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Panthers 14 Buccaneers 20: Poor coaching and critical mistakes doom the Panthers in Week 2 loss

There was a little good and a lot of bad in the Panthers’ Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers.

Editor’s note: This column is normally called ‘winners and losers’ in the preseason, but since the 53-man roster is now set and there’s not really much for individual players to win or lose, I’m changing the title to ‘stock up, stock down’ to more accurately reflect the tone of this series. The basic premise remains the same: stock up means the player(s) had a good game, and stock down means the player(s) had a bad game. You probably figured that out, though. -BS

The Carolina Panthers are now 0-2 after a completely lackluster performance on Thursday Night Football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is normally the part where I tell you that it’s going to be okay and that Ron Rivera teams tend to start out slow before getting hot at the end of the year and blah blah blah, but I’m not here to do that today because if I did tell you that I’d be lying to you, and I don’t want to do that.

However, if there is one small sliver of good news it’s that it’s only Week 2, and starting out 0-2 isn’t necessarily a death sentence*, but the bad news is that the Panthers are 0-2 for a reason. That reason? They’re probably not a good football team and there’s a chance that their franchise quarterback is more broken than anyone wants to admit (more on that later).

* - There’s a stat that says teams who start 0-2 have a 10-to-12 percent chance of making the playoffs, but it’s not really a meaningful statistic. Bad teams skew that number because they start out 0-2 almost all the time, and bad teams almost never make the playoffs. (I say almost because, well, the 2014 NFC South happened.)

I think I’ve rambled enough, so let’s get to the stock report.

Stock up

Luke Kuechly: Kuechly is back, y’all! He was all over the place last night, racking up 17 (!) total tackles (eight solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, one pass defense and a safety. He now owns the NFL record for most career tackles by a player in his first eight seasons, and he’s only two games into his eighth year. He’s pretty good, guys.

Curtis Samuel: I was a little harsh on him last week by including him in the ‘stock down’ section so I’m giving him his due today. He played well last night (four catches for 82 yards) and started to show signs of that No. 1 weapon label that everyone has given him all offseason. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t connect with Cam more often (more on that later).

DJ Moore: Moore also had a good game, snagging nine balls for 89 yards. If the Panthers can find ways to get Moore (and Samuel) the ball in space, this offense has a chance to be something special.

Greg Olsen: The old man showed why he is still Mr. Reliable with six catches for 110 yards including two receptions for over 30 yards (at least one of which would have been a touchdown if Olsen had any speed left at all, but I digress).

Joey Slye: I have to give Slye credit for his effort last night. He scored all but two of Carolina’s 14 points and was 4-for-4 in field goal attempts, including two from 50+ yards and one that doinked off the upright (those should count four points, by the way). I like what I’m seeing from him, and I hope that we continue to see it.

Brian Burns: Burns picked up his first career sack last night and added two more quarterback hits to his portfolio. Those quarterback hits are going to start turning into sacks soon enough, and once that happens the rest of the league will be on notice that Carolina has a legitimate terror coming off the edge for their quarterbacks. I can’t wait to see that.

Jermaine Carter: Carter picked up a half sack last night when he met Mario Addison at the quarterback to set up a three-and-out late in the game when the Panthers were still only down by three points. It’s just a shame that the offense paid them back by promptly going three-and-out themselves.

Stock down

Donte Jackson: Jackson wasn’t terrible last night, but he had a few critical mistakes that brings his stock down a bit. He was cooked by Chris Godwin on the Bucs’ first touchdown of the game and he looked completely lost on the play. It’s one blip on what should otherwise be a solid career, but he needs to bounce back from that next week in Arizona.

Christian McCaffrey: This is more on the Bucs keying their defensive game plan to mitigate his effectiveness than anything negative about Run CMC, but McCaffrey was essentially absent last night with 16 carries for just 37 yards. I don’t think this is a major issue, but I felt like it should at least be mentioned that he was wholly ineffective running the football and the Panthers suffered because of it.

Daryl Williams: Hoo boy, Williams had himself a stinker last night. I don’t know why the Panthers continue to play him at left tackle when it’s been said time and time again that he’s not suited for it, but last night was Exhibit A on why they should make a change. As much as I like Taylor Moton at right tackle, it’s probably the smart play now to make the switch and put Williams back on the right side so Cam can at least see the defender coming straight for him when Williams whiffs on a block again.

Cam Newton: Cam, I love you. I’ve loved you since you were drafted No. 1 overall in 2011. You’re my favorite quarterback the Panthers have ever had and I’m glad you’re ours. But you’re not yourself, man. I don’t know if it’s because you’re more injured than anyone is admitting, if you’ve started your decline, or what... but last night was one of the worst games you’ve ever played as an NFL quarterback. You went 24-of-50 for 324 yards and no touchdowns and it was one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to watch. Now, some of that wasn’t your fault — it’s hard to throw accurately when there’s a defender running straight at you after blowing by your left tackle like he’s not even there, but you missed quite a few throws last night that literally any quarterback — or anyone who’s ever picked up a football before — should be able to make.

I don’t know if you were pressing, if you just didn’t have it last night or if you’re more broken than anyone is willing to say out loud, but it was hard to watch you struggle like that. I hope it was just a bad day to have a bad day because I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with the reality that you might not have it anymore, but last night didn’t do a very good job of convincing me that you’re back to 100 percent. I’m not ready to say you’re done yet, but if I see a few more games like I saw last night then it’s going to be time to have that difficult conversation about how much fuel you have left in the tank and what the Panthers should do about it going forward. I don’t want to have that conversation, so I hope you snap out of this funk very soon.

Norv Turner: Norv, Norv, Norv. Norval. My man. Wassup baby? Quick question: What were you doing last night? You got outcoached by Todd Bowles, my friend. And what in the ever loving fu... world were you thinking by running that direct snap sweep play to the short side of the field on 4th and 1 from the 1.5 yard line? Your quarterback is Cam Newton, and while he didn’t have the best night last night (more on that shortly) he’s still a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback. He could have fallen forward and picked up the first down to give you four shots to take the lead... but nooooo, you had to get too damn cute for your own good. Your playcalling cost the team a win, Norv. Stop doing that.

Ron Rivera: Where do I begin? I honestly don’t know if I should start with his inability to adjust to what the other team is doing, his insistence that his way is the best way to play and coach football, or the fact that he couldn’t win a challenge if his life depended on it.* The Panthers are a better football team than the Bucs, and there’s only one main reason that they couldn’t show it last night: They’re not prepared enough. Whose job is it to make sure they’re prepared? Who will blame ‘missed opportunities’ instead of fixing what’s wrong? You guessed it: Ron Rivera.

If I were David Tepper I’d fire everyone today. It’s probably good that I’m not Tepper because that could be a knee-jerk reaction, but after seeing the same nonsense for seven of the last eight years I think there’s probably a trend that shouldn’t be ignored: The Panthers are usually woefully unprepared to face an inferior opponent in prime time. I don’t know why it seems to always work that way, but I do know that I’m getting tired of it.

* - To be fair to Ron, the officials screwed up both challenges last night. Ron was right both times and they didn’t change the call because they can’t admit they’re wrong. It’s almost like challenging plays is a waste of time since NFL officials have a God complex, and honestly I wonder why Ron even bothers with using his challenge flag since he’s never going to get a call changed even when he’s right.

I hope this game was just a minor speed bump on the road to success in 2019, but right now I don’t know if I can be that optimistic. I think this could be the new normal, and I think that we could be in for a long year if the team is unable to get it together next week against the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers will be on the road for the first time this year in Week 3, but they’re facing a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach.

This is a must-win game (and it’s INSANE that we have to say that in Week 3, but it is what it is), and if the Panthers fail to beat the Cardinals with 10 days to prepare for them then it will be time for David Tepper to prove that he cares about winning by making some changes. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but if it does I hope he does something to try and right the ship. Otherwise, we’re going to be in for a long, dreadful ride in 2019.