Finally, the Panthers realized that, with quarterback Jake Delhomme one of the more overrated signal-callers in recent memory, the way to win games is to run the ball.
And so the Panthers did, with DeAngelo Williams rolling for 152 yards and two touchdowns and Jonathan Stewart adding 110 yards and a score.
Delhomme, in contrast, completed only nine of 17 passes for a pitiful 65 yards.
Receiver Muhsin Muhammad thinks the Panthers have a tell.
“From what I’ve been seeing defenses are dropping a lot more guys into
coverage and, I don’t know if it’s based on our formations, or the
quarterback’s drop or what kind of keys they’re getting, but the
safeties have typically been reading and then trying to drop back into
coverage and reading pass,” Muhammad said, per Steve Reed of CarolinaGrowl.com.
“Something is giving
them a pass key and they are just double-teaming the pass. It doesn’t
always start off like Cover 2, but it winds up in Cover 2 or some sort
of man with Cover 2, that kind of thing.”
The low production in the passing game prompted a strong whiff of frustration from receiver Steve Smith, who might suddenly be crossing his fingers for a trade that likely won’t be coming.
The Bucs showed a lot more balance on offense, but not enough on defense to snap a 10-game losing streak that began last December against the Panthers.
Both teams have taken a major step backward since entering that Monday night game with identical 9-3 records. The Panthers still have a glimmer of hope, thanks to feasting in back-to-back weeks on bad teams. The Panthers might even pull their record to 3-3 when the Bills come to town next week.
But then it gets hairy, with only one cream puff (a rematch with the Bucs) in the final ten games, which include the Cardinals, Saints twice, Falcons, Dolphins, Jets, Patriot, Vikings, and Giants.
Unless the passing game wakes up soon, there might not be many more wins to go with the two that the Panthers have finagled in the past eight days.
For the Bucs, the only remaining question is whether they can avoid an 0-16 finish that, based on the remaining schedule, is looking more like a probability than a possibility.