Panthers at Buccaneers
Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 18 game.
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.