FOX 46 CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers’ season came to an unceremonious close with a 41-17 thrashing by Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
With the win, Tampa Bay (13-4) clinched the NFC South divisional title. The Panthers (5-12) had already been eliminated from the playoffs and finish the season in last place in the division.
Carolina struck first taking a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard pass from Sam Darnold to Chuba Hubbard with 7:22 to go in the 1st quarter. The Buccaneers would kick a field goal in the 2nd quarter to cut the deficit to 7-3. They’d later take the lead and never look back.
Tampa Bay padded its lead in the 3rd quarter, four minutes in, on a Ke’Shawn Vaughn 2-yard run for a 17-7 lead. Then in the 4th, Brady connected with Pro Bowler Mike Evans twice resulting in a 34-17 lead. With the results locked up, Brady would exit the game to rest.
The Panthers would add a field goal and a Robby Anderson TD.
Darnold’s second to last drive of the season resulted in an interception.
Many questions linger as the Panthers head into the offseason. The Panthers picked up the option on Darnold for another year, that’s worth just shy of $20 million. Reports of team owner David Tepper allowing Matt Rhule one more season to prove himself have surfaced. Rhule fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady midseason and is searching for a permanent replacement.
And then there is Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey. He has missed the majority of the season due to injury, but the Panthers made him the highest-paid running back in NFL history last year with a four-year, $64 million contract. He is expected to be healthy next season.
Among the free agents this offseason will be Cam Newton, Stephon Gilmore, Ian Thomas, Haason Reddick, and Ameer Abdulla. With the final day of the NFL regular season wrapped, the Panthers are expected to pick 6th in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Panthers have already released their opponents for the 2022-23 season, which include visits from Cleveland and Pittsburgh and road trips to Cincinnati and Baltimore.