Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/4/11
TAMPA It was dubbed Throwback Sunday. And it was a throwback all right an afternoon the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were thrown all the way back to the mostly dismal era of the Creamsicle orange uniforms they donned Sunday. And now they find themselves in the throes of a six-game losing streak and an unraveling season, following a 38-19 loss to the 4-8 Carolina Panthers and dazzling rookie quarterback Cam Newton. On a day that the NFL's No. 1 overall pick passed for one touchdown and scored three on the ground setting the league's single-season quarterback rushing touchdown mark with 13 the Bucs traded their pewter for peeewww. On a day all-time great Tampa Bay tight end Jimmie Giles was inducted into the Ring of Honor, Tampa Bay staged a performance heavy on miscues and costly penalties that conjured images of so many woeful Buc seasons from the bad old days of their orange and white color scheme. And on a day celebrating the past, the Bucs stunk up the present. But this is what the 2011 edition of the club has become 12 weeks into the season, a young team coming apart at the seams at 4-8, with seven losses in its last eight games and now last in the NFC South Division. "Obviously, a really disappointing game as far as just the foolish, unsmart things that we did today," said head coach Raheem Morris. "I can take getting beat by a better football team, which they were. Don't make any mistake about that. We can take just about anything. But the foolish things that happened in that game as far as penalties and some of the things that we caused are just unacceptable. "We are not playing like a smart football team right now. And right now, we have four weeks to prove that we can play smart. If we don't play smarter, we won't win many games." You can't blame it on the absence of first-team quarterback Josh Freeman, whose shoulder injury sustained last week in Tennessee elevated backup Josh Johnson into his first start since 2009. Johnson made a few mistakes -- chief among them a costly interception that stemmed from a miscommunication with center Jeff Faine and killed a promising drive early in the second half with the score 24-12. But this was a team loss all around, and yet another one marred by penalties (nine for 73 yards) for the team with the fourth most infractions in the NFL. One of them even led to Buc player being asked to leave the field and go home by his own head coach. That's precisely what Morris told second-year defensive tackle Brian Price to do, after drawing an unnecessary roughness call on the final play of the third quarter. The penalty helped the Panthers get out of trouble deep in their own territory and continue what became an 81-yard scoring drive to take a 38-12 lead. "I told him to go home," he said. His reason? "Because it's foolish, it's selfish to your teammates, to everybody in the organization, to your fans," Morris added. "That's terrible. That's just selfish behavior, to get a 15-yard penalty in that situation, when that's all we talk about, all we discuss. You just can't do that to your team." Ever the optimist, Morris seemed particularly frustrated by the latest turn of events and why his message doesn't seem to getting through to his players. "You know, they're not listening," he said. "You've got to listen. And we've got to do a better job coaching. We've got a bunch of young guys and they've got to play smarter, and we've got four weeks to prove that we can play smarter." It's a long way from the oft-stated goals Morris voiced early in the year, not just making the playoffs but winning the NFC South. But based on what transpired Sunday before a disheartened crowd of 56,270, they're now in a race to avoid finishing in the division cellar. The Panthers, who have owned that spot for much of the season, dominated every significant category: first downs 26-15, total yards 385 to 285, and time of possession 32:41 to 27:19. The player the Bucs hoped would carry them to victory, powerful tailback LeGarrette Blount, had only nine yards on eight carries at the half and finished with just 19 yards on 11 carries. And while the home team was staging its throw-back game, the visitors were busy enjoying a look-ahead: into the bright future of an NFL star in the making. Newton was nothing short of sensational from the opening minutes. Following an opening incompletion, he directed a seven-play, 83-yard drive that ended with an acrobatic one-yard dive for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with only 3:39 elapsed. On his next possession, the 6-5, 250-pounder from Auburn University got in on the throwback action himself. After converting a fourth-and-2 from Tampa Bay's 35 with an effortless six-yard run, Newton took the snap and fired a lateral pass back across the field to wideout Legedu Naanee on the right side. Naanee then threw a perfect strike to the left and hit Newton, who deftly followed his blockers for a 27-yard gain to the Buc 2. Four plays later, tailback Jonathan Stewart scored from the 1 to help Carolina take a 14-0 lead with 5:07 left in the first quarter the only touchdown Newton didn't directly have a hand in (other than handing off). All told, he rushed for 54 yards on 14 carries and completed 12 passes in 21 attempts for 204 yards and a quarterback rating of 106.1. Asked about setting the NFL record for most rushing TDs by a quarterback, Newton replied, "It does (mean something). I'm not going to sit up here and lie, but I'm not focusing on individualism in this game because it's still 11-on-11 (with) those other 10 guys out there, most importantly the other five guys that are blocking their tails off each and every snap." In spite of Newton's heroics, the Bucs had their chances to get back into the game. Johnson the crowd excited with a 38-yard completion to Arrelious Benn on a blown coverage, giving the Bucs a first down at the Panther 34. And when the drive stalled, Tampa Bay's dependable player, placekicker Connor Barth, connected on a 50-yard field goal to make it 14-3 late in the first quarter the first of a career-best four field goals Sunday. The Bucs' defense then temporarily regained its bearings, stopping Newton on a three-and-out. Johnson moved the offense Carolina's 47 to the 17, but once again, the opportunity fizzled in the red zone, and Barth bailed the team out with a 47-yard field goal to make it 14-6 with 10:58 left in the half. Enter Newton, whose 22-yard scramble keyed an 80-yard touchdown drive, culminating with his 19-yard touchdown pass to Naanee for a 21-6 lead with 7:12 remaining before intermission. Even with that, the Bucs were still kicking. Unfortunately, that's all they could do, however, watching two more drives end with field goals rather than touchdowns: a 46-yarder by Barth with 4:32 to play and his 44-yarder with 1:03 on the clock, cutting the deficit to 21-12. But in twist that summed up the game, and the sorry state of the Buc defense, Newton moved his offense from its 20 to the Tampa Bay 23 in less than a minute highlighted by a 31-yard toss to wide receiver Brandon LaFell with 13 seconds remaining. That set up Olindo Mare's 43-yard field goal as time ran out to make it 24-12 and send the Bucs into their locker room on a sour note. Johnson had a chance to bring his team back on the opening drive of the second half. Looking sharper than ever, he used eight plays to move the Bucs from their 20 to the Carolina 30 thanks to a pair of nifty catches by Mike Williams for 20 and 14 yards. But on third and 8, he called an audible and center Faine didn't pick it up and snapped the in shotgun formation when Johnson wasn't ready. And though the quarterback held onto the ball, he forced his throw under pressure and was picked off by defensive end Thomas Keiser. The Panthers took over at their 39, and Newton proceeded to direct a six-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that ended with his one-yard plunge for a commanding 31-12 lead. "They gave the look, a certain look for a blitz that we knew they would," Johnson said. "It was a check that I was trying to get to. Faine thought I was still in the process of using my cadence. We have to do a better job at communicating." Still, Johnson took the blame for the outcome: "I could have just taken the sack and we live to play another day. That's some learning for me. You have to protect the football." To Faine, all that matters now is trying to finish strong in what's left of the season. "There's a lot to play for," he said. "We've got to finish this thing on an incline. And we need to improve by getting our football intelligence, playing well, playing smart, and doing the things we're coached to do. It's kind of been the story all year where we haven't been executing. We have not been playing smart. And that's what's been holding us back." One of the few bright spots for the Bucs was the play of rookie defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, starting in place of injured Michael Bennett. Bowers had eight tackles (second to safety Sean Jones' 10) and was credited with 1.5 sacks. "To see Bowers go out there and play with the effort he gave today, that was certainly something special," Morris said. "To see (rookie) Adrian Clayborn go out there and play with the effort he did today (five tackles, half a sack) was something special." Morris stressed he thinks the future can be special, too. "We've got a lot of young players and I don't want things to get away from us," he said. "We have a lot of young, talented football players. Josh Freeman will be back. He'll play better. LeGarrette Blount will be back. He'll play better. Mike Williams will be back. He'll play better. We'll get better on defense as far as personnel. I don't want to make everything, Woe is me.' " But there was plenty to go around on a throwback day to their putrid past.
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