CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Tom Brady hasn’t been in that position in two decades — a game under .500 so far in the NFL season.
Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 3-4 for the third time in four games on Sunday. It came in stunning fashion, a 21-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers, a team that had lost 12 of 13 games and was playing with a third-string quarterback and under an interim head coach.
The loss left the seven-time Super Bowl champion searching for answers.
“No one is comfortable with where we are,” Brady said. “No one feels comfortable with how we played or what we do. We’re all in this together and we have to pull ourselves out of it. ”
Brady was 32 of 49 passing for 290 yards. One of those incompletions came when a wide-open Mike Evans dropped a 64-yard touchdown on the third play.
Brady has not suffered a loss this season since the New England Patriots lost four straight games in 2002 to trail 4-3. Brady has never been below .500 after eight games.
“He’s super competitive and I could see in his eyes that he was (excited),” said Panthers defender Brian Burns. “It feels great to keep the GOAT at three points.”
Bucs coach Todd Bowles said his team needs to “be grown men”, accept the loss and get better.
“We’re going to see how many people can handle adversity, and it’s about as bleak as it’s going to be right now,” Bowles said.
The win gave the Panthers something to celebrate — finally.
They came on as 13 1/2 point underdogs and many fans have already given up on them, as evidenced by the thousands of empty seats at Bank of America Stadium. Earlier this week, management traded the team’s top player, Christian McCaffrey, to San Francisco, a move that signaled to many that the Panthers are tanking in a bid to become the No. 1 seed next season and finally get a franchise quarterback to get.
“That was definitely not a team out there trying to tank it,” said Panthers caretaker coach Steve Wilks after his first win since taking office for Matt Rhule, who was fired Oct. 10. “These guys here came together and they believe in each other. … There is a lot we can build on today.”
PJ Walker threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns for Carolina (2-5) in place of injured Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. According to Wilks, he is expected to compete in Atlanta next week.
Tampa Bay’s defense allowed the Panthers to rush for 173 yards just three days after McCaffrey’s departure.
But D’Onta Foreman rushed for 118 yards, Chuba Hubbard added 63 yards and a touchdown, and the Panthers had 343 yards on offense. Suddenly, the Panthers are just one game behind the Bucs and Falcons for first place in the NFC South.
Walker thinks the win can shake things up for the Panthers.
“You could just feel the energy as we walked into the building today, the vibe that we wanted to go out and play this game,” Walker said. “We talked about making that leap in the session. We did that today.”
The Panthers led 7-0 at halftime behind a 20-yard TD pass from Walker to DJ Moore. The Buccaneers failed to get anything going in the first half after Evans juggled Brady’s long pass and then dropped it when he was more than 10 yards behind the defender.
“It’s a play,” Brady said. “There are also many other plays. It’s never a game. There are many plays.”
The Bucs never recovered from offense and were limited to 46 yards rushing.
Carolina extended the lead to 14-0 after Foreman’s 60-yard run set up a 17-yard touchdown burst from Hubbard. Walker finished the game with a 29-yard TD pass to Tommy Tremble’s tight end in the right corner of the end zone with 9:33 in the game.
Buccaneers: CBs Antoine Winfield (concussion) and Anthony Chesley (hamstring) left the game in the second half.
Panthers: Hubbard left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. CB CJ Henderson retired in the second half with an arm injury.
Buccaneers: Host Ravens on Thursday nights.
Panther: Visit Falcons on Sunday.
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