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Big Mo: How the Panthers delivered a lump of coal in a Week 16 loss to the Buccaneers

There were no day after Christmas miracles at Bank of America Stadium as the Buccaneers rolled the Panthers 32-6.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Big Mo series highlights the plays (or series of plays) that had the biggest impact on swinging the Panthers win percentage as calculated by ESPN. In Week 16 the Panthers kept it somewhat competitive early but ultimately got rolled by a much better Tampa Bay Buccaneers team:


Carolina came into this game as huge underdogs and needed to play near flawless football to hang with the defending Super Bowl champs. Well, they weren’t flawless. Here are the biggest plays behind another beatdown.

First quarter 10:10 - Panthers 0, Buccaneers 0

DJ delivers on third down (31% to 44% Panthers win percentage): On the game’s first possession the Panthers defense forced a Bucs punt. On Carolina’s first drive they faced third-and-8 from their own 46. DJ Moore lined up in trips left and ran an out route. Cam Newton delivered a nice ball for a 10-yard gain and a first down to extend the drive. The Panthers ultimately kicked a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead with a 44% win percentage.

First quarter 4:13 - Panthers 3, Buccaneers 0

Vaughn’s 55-yard touchdown run (35% to 17% Panthers win percentage): Shortly after the Panthers took a 3-0 lead, Ke’Shawn Vaughn took a simple handoff off the left end. CJ Henderson took a terrible angle and missed an ankle tackle at the line of scrimmage. Vaughn then slipped through another poor tackle by Juston Burris to take it 55 yards to the house for a 7-3 Bucs lead. The Panthers win probability dropped to just 17%.

First quarter 1:48 - Panthers 3, Buccaneers 7

Cam’s bad interception (24% to 18% Panthers win percentage): Carolina had just crossed midfield looking to answer the Bucs touchdown on the previous drive. Cam dropped to pass, felt pressure, moved back in the pocket and lofted a panic-type pass to Tommy Tremble. The fluttering pass was intercepted and set up the Bucs on their own 49. Tampa Bay converted the turnover into a field goal for a 10-3 lead.

Second quarter 1:41 - Panthers 6, Buccaneers 13

Grayson gets 62 yards (25% to 6% Panthers win percentage): The Panthers punted to the Bucs with less than two minutes left in the first half. On Tampa Bay’s first play after the punt Cyril Grayson smoked Keith Taylor on an out-and-up route for a 62-yard gain to the Carolina seven yard line. Three plays later the Bucs scored a touchdown to take a 19-6 lead (after a failed two-point conversion) at the half.

Third quarter 11:49 - Panthers 6, Buccaneers 19

Antonio Brown converts on third down (6% to 2% Panthers win percentage): The Panthers offense was forced to punt on the first possession of the third quarter. Carolina’s defense nearly forced a three-and-out on the Bucs next drive but on third-and-7 Antonio Brown found an open spot among a confused Panthers secondary - Shaq Thompson was gesturing wildly at the snap - for a 13-yard gain. Tampa Bay ultimately turned this drive into a field goal for a 22-6 lead midway through the third quarter. With the Panthers terrible offense, it was game over.

Big Mo MVP - TJ Olsen

It was moving to see TJ Olsen, son of Greg Olsen, hit the Keep Pounding drum before the game. No Panthers players really did anything to bring momentum during the game, so kudos to TJ and his inspiring story.

What I liked

  • Seeing Brady Christensen play the entire game at left tackle. He had his hands full with Shaquil Barrett most of the day and surrendered five pressures on 53 pass-blocking snaps per PFF (but he didn’t give up any sacks), but this is the type of development opportunity he needs.
  • Watching rookie Shi Smith show up with three receptions for 86 yards, including an exciting 63-yard catch-and-run on a broken play from Sam Darnold.

What I didn’t like

  • Matt Rhule’s decision to play both Cam Newton and Sam Darnold, especially in what may turn out to be Cam’s last home game in Charlotte. With the season already in the toilet, Rhule should’ve just let Cam play the whole game, get his sendoff, then trot out Darnold for the Panthers last two road games. The platoon decision contributed to the offense never getting in sync, led to Panthers fans booing Darnold, and was disrespectful to Cam who really should’ve been on the field to end the game.
  • Watching a depleted Bucs offense that was shut out last week make things look pretty easy against the Panthers defense. Quarterbacks like Tom Brady who get the ball out quickly to negate the Panthers speed rush are tough for Carolina to contain.
  • Seeing Ameer Abdullah nearly catch two touchdown passes but failing each time. In the first quarter he tripped coming out of the backfield for what should’ve been a wide open walk-in touchdown. In the fourth quarter Abdullah had two steps on his defender and Darnold just overthrew him on what also should’ve been an easy touchdown. Game of inches.
  • Chuba Hubbard and Ameer Abdullah combining for eight rushes for 10 yards. The run game outside of Cam’s designed carries was pathetic.

The Panthers are bad, boring, and virtually unwatchable at this point. We can now only hope some development of younger players occurs during the last two weeks of the season and Carolina secures the highest draft pick possible.