The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on their division rivals from Carolina, the Buccaneers were still looking for their first win of the 2013 season, and still trying to deliver on the promise of what they believed to be a very talented roster. Carolina won that Week Eight game on Thursday Night Football in Tampa, 31-13.
Now the Buccaneers are riding a three-game winning streak as they prepare for their rematch with the Panthers on Sunday in Charlotte, and they’re playing with the self-assurance that belies a 3-8 record overall. That’s good for the Buccaneers as they visit Bank of America Stadium on Sunday; on the other hand, the team on the other sideline has won seven in a row.
The Buccaneers know that their Week 13 opponent is as big of a challenge as they have faced all season, and they have prepared as such.
“Certainly, a confidence builds around your team [with a winning streak], but the flip side of that is that every game is its own battle,” said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano. “It’s got its own matchups, it’s got its own feel to it. We always say, ‘Sixteen one-game seasons,’ and we literally mean that. It’s almost a whole season – the preparation for the game, all the little side stories that make up the game. But I do think our guys have some confidence…but so do they. They’re on a lot longer winning streak than we are. We’re playing at their place; it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
It was not the typical week of preparation for either team, as it was interrupted by some degree by the Thanksgiving holiday. The Buccaneers slowed down long enough so that everyone could enjoy family time on Thanksgiving but still kept their focus on the difficult challenge awaiting them in Charlotte.
“It was a good week,” said Schiano. “We have a mature team. We ended a little early on Thursday so they could be with their families; we went a little bit longer on Friday…not much. The guys worked really well. It was a really good week of practice and we had a chance to celebrate the holiday and get ready to play this game.”
“They’re going to have to play regardless if Darrelle is healthy or not [throughout the game] because there are other roles,” said Schiano. “We play multiple defensive back personnel groupings, so it’s just a matter of how big their roles are going to be.”
That group will back up a defensive front seven that is charged with one of its biggest challenges of the season: containing Carolina QB Cam Newton. Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for 50 yards and another score against the Buccaneers in Week Eight, and he is undoubtedly the number-one concern for Tampa Bay’s offense in the rematch. Schiano made it clear following the first Bucs-Panthers game that loss of containment against Newton was the main problem in Tampa Bay’s loss. That’s an issue that must be corrected, but Newton can be just as dangerous when he stays in the pocket.
“Cam is playing the best football of his career,” said Schiano. “My hat’s off to their coaches, they’ve done a tremendous job of getting their guys to play winning football. We’re going to have our hands full. Cam is such a dual-threat athlete that he can beat you from the pocket and then if you flush him from the pocket he can beat you moving around. And he also runs the football. They’ve tried to do less of those organized runs, but when he tucks it and goes on a scramble he’s scary.”
Keeping Newton from hurting them with his scrambles is a matter of discipline and sticking to one’s assignments, says Schiano. Just one mistake can be deadly.
“It’s all about leverage,” he said. “You can be aggressive as long as you’re attacking the play with the proper leverage. The minute you get sloppy and let your eyes go where they’re not supposed to go, he feels it. He’s that type of athlete and he immediately burns you.”
In addition to getting the clearance on Revis, the Buccaneers’ defense also welcomes back starting middle linebacker
In addition to Nicks, the Buccaneers declared the following players inactive before Sunday’s game: WR
The Panthers will be without one of their three primary running backs, as DeAngelo Williams has been deactivated due to a quad injury. Carolina’s running game will still be ably manned by Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and perhaps rookie Kenjon Barner. In addition to Williams, the Panthers declared the following players inactive: WR Tavarres King, WR Marvin McNutt, G Chris Scott, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Chase Blackburn and DE Charles Johnson. Blackburn, Hartsock, Scott, Johnson and Stewart are out due to injury.
Johnson, the Panthers’ leading sacker with 8.5 QB takedowns on the season, will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Mario Addison in turn gets his second straight start at left defensive end. A.J. Klein will start for Blackburn at weakside linebacker and Nate Chandler will start for Scott at right guard.
The Buccaneers and Panthers will kick off their Week 13 matchup at Bank of America Stadium at 1:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised in the Bay area by FOX. 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.