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Bucs 41, Panthers 17: Instant reaction as Carolina loses 7th straight to end season

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kevin Minter during first quarter action at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fl. on Sunday, January 9, 2022.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kevin Minter during first quarter action at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fl. on Sunday, January 9, 2022.

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Panthers at Buccaneers

Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 18 game.

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The Carolina Panthers ended their season with a thud Sunday, losing 41-17 to Tampa Bay to finish 5-12 in head coach Matt Rhule’s second year.

It was an unlucky seven for the Panthers — once 5-5, they lost their final seven games of the season, and most of them weren’t close. Sam Darnold played every snap but one Sunday at quarterback for Carolina in the season finale, as Cam Newton likely closed out his Carolina career with just a one-play cameo.

Newton played his one snap on the Panthers’ first drive, handing the ball off.

But Rhule and the offensive staff ignored Newton on a critical fourth-and-inches from the Tampa Bay 1 in the second quarter, instead trying to use Darnold on the sort of QB sneak that has always been Newton’s specialty. Darnold mishandled the ball on the snap and ended up a few inches short on the sneak.

Shortly after that, Tampa Bay took over the game.

Newton never saw the field for the Panthers in the final three quarters. Brandon Zylstra threw a pass for Carolina, but Newton did not. He will be a free agent for the 2022 season, while Darnold is signed through 2022.

The Panthers led 7-0 after the first quarter, sacking Tom Brady on his very first pass attempt and largely bottling up Tampa Bay’s offense until late in the second period.

But after that, Brady was unstoppable. He threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns before coming out of the game in the fourth quarter for the 13-4 Bucs, who will open their Super Bowl defense next week in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

The good news? Carolina will have the No. 6 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft in late April, as long as the Panthers don’t trade it away for the help they badly need at quarterback and offensive line.

DJ Moore ends a nice season

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing and has earned 15 national APSE awards. He also hosted The Observer’s 8-part podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named 2018’s “Podcast of the Year.”
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