CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With no sacks and no interceptions, the Carolina Panthers had no answers for the Bucs on Sunday in an early clash for first place in the NFC South.
Somewhere among the Panthers fans' boos for their backup quarterback and a defense that insists on leaving big plays to the rest of the league, the Bucs came home with a 20-7 victory that left many in the losing locker room angry and frustrated.
Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins called his teammates out as having 'no heart.'
'I'm going to be honest,' Jenkins said. 'I think the players owe the fans an apology. I would be as upset as they are if I had to sit in the stands for four quarters and look at that garbage. I'm going to be honest with you, it was what it was: garbage.'
Carolina, among the league's least imposing defenses with a sack and no interceptions through four games, had dominated this series, winning seven of the last eight.
'There is a general dislike for each other,' said cornerback Ken Lucas of the Panthers, who surrendered two first-quarter touchdowns, then failed to muster any glimpse of a comeback.
'When a man gets tired of something, he does something about it, and they definitely did that today.'
While the Bucs (3-1) get an early edge in the suddenly shoddy NFC South, Carolina (2-2) is still seeking a wakeup call. With David Carr starting at quarterback for injured Jake Delhomme, the Panthers hoped their running game and so-far dormant defense would provide a spark Sunday.
It didn't happen. DeShaun Foster fumbled twice and dropped two passes. Other players dropped passes or committed costly penalties. The Panthers mustered six first downs in the first three quarters. The defense gave up 365 yards and 22 first downs and allowed the Bucs to control the ball for 34:40.
'At the end of the day,' fullback Brad Hoover said, 'we probably got an F.'
The Bucs went 71 yards on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead on quarterback Jeff Garcia's 3-yard run.
'During that first drive, it was more about what we weren't doing,' Panthers safety Chris Harris said. 'We had a bad first half, but we got it together in the second half.'
While that is debatable, Panthers coach John Fox gave credit where credit was due. 'That was a great team we played today,' he said.
Lucas acknowledged Tampa Bay 'came to play today, and that's what we expect from them. It's time now for us to get off the canvas and show what we can do. We know they're a great team. We need to get some consistency to show that we are, too.'