Carolina Panthers

Panthers lose a heartbreaker to Tampa Bay as offense falls a yard short at the end

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When you have heavy rain or a weather delay at a football game — as we had in Tampa Bay’s 20-14 win over Carolina Thursday night — the day will be remembered in one of two ways.

If you’re lucky, you get something like the Panthers vs. New Orleans in Charlotte in 2013, when Carolina won a last-minute thriller and nobody minded the rain because it made the story better.

Or else your team loses, and everyone goes home soaked and miserable.

For Panthers fans, Thursday teetered between those two options all night. But it ended up miserable, as Carolina (0-2) was stopped less than two yards short of a touchdown on its final possession when a direct-snap running play to Christian McCaffrey fell short.

Down 17-12 in the fourth quarter, and having scored only on four Joey Slye field goals, the Panthers got another chance when Luke Kuechly made an end-zone tackle of Tampa Bay running back Peyton Barber for a safety.

That made it 17-14. But Carolina couldn’t convert on a third-and-1 or a fourth-and-1 on the next drive after the safety.

Cam Newton also underthrew Curtis Samuel a couple of times in the fourth quarter – although they did hit on an early 44-yard deep ball – and at one point threw seven straight third-down incompletions.

While questions about Newton’s arm strength abated to an extent after this game, he missed a number of critical throws, lost a fumble, completed less than half his passes and was outplayed by Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston. Newton said after the game that “it’s hard to look the defensive players in the eyes” after the loss and took responsibility for the offense’s miscues.

The Panthers had one last great chance to win, trailing by six and getting the ball at their own 25 just before the two-minute warning. Newton (who did have 333 passing yards) and Samuel found each other for two big gains, and then a penalty on the Bucs took the ball to the Tampa Bay 11. A third-down completion gave Carolina a fourth-and-2 on the Tampa Bay 3 with 1:28 to go.

Tampa Bay then made a mistake by calling consecutive timeouts, which created a delay-of-game penalty. It was still fourth down, but with only a half yard to go. The Panthers ran McCaffrey wide left on a direct snap, faking a reverse to Samuel and taking the ball out of Newton’s hands completely.

But McCaffrey was stopped by cornerback Vernon Hargreaves inches short on the left sideline, and Tampa Bay (1-1) had the win. Carolina, meanwhile, had lost for the ninth time in its past 10 games.

Panthers left tackle Daryl Williams had a very tough night. He just couldn’t keep outside linebacker Shaq Barrett (three sacks) blocked, and you wonder why the Panthers didn’t help Williams some more with a few double-teams.

The Panthers-Bucs game was delayed 27 minutes midway through the first quarter, with the stadium being cleared, due to a severe storm that brought the threat of lightning strikes to the area. This also affected some of the NFL Network cameras, which weren’t in use for the early part of the game to protect the people operating them. For awhile, the network operated with only two live cameras, which made for a retro viewing experience.

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The Carolina Panthers took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Thursday in a game delayed 27 minutes in the first quarter due to bad weather. Matt Walsh mwalsh@charlotteobserver.com

In the booth for NFL Network, hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman said he felt like Panthers tight end Greg Olsen – who suffered a back injury last week -- “still looks like he’s laboring a little bit.” Aikman also said Olsen, 34, was “not quite the same threat” as he used to be.

That was before Olsen got his nose bloodied, made a 33-yard catch to open the second half and then grabbed a 41-yarder on the Panthers’ next possession on his way to a 110-yard receiving night.

Panthers punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud also had an eventful night. He fumbled each of his first two punts but lost neither — he jumped on one and Donte Jackson recovered the other. Then McCloud, a former Clemson Tiger, caught his third punt cleanly and burst 37 yards up the middle to set up one of Slye’s three first-half field goals. Slye had a tremendous night for the Panthers, making field goals of 54 and 51 yards and going 4-for-4.

Donte Jackson had a rough evening for Carolina, as the second-year cornerback gave up a number of 20-yard plus catches to Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin, including a touchdown.

Kuechly had a remarkably active game, with 17 tackles and the safety. He did drop what should have been an interception, however, and said after the game “I’ve just got to make that catch.”

The Panthers offense had the ball inside Tampa Bay territory on nine separate possessions Thursday night. It netted only four field goals.

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