TAMPA, Fla. — Only a couple of days back, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he”straight up” was playing the best football of his career.

Four interceptions along with a badly overthrown pass on that which might have been the tying touchdown with just over two minutes left Sunday’s 24-17 reduction to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Panthers do not even have that going for them.

The wheels haven’t just come off. They’ve flown off.

Carolina (6-6) has gone from among the greatest teams from the NFC and on a collision course with the New Orleans Saints for the division name to a group in disarray with four straight losses.

The signs of a group in a free fall are everywhere.

Coach Ron Rivera on Sunday got more engaged with the defensive playcalling in an attempt to turn around a unit which has underachieved for much of the season. That does not bode well for first year defensive planner Eric Washington.

Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen seems out to the remainder of the year after rupturing the plantar fascia in precisely the same right foot that sidelined him for two games last year when he broke it and also for three games before this year.

It has gotten so bad that questions about job security exploded into Rivera’s postgame news conference because CBS Sports, citing several league sources, said new team owner David Tepper is mulling significant changes if the group does not turn its performance around.

“At the end of the afternoon, unless Mr. Tepper says it, I’m not going to tackle it. OK?” Rivera said.

When asked a couple of minutes later if he had been concerned about his job security, Rivera’s voice grew louder.

“I’m not going to tackle that issue,” he explained.

There are plenty of questions regarding why the Panthers have fallen so hard so quickly. The matter is nobody has hard responses.

“When I had the answer, we would have fixed it,” said centre Ryan Kalil, who earlier the season announced that this was his final campaign. “I don’t know… It’s not a lack of caring. It’s not men stopping. We do not have a problem playing difficult.

“But there is a difference between playing hard and intelligent, educated football. We’re simply not doing this, especially in critical situations.”

Newton had managed to keep the Panthers in many games because, for the most part, he prevented the crucial mistakes. Everything unraveled on Sunday when the 2015 NFL MVP started throwing picks that kept Carolina from overcoming an early 10-0 deficit.

“I take this one personal because I know I keep running off this field in humiliation, really, knowing that you’re leaving because of your mistakes,” said Newton, who had seven interceptions in the first 11 games and hadn’t thrown four in a game since his rookie season against the Detroit Lions. “We only need to locate ways to get back into the win column, and I feel as if we’re on a brink.”

This year is on the brink of tragedy if it does not already qualify for that.

“He’s won a great deal of games around here, had a great deal of success around here,” Olsen said of Rivera, who’s four regular-season wins away from passing John Fox (73) as Carolina’s winningest coach. “That sort of stands by itself.

“It’s almost always easy to feel certain ways after bad losses, demanding games. These are not the days. We’re on the record during the last eight years what we believe about Ron. A good deal of what has gone on this season is a player-driven, performance-driven issue.”

This loss was driven by the bad performance of Newton, who came into the contest with a personal-best six straight games with a passer rating of 100 or more.

This loss has been driven from the offensive line’s inability to provide Newton more time; he was sacked four times and then struck twice.

This loss was driven by the defense making crucial mistakes, such as two pass interference penalties on Tampa Bay’s game-winning touchdown drive.

While the second call was suspicious, something Rivera chose to not tackle , those are the things that consistently have occurred in this slide.

“At this level, players, including myself, there is a great deal we can do in order to alter the results on the field,” Olsen said. “That is our big concern.”

Kalil consented, stating Rivera is”among the all-time greatest.”

Five months ago, the Panthers appeared among the greatest squads not just in the NFC, but maybe the NFL.

They must manage finding answers over the last four games — starting with a visit to the Cleveland Browns — along with the exterior noise surrounding possible adjustments to the team.

“As far as I’m concerned, unless Mr. Tepper puts his title on it, everyone just needs to calm down and let what’s being said and let the truth come out,” Rivera explained. “If anyone has a question, they should ask Mr. Tepper.”