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Third quarter meltdown derails Panthers second half in 46-23 loss to Buccaneers

 By Zach Goins 

November 15, 2020

Last week, the Panthers took the reigning Super Bowl champions down to the wire, while the Buccaneers suffered the worst defeat of quarterback Tom Brady’s career. Now, a week later, the two teams reversed course entirely as the Bucs embarrassed the Panthers and handed Carolina a 46-23 loss.

After a back-and-forth first half, the Panthers were unable to keep up with Brady and his explosive offense as the Bucs pulled away and exposed Carolina’s weaknesses in all three phases of the game.

“I’m unbelievably disappointed in the way we played in the second half,” head coach Matt Rhule said after the loss. “Completely unacceptable from every member of that locker room. Player, coach, completely unacceptable.”

Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s loss:

Third quarter meltdown

At halftime it seemed like the Panthers were poised to possibly pull off an upset and secure their fourth win of the year. Tied at 17, anything was possible. 

However, Carolina and third quarters have not gone together well this year– and Sunday’s performance may have been the team’s worst quarter of football all season. In 15 minutes, the Panthers totaled zero points while gaining just 34 yards and two first downs. 

“We better find a way to do something better in the third quarter,” Rhule said. “No one feels sorry for us.”

The Bucs certainly didn’t, as they showed no signs of slowing down in the third, adding 12 points and expanding their lead to 29-17. Along the way, Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II reeled off a 98-yard touchdown run– the longest play from scrimmage allowed in Panthers history– and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul picked off Teddy Bridgewater. Add in an extremely questionable fake punt from Carolina and it’s easy to see how they fell behind so quickly, but this isn’t just a one game issue.

“It’s been consistent and it’s one of the few things we haven’t improved,” Rhule said. “Third-down defensively today, third-down offense and then third quarter, those were the few things.”

It’s no secret: the Panthers’ offense has been atrocious in the third quarter. Through 10 games they have averaged just 2.4 points and 47.4 total yards, while converting just 34.4% of third-downs– and they’ve been shut out six times in the quarter.

The third quarter wasn’t the only three to haunt Carolina on Sunday. The Panthers defense also struggled tremendously to stop Tampa Bay on third down, as the Bucs converted 10-of-16 attempts. Similar to the third quarter, the Panthers have been horrific on third down, entering the game allowing a league-worst 54.21% conversion rate.

“I think we do play well enough on first and second down to get off the field on third down,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “Then you just don’t find a way [to get off on third down]. I don’t know what goes through everyone’s head, but I try to just say, ‘This is the down.’”

If there’s any silver lining to the third-down performance, it’s that of the six stops Carolina forced, four of them came in the red zone. Those stops forced Tampa Bay to settle for four field goals, otherwise things could have been much more lopsided. 

Welcome to the NFL, Jeremy Chinn

Second-round draft pick Jeremy Chinn has been sensational this season for the Panthers, quickly filling a much-needed gap on the defense and blending right in at the NFL level. After missing last week with an injury, his return to the lineup was highly anticipated. However, the rookie hybrid linebacker finally looked a bit in over his head against the Bucs. 

Chinn totaled just three tackles– well below the 8.3 average he carried entering the game– and was picked on by veteran Bucs Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Antonio Brown. No rookie should be ashamed to be exposed by future Hall of Famers of that caliber, but days like today simply serve as a reminder that as impressive as Chinn has looked, he still has a ways to go.

You want some Moore?

After tallying 1,175 yards last season, expectations were high for wide receiver DJ Moore this year. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance– like a 120-yard game in Week 2– his performance has been inconsistent throughout the season, and two catches for 18 yards last week had critics calling for more from Moore.

Well, consider the message received. Moore hauled in four of his seven targets for 98 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. He nearly added another 42 yards to his total on a deep bomb at the end of the first half, but replay showed that Moore slightly bobbled the ball and the play was overturned.

Now, the question remains: Can he keep it up? While no one in Carolina is questioning his ability, Moore needs to continue stacking impressive games to establish himself as one of the league’s top receivers.

Banged up Panthers

If the Panthers hope to right the ship next week, the challenge may be even greater after a number of players were banged up on Sunday.

The most significant of these injuries came late in the fourth quarter when Bridgewater was sacked and came up limping. With 5:24 left on the clock, Bridgewater exited the game and did not return, after suffering an injury to his right knee. While his gruesome injury in 2015 was on his left leg, anytime a knee is involved is cause for concern. Bridgewater, who usually addresses the media following each game, was not available for interviews on Sunday.

“He got up and walked off, but when it comes to knees and stuff like that, I never know,” Rhule said of Bridgewater, who he mentioned was not in the locker room post-game. “I don’t have a feel one way or the other.”

Offensive guard John Miller suffered a knee/ankle injury on the same play as Bridgewater and did not return.

Another major blow to the Panthers came in the second quarter when cornerback Donte Jackson once again exited another game. Jackson has battled through turf toe throughout the season, but has ended up leaving more games than he’s finished. For an already thin secondary, losing your No. 1 corner is a devastating loss.

A cause of less concern came at the start of the second half when running back Mike Davis suffered a thumb injury, however he did return later in the game. With star running back Christian McCaffrey already sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury, Davis’s health is key to the Panthers’ offensive success.

The Panthers host the Detroit Lions on Sunday, November 22 at 1 p.m. in Charlotte on FOX.

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