The stands were not exactly filled as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field Thursday night against Carolina. By the middle of the fourth quarter, with the home team down 25, the stands were almost empty.
The fans have given up on these Buccaneers after seven consecutive losses to start the season, with many of them holding "Fire Schiano" signs. Following the team's 31-13 loss on Thursday, it's hard not to wonder when ownership will desert coach Greg Schiano, too.
NFL Media columnist Michael Silver and NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport report that Schiano is not expected to be fired this weekend. But a string of ugly defeats and increased public player unrest could result in an in-season firing.
Schiano's high-priced, talented defense gets worse by the week. He's supposed to be a defensive coach who prizes discipline, but this is a sloppy squad that suddenly can't stop anyone. After playing excellent defense the first month of the season, the Buccaneers have given up exactly 31 points in three straight games.
"I feel like I just attended a wake," NFL Media's Rich Eisen said to start the postgame show on NFL Network.
It's hard to imagine Schiano surviving into next year.
Here's what else we learned on Thursday night:
1. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton just put together the best three-game stretch of his career. He's going through his reads well, limiting his scattershot throws, and knowing the best time to run. His great numbers (221 yards throw the air, 50 on the ground, and three total TDs) would have looked even better if not for a few key drops. Ted Ginn wasted a chance a 70-plus-yard touchdown catch on a beautiful vertical strike by Newton.
2. Despite the drop, Ginn has been a difference-maker for this offense. He caught five passes, the most of any game since 2009. He makes at least a few plays each week that help the Panthers win.
3. The Panthers' scoring defense was second in the league entering this week, and the unit put together another dominant performance. Greg Hardy had two sacks, which gives him six for the season. That's just 44 short of his preseason prediction.
5. The entire fourth quarter was garbage time. But it was especially frustrating to see Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson hurt his groin in the final two minutes after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty extended a Buccaneers drive. Coach Ron Rivera said he was concerned after the game, but it was a groin pull and not a tear. Johnson also had two sacks against the Bucs.
6. One positive for the Buccaneers: Schiano made the right choice to go to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. He's being asked to do too much, but overall Glennon has shown signs of being a decent starter. He's hit some difficult third-down throws. Two bad snaps killed drives in the first half.
8. It doesn't get any easier for the Bucs: They head to Seattle next week and another near-guaranteed loss.
9. Carolina has won three consecutive games by a combined score of 96-38. They also beat the New York Giants 38-0. Yes, they have been beating up on weaker teams. But that's a trademark of quality teams: consistently beating down on lackluster competition. The Panthers have found their stride. They have an identity with a ball-control offense; they lead the league in touchdown drives of 10 plays or more. The defense is among the league's best and their young quarterback is dangerous every play.
I picked the Panthers to make the playoffs before the season. I am loving that pick after seven games.