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The Panthers entered Sunday's game against the rival Buccaneers as nearly two-touchdown underdogs, and for good reason. Not only had they failed to beat Tampa Bay in three years, but they entered Week 7 as one of the most obvious rebuilds in the NFL. In the last two weeks alone, they fired coach Matt Rhule, ejected and then traded disgruntled wide receiver Robbie Anderson and sent franchise favorite Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers. No matter: Sunday's NFC South showdown was all Carolina, with the new-look Panthers unsettling Tom Brady en route to a surprisingly effortless 21-3 upset.

The big Panthers win, interim coach Steve Wilks' first since taking over, certainly raises a lot of questions. Carolina's offense, for instance, suddenly looked competent in its first game post-McCaffrey, with Chuba Hubbard and D'Onta Foreman combining for more than 180 yards on the ground. Their shared dominance perhaps reaffirms how replaceable top running backs really are. But what of P.J. Walker, the third-string QB starting in place of the injured Baker Mayfield? Unlike previous outings, he controlled the ball while connecting with top target D.J. Moore, potentially earning future starts in place of Mayfield and Sam Darnold.

Sunday's surprise Panthers rout probably says more about the Buccaneers than the team that beat them, however. Carolina deserves props for executing amid such big-picture turnover, but this should've been a get-right spot for Tampa Bay. Instead, it was another wake-up call, not for the Bucs but for everyone who's patiently awaited their emergence from a 2022 slumber. A week after falling to the downtrodden Steelers, who even rotated quarterbacks during the game, Todd Bowles' squad failed to meet expectations in basically every category: energy, effort, execution.

As is always the case in these kinds of drubbings, there was not a singular issue for the Bucs against the Panthers: Mike Evans dropped a wide-open, would-be touchdown early, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich once again failed to elevate a slumping unit with creativity, Bowles' vaunted "D" became a sieve up front, and Brady -- the ageless figurehead whose poise tends to at least keep these things close -- could do little but shrug his shoulders in an eerie blend of apathy and frustration.

As long as Brady remains under center, history tells us it'll be foolish to count the Bucs completely out. But almost halfway through the 2022 season, this team is 3-4 after permitting the Panthers to pull one game within first place of the division lead (!), and its star QB appears increasingly affected by the sloppy supporting cast and staff around him. Injuries have taken their toll, yes, but all teams endure those. There's a greater conversation to be had about the leadership in town, where Bowles and Leftwich drew very little skepticism as Bruce Arians successors in the offseason but have now overseen a decline so uninspiring it threatens to tug at the investment of veterans in that locker room.

Until then, it's the Panthers' time to celebrate.

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