Reasons for smooth sailing:
1. Vincent Jackson enjoyed a strong outing. Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, had just nine receptions in the first three weeks of the season. On Sunday, he led Tampa Bay with 10 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. The veteran was quarterback Jameis Winston's top target with a season-high 15 balls thrown his way. Yes, Mike Evans is a rising star. But Jackson, 32, still has plenty to offer.
2. The running game fared better than anticipated. You're forgiven if you didn't expect much from the Bucs' ground game. After all, the Panthers entered with the NFL's fourth-best run defense (75.7 yards allowed per game), and running back Doug Martin was held to a season-low 46 yards on 14 carries in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. But the Bucs found surprising success against Carolina. Martin ran for 106 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown, and Tampa Bay totaled 141 yards on the ground.
3. Third-down efficiency improved. In Week 3, Tampa Bay was 1-for-12 on third-down conversions. On Sunday, the Bucs were 8-for-16. Granted, there are new areas of concern for Tampa Bay's offense, mainly Winston's inability to take care of the ball. But the Bucs went just 9-for-40 on third down through their first three games. There was nowhere to go but up.
Reasons to walk the plank:
1. If Winston can't minimize turnovers, this will be a long year. Yes, the rookie deserves some slack. Growing pains will happen for any young player. But there are no mulligans in the NFL. Winston's four interceptions and his botched snap with center Joe Hawley early in the first quarter led to 27 Panthers points. This game should become a model for what Winston can't do as he tries to become a consistent professional. He made bad reads and poor throws. Afterward, he seemed a bit shell-shocked. How Winston responds in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be telling.
2. The Bucs need to fix their kicking situation ... fast. Kyle Brindza experienced a meltdown for the second consecutive week, so it would be a surprise if Tampa Bay didn't act quickly to search for a new option. It's understandable that coach Lovie Smith gave Brindza another chance after the troubles in Houston. After all, the rookie has a strong leg, and the Bucs thought enough of him to send tight end Tim Wrightt to the Detroit Lions during a trade on Aug. 31. Still, Brindza's two missed field goal attempts and a botched extra point Sunday were inexcusable. It's interesting to consider how the game would have unfolded had the Bucs entered halftime down 17-13 or if they could have trimmed the Panthers' lead to 17-16 early in the third quarter. We'll never know.
3. This season could be lost in a hurry. It feels like the Bucs are on the brink just four games into the year. True, few envisioned them contending for an NFC South title. But it wasn't unreasonable to expect them to pick off a few games early if they were in a position to do so. Wins against Houston and Carolina were there for the taking, but Tampa Bay found ways to lose. That continues a troublesome pattern of the Smith Era. This team desperately needs a victory over Jacksonville before its bye week.