Panthers search for answers after loss to Bucs on MNF

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson (95) and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) celebrate after a stop in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium.

CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers dropped to 1-4 on the season with a 17-14 home loss to the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.The loss continued a Super Bowl hangover for the Panthers, who have now suffered more losses in the first five weeks of the season than they did in the previous 25 games, over the previous 20 months.”It’s still early in the season,” said Carolina coach Ron Rivera. “We’ve started the second quarter (of the season), but the truth in the matter is we have to start getting things rolling.”The Panthers were without quarterback Cam Newton, who is in the league’s concussion protocol, following a big hit in last week’s loss at Atlanta. Backup Derek Anderson started the game, and it took most of the first half for the offense to get rolling.At the 29 minute, 29 second mark of the first half, the Panther offense had managed just 79 yards. Anderson began to click in the hurry-up offense just before halftime, producing 69 yards on a drive that ended with a missed field goal.Fortunately for the Panthers, Tampa Bay wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity. Despite having the ball for 22 minutes in the first half, the Bucs held a slim 6-0 lead at the half, with two field goals and a missed kick to show for three trips into the Carolina red zone.Anderson and the Panthers produced a 75 yard drive coming out of the half, ending with a touchdown run by Cameron Artis-Payne to take an improbable lead. When Artis-Payne found the end zone again on the next Carolina possession, it appeared that the Panthers were taking control of the game.Anderson threw for 278 yards in the game, including 181 yards to Greg Olsen, establishing a new career high for the tight end. Artis-Payne added 85 yards on the ground.The Bucs were able to recover, however. Jameis Winston found Mike Evans for a 26-yard touchdown, then hit Adam Humphries for the two-point conversion to tie the game. Evans caught 89 of Winston’s 219 passing yards in the game, and newly acquired running back Jacquizz Rodgers had a career day, gaining 101 yards on the ground.The Panthers continued to move the ball, but turnovers plagued the offense. The Bucs intercepted Anderson twice and recovered two fumbles, including forcing turnovers on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter.With 3:38 left in the game, Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo missed from 46 yards, his second miss of the day. The second-round draft pick has struggled in his rookie season, and the two misses dropped him below 50 percent accuracy for his career.”It’s the NFL,” Aguayo said. “You get a lot of criticism, which I found out early. You’ve just got to laugh at it. I know what to do. I did it at Florida State. It is a rough start coming in, but I know what I’m capable of.”Aguayo got the chance for redemption when the Bucs crossed midfield in the final minute. The Panthers appeared to stop Tampa on third down at the 32, which would have set up a 50-yard Aguayo attempt at the final horn. Carolina defensive end Kony Ealy was flagged for a face mask, however, giving Aguayo a shot from 38 yards out, which he converted as time expired.”As soon as it came off my foot, I knew,” he said. “I remember saying, ‘Smooth.’ I wish I had those two (misses) back, but I made the one that counted.”The loss left the Panthers looking for answers.”It’s about making plays when the ball comes our way,” cornerback Robert McClain said. “There are a lot of plays that we all wish we could take back.””It’s not (the start) we expected, but that’s how the NFL works,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “We just have to rebound. That’s really what it comes down to. You don’t expect to be in this position, but we’re in this position. Now it’s how we’re going to respond.”