No one feels good about where Buccaneers are at

CHARLOTTE, NC — For a player who made his living winning contested catches, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans had one of the easiest deep touchdown grabs of his career with the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The nearest defender — cornerback CJ Henderson — was 10.9 yards away when quarterback Tom Brady’s pass landed in Evans’ hands.

25 meters in front of him was nothing but green grass. And he dropped it. The Buccaneers would not score a touchdown the entire game.

“No one’s the only reason you lose, but that was definitely the main reason,” Evans said. “I’ve seen the life come out of us. It took a while before I could play again. We were taught to play the next piece, but it was tough – wide open, one of the best in the game – I’ve got to catch it.”

Such was Sunday for the Bucs as they lost to the Panthers 21-3 in a stunning fashion and lost their fourth of their last five games 3-4. Much like last week’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, they faced a Panthers team with a win they should beat by double digits, led by a backup quarterback and lacking in star power.

“Nobody’s comfortable with where we’re at, nobody’s comfortable with how we played or what we’re doing,” said Brady, who is under .500 for the first time since 2002 after seven games this season.

“We’re all in this together. We have to pull ourselves out of there.”

While several players sat at their lockers, visibly stunned, staring at the floor in silence, coach Todd Bowles was not at a loss for words.

“We don’t play well. We don’t play well as individuals, we don’t play well as a team,” he said. “We don’t train well. All around. We don’t hit enough on offense. We don’t stop them enough on defense. So we have to wear that on our sleeve. We have to be grown men. We’ll see what we’re made of – how many people can handle adversity?that is as dark as it will be now.

“The guys who will go up will show up in training this week. Our leaders will lead. Our coaches will train. We’ll just dig and keep our heads down. It’s proud football… You either can or you can’t .We’ll see what we have in the future and see how many people collapse when it’s dark and see how many people get up and start playing better.

“We as a team, starting with me and the coaches, and the players too, have to be responsible – it’s a dark day for us to lose the way we did and with the mistakes we had that we didn’t should have,” he continued. “You can’t do anything but pick up your shirt by the tail. We own it, we gotta own it, for a man, we gotta get up here and own it and not make excuses, and we just gotta start digging it.”

The Bucs, touted as one of the best offenses in the league, have gone from averaging 31.43 offensive points per game in seven games last season to just 16.71 points, ranking 27th in the league. In the third quarter, at the Carolina 25-yard line, running back Leonard Fournette was choked on a third-and-1 run down the middle and then on a fourth-and-1 pitch. The Bucs had a total of three drops for the game.

When Brady and the Bucs got to the 8-yard line in the fourth quarter with 1:53 to go, he failed on three straight pass attempts — to Russell Gage, Evans and Chris Godwin — forcing them to settle for a 27-yard -Field goal by Ryan Succop for their only points of the day.

Defensively, they suffered from multiple communication issues and lack of coverage without cornerbacks Carlton Davis, who missed the game with a hip injury, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who was out with a quadriceps injury, and safety Logan Ryan, who underwent surgery this week for a Jones fracture in his repair foot. Cornerback Jamel Dean inexplicably didn’t go deep when DJ Moore slipped behind safety Mike Edwards on a 20-yard touchdown. Rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum hesitated and was out of position on PJ Walker’s 29-yard touchdown throw against Tommy Tremble.

The Bucs have gone from having the league’s best running defense with 67.43 rushing yards per game in seven games last year to 118.29 rushing yards per game, 16th in the league. On Sunday, they gave up 173 rushing yards with a 60-yard run by D’Onta Foreman and a 17-yard touchdown run by Chuba Hubbard that saw linebacker Devin White and safety Keanu Neal miss both tackles.

“It will be a big test for us. We’ll see where we stand. We’ll see what we’re made of,” Evans said. “We have been here before. Some of us have been through really difficult times here. We know how to keep playing and we have to do that. This one will hurt. We will be following the 24 hour rule and we need to get ready for Thursday [against the Baltimore Ravens]. … Luckily we play Thursday. We have to win it.”

When asked if he was worried players would start checking out mentally, Bowles said, “We’re all checked in. We’re just not training and playing well enough.” No one feels good about where Buccaneers are at

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