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Interim coach Chris Tabor's debut is more of the same for NFL-worst Panthers

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Breakdowns at key times and missed opportunities doomed the Carolina Panthers in interim coach Chris Tabor’s debut.

Carolina (1-11) scored late to pull within a field goal, but the Panthers didn't get closer in Sunday's 21-18 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers fired Frank Reich last Monday, 11 games into the coach’s first season with the team. Special teams coach Tabor was promoted to the top job for the rest of the season.

“I was proud of our guys,” Tabor said. “We had an opportunity to win the game. We have to continue to work to get better. I know that's a lot of big coach-speak. We're going to keep going.”

It was the second time in two seasons that Carolina played Tampa Bay shortly after Panthers owner David Tepper made an in-season coaching change. Matt Rhule was fired in October 2022, two weeks before the Panthers knocked off Tom Brady and the Bucs 21-3.

The Panthers have the worst record in the league, but even if that continues, they won't get the No. 1 pick in next year's draft because they traded it to Chicago for the right to select Bryce Young No. 1 overall this past spring, a decision Tepper defended after firing Reich.

Young threw an interception on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 40 with just over two minutes remaining. He also had an incomplete pass on third down as he fell to 1-10 as a starter.

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, with assistance from special advisor Jim Caldwell, called those plays.

“Those are the two plays that they liked,” Tabor said. “So, that's what we went with.”

Added Young: “It's on me to execute, especially in those moments.”

The Panthers took their only lead, 10-7, midway the through the third quarter when Chuba Hubbard scored from the 1. However, on the Bucs' next play from scrimmage, Mike Evans scored on a 75-yard reception to put Tampa Bay ahead for good.

“We took the lead there and they came back,” Tabor said. “They had the big play."

In the fourth quarter, a third-down illegal use of hands penalty on Yetur Gross-Matos gave Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs. Four plays later, the Bucs scored to go ahead 21-10.

The Panthers also had to settle for a field goal late in the first quarter after failing to score twice from the Tampa Bay 2.

Young completed 15 of 31 passes for 178 yards. He was pressured on a regular basis and sacked four times.

“Of course, no one’s happy with how things have gone,” Young said. “But ultimately, we play for each other.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Mark Didtler, The Associated Press