A Fitting Finish
For a few minutes, the Panthers looked like last year’s 15-1 team. Then they turned back the clock to 2016.
Carolina opened its season finale in Tampa Bay with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The offense then gained just 33 yards on their five other drives in the first half.
The Panthers’ final drive went 74 yards and ended with a short score from quarterback Cam Newton to receiver Kelvin Benjamin. But between those two touchdown drives, the offense totaled just 161 yards on their 11 other drives.
The Panthers’ short-handed defense did a solid job holding the Bucs to just 10 points and forcing a pair of turnovers. And besides the interception by cornerback James Bradberry and strip-sack from defensive end Wes Horton, Carolina also got a blocked field goal by defensive tackle Kawann Short and good field position after kicker Roberto Aguayo missed a 46-yard try.
What did the Panthers turn those four changes of possession into?
Three missed field goals and punt.
One of Graham Gano’s misses were from 50-plus yards, but his 36-yarder that went wide right midway through the fourth quarter is impossible to defend.
The Panthers guaranteed they’ll have a top-10 draft pick for the first time since 2012.
With six wins, they can’t get into the top six (Cleveland, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York Jets). So it appears the Panthers will land at either No. 7 or 8. It’ll likely be the latter unless the Chargers end their season with an upset over the Chiefs.