The Carolina Panthers visit Tampa on Thursday night for a game to be broadcast nationwide by NFL Network, the first such home game for the Buccaneers since they defeated the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football on October 3, 2013. The setting is likely to add even more heat to a rivalry that has grown quite intense since the Buccaneers and Panthers were paired in the new NFC South in 2002.
“It’s an exciting feeling, as you can see, looking around,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano. “You don’t do this every week, so it’s a different thing, which makes it exciting in its own right. But to be playing a good football team, a divisional opponent like Carolina, a division rival, makes it even more exciting.”
The Buccaneers have the added motivation of seeking their first win of the 2013 season, having lost a series of mostly close games en route to an 0-6 start. The Panthers come in riding a two-game winning streak and a run of three wins in four outings, during which they have established the NFL’s second-best scoring defense and an efficient offense run by QB Cam Newton. The Panthers have the NFL’s seventh-best rushing attack, the third-best defense in terms of yards allowed and the sixth-best turnover ratio.
The Bucs (and the Panthers, for that matter) have to muster that intensity after a short week of preparation that included very little on-field action. The Buccaneers are coming off a hard-fought 31-23 loss in Atlanta while the Panthers just finished off the St. Louis Rams, 30-15, four days ago. The Bucs’ only practice of the week came on Tuesday, and it was run at a reduced speed as the team focused on getting as many players as possible healthy for the next game.
“You’re jamming what amounts to five or six days of work into two or three days,” said Schiano. “You do a little double-time, you try to keep things similar where you can so there’s not a lot of new learning, but most of all you’ve got to get your guys feeling well. All the work stuff is do-able for coaches as far as the preparation; it’s the physical well-being of the players [that is important]. We did our best, we took care of them. I think the training staff, the medical staff, did a great job, so we’ll get out there and play tonight.”
As was announced on Wednesday, the Bucs will be without their lead ballcarrier. Running back
“It was just too soon to go back out there,” said Schiano. “I don’t think it’s going to be a season-ending injury, but he’s not going to be able to play tonight.
James is expected to get the start, joining QB Mike Glennon as the pair of 2013 draft choices now expected to lead the offense. Glennon has shown great poise in his first three starts, particularly last Sunday in Atlanta, and James ran well after replacing Martin against the Falcons. This will be the first regular-season start under the lights for Glennon, but Schiano thinks his young passer will be ready despite the short work week.
“He has been very decisive,” said Schiano. “He reads plays out the way we ask him to, and I think he’s delivered it to the right spots most of the time. This week’s practice really is as much mental as anything else. We’re not practicing full-speed, we’re not having any contact whatsoever. What it is is just shining up what we’ve already done over Mike’s time here in camp, the season, OTAs. Everything was fair game and we kind of picked from that. I think Mike will play well.”
It will help that WR Mike Williams has been cleared to play despite his ongoing struggle with a hamstring injury. WR
Of more concern for the Buccaneers is that starting free safety Dashon Goldson will not suit up due to a knee injury. In addition to Martin, Owusu and Goldson, the Buccaneers have deactivated RB
Carolina is down two defensive starters, as DT Dwan Edwards (hamstring) and CB Josh Thomas (illness) have been declared inactive. Colin Cole will start in Edwards’ place and Melvin White steps in at left cornerback Josh Thomas.
The Buccaneers and Panthers will kick off their prime-time matchup at Raymond James Stadium at 8:25 p.m. ET. The game will be televised nationally by NFL Network. The action will also be broadcast by the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will be available via a live stream on Buccaneers.com. Visit Buccaneers.com throughout the day to for further reports on the game action, including coverage of the team’s postgame press conferences.