Panthers fall apart in second half to lose big, but top concern is Teddy Bridgewater

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have had a lot of bad third quarters this season, but none worse than Sunday’s, which defines why they are mired in a five-game losing streak.

In the third quarter of a 46-23 loss to Tampa Bay, the Panthers:

  • Failed to score on their opening drive of the second half for the 10th time in 10 games

  • Gave up a team-record 98-yard rushing touchdown to Ronald Jones

  • Had an interception by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that looked like it was intended for the Bucs’ defender

  • Called a bad fake punt that never had a chance

  • Were outscored 12-0.

This all after the Panthers (3-7) looked like they would take another game down to the final series, playing the Bucs to a 17-17 draw in the first half.

An avalanche of mistakes and bad calls that magnified Carolina’s third-quarter woes.

It began with the opening drive that resulted in a punt, the sixth time this season the Panthers have started the second half that way. The other four have ended with two fumbles, one turnover on downs and a missed field goal.

This one ended with the Panthers trailing 29-17.

Again, this is a trend. Carolina entered the day ranked 28th in the NFL in third-quarter scoring with 24 points. It ranked tied for 26th in the third-quarter with a differential of minus-19 points.

Those rankings just got uglier, as did the record. But the biggest concern could be for Bridgewater, who suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter. P.J. Walker finished the game at quarterback.

QB breakdown: Bridgewater started the day 12-for-12 with two touchdown passes. He finished 18-of-24 for 136 yards and in the locker room with the injury.

Troubling trend: Not a new trend, but troubling. Third down on defense has been a nightmare. The Panthers entered the game ranked second-worst in the NFL with a give-up rate of 54.2%. Tom Brady converted three third-down passes, including a touchdown pass, into tight windows on Tampa Bay’s second possession. Brady opened 5-for-5 on third down before the Panthers got a stop and finished the first half 6-for-7, including a third-and-11 that led to a touchdown. Then there was a third-and-19 completion for a first down in the second half. You get the picture.

Biggest hole in the game plan: Game management. The Panthers burned three timeouts on one drive in the first half. They wasted so much time on their final drive of the half that the Bucs decided to challenge a long catch to DJ Moore that could have resulted in a field goal. It was overturned, and Carolina got nothing.