TAMPA – The Carolina Panthers’ seventh straight defeat put the finishing stamp on a disappointing 2021-22 season as they fell 41-17 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As has been their custom, the Panthers scored in the first quarter while still in their opening-game script. Sam Darnold capped a 14-play, 75 yard drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Chuba Hubbard to give Carolina the early edge.
The Panthers managed just a third quarter field goal and a fourth-quarter touchdown the rest of the way, as the Buccaneers found their sea legs from the second quarter onward.
Tom Brady threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came to Mike Evans. He used his patented mastery in the so-called “middle-eight” to score touchdowns to close the second quarter and the third quarter, keeping the Panthers at arm’s length.
Panthers QB Sam Darnold threw for two touchdowns, but spent much of the day under duress, as Tampa hit him six times resulting in two sacks. One of those sacks forced a lost fumble, and Darnold also turned in a late interception in the hurry-up offense.
After starting 3-0, Carolina (5-12) lost 12 of its next 14 games, failing to get beyond the win total secured by Matt Rhule last season, his first with the Panthers.
When asked about his status beyond this season, Rhule declined to speak for owner David Tepper, but believes he has the support of ownership.
“Every conversation with [David Tepper] has been supportive,” Rhule said. “Since I took the job, we’ve had a plan, I’d like to be further ahead in the plan. No one likes the results we have right now, we know the areas we have to improve. I’ve never had a conversation about anything with my job status.”
Multiple media outlets have said the status of Rhule depends on the hire made at offensive coordinator. Rhule said the team will interview internal and external candidates for the position.
When asked what the team should look for in its new playcaller, wide receiver Robby Anderson said the team needs an identity shakeup.
“One can only hope we’re consistently successful throwing,” Anderson said. “Just let people do what they’re best at consistently.”
The quarterback position will come under heavy scrutiny for the second consecutive offseason. When asked whether he should return for a second season as the starter, Darnold said that’s not his call.
“I’m not worried about that right now. I’ll talk to a bunch of the front office guys [Monday] and I’ll talk to Coach Rhule, talk to my coaches, and go from there,” Darnold said.
The 2021-22 season concluded with the Panthers’ fourth straight season under .500, and the third consecutive season with just five wins apiece.