here, but if the Panthers stay focused they can come out on top next week.