Plays to Love, Plays to Hate highlights the plays that have a significant impact in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There’s always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs. Let’s review the momentum-shifting that led to a second half implosion against a division rival.
Three plays to love
Shaq’s first quarter strip: Carolina’s offense went three-and-out to start the game (insert sad trombone sound). Following the punt, the Buccaneers took possession on their own 25 yard line and gained one yard on their first play from scrimmage. On the next play Tom Brady connected with Ronald Jones as Shaq Thompson flew in, punched the ball free, and recovered the fumble. The Panthers offense took advantage of the great field position by scoring a touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
Converting on fourth-and-3 in the first quarter: After Shaq’s fumble recovery, the Panthers offense started their drive at the Tampa Bay 33. It looked like they were going to repeat the three-and-out from their first drive as they faced fourth-and-3 from the Tampa Bay 26. But instead of attempting a field goal, Matt Rhule went for it and Teddy Bridgewater connected with Robby Anderson for a first down. Three plays later the Panthers scored a touchdown to take their early 7-0 lead.
Cannon goes “boom” on a fourth quarter return: The Panthers were in the middle of a complete second half meltdown. After being tied 17-17 at the half, Carolina now trailed 32-17 early in the fourth quarter following a Tampa Bay field goal. On the ensuing kickoff return, Trenton Cannon broke a tackle, made a nice cut, and sprinted down the sideline for 98 yards down to the Tampa Bay four yard line. The Panthers offense scored two plays later to trim the deficit to 32-23 after a failed two-point conversion. Carolina was basically dead in the water, and Cannon’s electric return gave the team at least a false sense of hope.
Three plays to hate
Lollygagging prevents a field goal before the half: The Bucs scored a touchdown with just 21 seconds left in the first half to tie the game at 17. Carolina took possession from their own 25 with no timeouts left. Instead of kneeling out the half, Joe Brady dialed up a bomb to DJ Moore who made a remarkable diving 42-yard reception down to the Tampa Bay 33. A defensive penalty (which was declined) stopped the clock with just eight seconds left.
Replays showed the ball may have hit the ground on DJ’s reception and could possibly be overturned. When the refs blew the whistle to resume play I started yelling “Clock it! Clock it! Clock it!” in order to prevent a replay and because running a play with eight seconds left and no timeouts would be highly risky. But, alas, Teddy Bridgewater spent over 14 seconds at the line of scrimmage calling out plays when the whistles blew, the catch was challenged, and ultimately overturned. Instead of attempting a 50-yard field goal to end the half, the Panthers went in tied 17-17. It was poor awareness and situational management from the entire offensive coaching staff who should’ve seen the replay and told Teddy to immediately clock it, thus preventing a review and allowing a field goal attempt.
Jones’ 98-yard touchdown in the third quarter: Carolina trailed 20-17 midway through the third quarter when Joseph Charlton drilled a nice punt and Myles Hartsfield made a great play to down the ball at the two yard line. Tampa Bay’s offense went with a jumbo package with no receivers split wide. Carolina countered with a funky defensive formation with three defensive backs lined up noticeably wider than the last man on the Bucs line. The Panthers only linebacker was shading heavily toward the right side of the Bucs line. This left a huge gap through Tampa Bay’s left guard and tackle, which is right where they ran it. After an ugly missed tackle by Tre Boston, Ronald Jones motored 98-yards for a back-breaking touchdown and a 26-17 Bucs lead (Bravvion Roy blocked the extra point).
Phil Snow calls a horrible three-man rush in the third: After the gut punch 98-yard touchdown, Teddy Bridgewater threw an interception on the Panthers very next play. The Panthers defense responded by forcing Tampa Bay into a third-and-19 from the Carolina 42. A stop here would’ve been huge. But Phil Snow did the unthinkable - again! - of rushing three and dropping eight into coverage, giving Tom Brady an eternity to throw and Bucs receivers to get open. Brady didn’t see anyone open deep so he dumped the ball off to a wide open Cameron Brate in the right flat. Brate ran down the sideline and picked up the first down with a diving effort, extending a drive that ended with a Buccaneers field goal and a commanding 29-17 lead.
As I wrote two weeks ago when Snow’s defense gave up a crucial first down on third-and-14 to the Falcons: “Phil Snow dialed up what is - in my humble opinion - the absolute worst defensive scheme in football, a three-man rush with eight defenders dropping into a deep, soft zone!” May I never need to write those words again!
Closing it out and summing it up
Good coaches make halftime adjustments. The Panthers consistently poor play in the third quarter this year leads me to believe that Matt Rhule and his staff are getting outcoached. Look, I love Rhule’s aggressive mindset, applaud how Joe Brady is deploying the Panthers offensive weapons, and generally credit Joe Brady for pulling together a defense consisting of rookies, duct tape, and chicken wire. This coaching staff can be really, really good in the future. Their focus right now needs to be on making better halftime adjustments.
If Phil Snow ever dials up a three-man rush with a soft zone on third-and-long again, I swear I will board the Panthers next team flight and use Inception technology to erase that scheme from his brain.
While I like Matt Rhule’s aggressive mindset, I didn’t like going for the two-point conversion when the Panthers scored a touchdown to pull the score to 32-23 with just over 11 minutes left in the game. Kicking the extra point keeps it a one-possession game at 32-24. The attempt failed and the momentum of Cannon’s long kick return and scoring an immediate touchdown evaporated by still being down two scores.
Few blocks have ever made me jump out of my seat like Trent Scott OBLITERATING Ross Cockrell on DJ Moore’s bubble screen touchdown. Beautiful.
The Panthers have lost five games in a row and their flaws are very visible. I know others have said it but I’ll say it again: It’s the third quarters and third downs that are killing this team. But, that’s the price of having a new, young coaching staff and a new, young defense. Let’s see if the Panthers can get back on track with a winnable home game against the 4-5 Detroit Lions.
Which play to hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?
This poll is closed
Lollygagging prevents a field goal before the half
Jones’ 98-yard touchdown in the third quarter
Phil Snow calls a horrible three-man rush in the third