Embattled rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo shook off a pair of missed field goals to drill the game-winner from 38 yards out, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 17-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers in a wild and wacky NFC South showdown Monday night. Here's what we learned:
- Going back to the start of preseason action, the second-round kicker has been anything but predictable -- generally not an attractive quality at a key position that averages an 84.5 percent success rate. On a night filled with questionable coaching choices, Dirk Koetter's decision to set up a long Aguayo field goal on third-and-9 with 3:38 remaining was among the most head-scratching. Panthers coach Ron Rivera bailed Koetter out shortly thereafter, showing irrational faith in his leaky defense by calling timeouts during Jameis Winston's ensuing two-minute drill that led to Aguayo's nail-biting game winner.
"I wish I had those other two back, but in the end, I made the one that counted," Aguayo told ESPN's Lisa Salters after the game. "It meant the world."
Koetter wasn't as forgiving of his kicker's obvious confidence issues. "I wasn't comfortable," Koetter said of the game-ending scenario. "We couldn't have gotten close enough."
The final kick of the night may have bought the uncuttable Aguayo a longer leash, but this is a "results-oriented business," as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once remarked of football's most unforgiving position. Aguayo's yips have placed Koetter and his coaching staff in a week-to-week roster conundrum. It's hard to imagine that scenario ever entered Jason Licht's mind when the general manager cited the way Aguayo is "wired" upon trading up in the second round to select the Florida State kicker.
- By the time the teams were trading gaffes late in the fourth quarter, both coaches seemed to have lost faith in their quarterbacks -- for good reason. Jameis Winston failed to take advantage of a patchwork secondary that surrendered the first ever 500-300 performance to a quarterback-wide receiver connection last week. The second-year signal caller sailed too many passes and began dipping his eyes to gauge the pass rush as the night proceeded. It's damning with faint praise to point out that he avoided the back-breaking turnovers of counterpart Derek Anderson.
The Panthers stand-in quarterback moved the offense and won the yardage battle, but authored his team's demise with a pair of brain cramps. An ill-advised third-down scramble resulted in a lost fumble at the sticks early in the fourth quarter. After engineering an impressive 81-yard drive on the next possession, he got caught going to the Greg Olsen well one too many times when a high-rising Brent Grimes intercepted his underthrown first-and-goal toss from the 1-yard line. It's fair to wonder why the Panthers were passing in that situation considering their previous three runs went for 14, 12 and 16 yards.
- Speaking of Olsen, the two-time Pro Bowl tight end spent the night running scot free through the second level of Tampa Bay's defense. Olsen had already generated a career-high in yards with 21 minutes remaining in the game. By the time the final whistle blew, he had joined Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad as the only players in franchise history to reach 180 receiving yards in a single game. Since the start of the 2014 season, Olsen has eight 100-yard performances to nine for perennial All-Pro Rob Gronkowski. No other NFL tight end has produced more than four such games over that span.
- Last year, the Buccaneers boasted the NFL's most effective complementary backfield tandem in tackle-breaking grinder Doug Martin and passing-down master Charles Sims. With Martin sidelined and Sims on injured reserve, Jacquizz Rodgers was saddled up for a workhorse role that quickly transformed into a savior situation. The coaches clearly concocted a run-heavy game plan to buttress a regressing Winston, as Rodgers touched the ball 11 times on the opening drive -- the most by any NFL player since former Bengals running back Corey Dillon 15 years ago, per NFL Research.
Rodgers battled his way to 129 yards on an astonishing 35 touches, an incredible workload for a running back whose previous career-high was 18 carries in a game. For frame of reference, Rodgers rushed just 14 times all of last season in Chicago. He has earned a slice of the backfield pie as Sims' replacement once Martin returns.
- The Panthers will bemoan their blown opportunities when they are fighting to save their season in December. Minus four of their top five defensive linemen, the Bucs' defense took the dreaded "Gholston" tag Monday night, failing to notch a single sack or QB hit. Without generating even a hint of pressure on Anderson, they still boasted a shutout at halftime in the NFL's lowest-scoring first half of the season. Carolina gave the ball away four times, bringing the season total to a league-high 14. Contrast that with last year's NFL-best turnover ratio when the opportunistic defense complemented Cam Newton's ball-control offense.
- While the Panthers' shaky secondary has come under fire for the past month, the toothless pass rush has been just as much of a culprit in the team's disappointing start. It must pain general manager Dave Gettleman to see benched safety Tre Boston as the season sack leader (2.0) for an organization that has invested so heavily in "hog mollies" and "blue-goose pass rushers" for the front seven.