The Tampa Bay Buccaneers make a quick turnaround from their opening-week loss to San Francisco, heading out to Charlotte on Wednesday for Thursday night's matchup with the Carolina Panthers. It's both the first road game and first division game for the Buccaneers under Head Coach Bruce Arians, and it's a chance to even the season record and put Carolina in an early hole in the standings.
The Panthers are also coming off a home loss to an NFC West foe, having dropped a narrow 30-27 decision to the defending conference champion L.A. Rams on Sunday. While the Bucs and 49ers played a mostly defensive struggle, with three pick-sixes combined and neither team reaching 300 yards, the Panthers found themselves in more of a shootout. With do-everything back Christian McCaffrey accounting for 209 yards and two touchdowns, the Panthers scored late to get within three but couldn't pull off an onside kick to have one last shot. Now it's the Bucs' turn to try to slow down McCaffrey and quarterback Cam Newton. Here's what you need to know to prepare for all the action in Charlotte.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) vs. Carolina Panthers (0-1)
Thursday, September 12, 8:20 p.m. ET
Bank of America Stadium (capacity: 73,778)
Charlotte, North Carolina
Television: NFL Network (local TV: WMOR)
TV Broadcast Team: Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrew and Kristina Pink (sideline)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
Last year, the Buccaneers and Panthers did something they hadn't done in a decade: They split their head-to-head series.
In every season from 2009 through 2018, the team that won the first Tampa Bay-Carolina matchup of the season went on to finish the sweep later in the year. Because six of those nine sweeps belonged to Carolina, the Panthers have opened up a 23-14 edge in the all-time series, including a 12-7 edge in games played on the Panthers' home field. The two teams became division foes in 2002 when the NFC South was formed; prior to that, they had only met three times since Carolina joined the league as a 1995 expansion team, with the Bucs winning twice.
The Buccaneers and Panthers have played prime-time games against each other in the past, including one other Thursday night game on Oct. 24, 2013, which the Panthers won in Tampa, 31-13. The most recent prime-time game between the two teams was three years ago, when the Buccaneers went to Charlotte for a Monday Night Football matchup and came back with a 17-14 victory. The visitors were so thinned by injuries in that game that they dressed a third quarterback since all the inactive spots went to hurt players. Nevertheless, Jacquizz Rodgers shocked the Panthers with his first career 100-yard rushing game and Mike Evans scored on a 26-yard pass to tie the game in the second half.
The most recent meeting between the Bucs and Panthers also went well for Tampa Bay, as the Bucs took a 24-17 decision at home last Dec. 2. Safety Andrew Adams tied a team record with three interceptions off Cam Newton and Jameis Winston threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries.
· Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was drafted by the Buccaneers third overall in 2010 and he spent his first nine NFL seasons in Tampa. McCoy's six Pro Bowl appearances are tied for the third-most in franchise history and his 50.5 sacks as a Buccaneer rank fourth in team annals.
· Panthers CB Javien Elliott originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers in 2016. He spent portions of the next three seasons on Tampa Bay's active roster, including all of 2017, and he appeared in 36 regular-season games with seven starts.
· Mark Carrier, Carolina's executive director of football staff, is the second-leading receiver in Buccaneers' history in terms of yardage, and he held the record for nearly two decades before it was surpassed last year by Mike Evans. Carrier was drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round in 1987 and he played the first six of his 12 NFL seasons in Tampa.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach Ron Rivera
· Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner
· Defensive Coordinator Eric Washington
· Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn
KEY 2019 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (UFA)
· LB/S Deone Bucannon (UFA)
· CB Jamel Dean (3rd-round draft pick)e
· S Mike Edwards (3rd-round draft pick)
· QB Blaine Gabbert (FA)
· K Matt Gay (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (UFA)
· P Bradley Pinion (UFA)
· DL Ndamukong Suh (UFA)
· LB Devin White (1st-round draft pick)
· S Tre Boston (FA)
· LB/DE Brian Burns (1st-round draft pick)
· WR Chris Hogan (UFA)
· LB/DE Bruce Irvin (UFA)
· T Greg Little (2nd-round draft pick)
· KR Ray-Ray McCloud (W-BUF)
· DT Gerald McCoy (FA)
· C Matt Paradis (UFA)
· K Joey Slye (FA)
ADDITIONAL 2019 CHANGES OF NOTE
· In January, Tampa Bay engineered one of the most significant changes a franchise could make in hiring a new head coach. That man is Bruce Arians, who needed just five years to become the winningest coach in Arizona Cardinals history and who has a history of helping quarterbacks excel. Arians assembled an extremely experienced coaching staff around him, almost all of whom he had worked with in the past.
· One of the coaches Arians brought on was Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who served under him in the same capacity in Arizona in 2013 and 2014 before becoming the Jets' head coach. Bowles' arrival means the Buccaneers have switched to a base 3-4 defense, something the team hadn't identified with since 1990.
· Bowles' defense means certain players were redefined as outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. No matter the position designations, Tampa Bay's defense is expected to be more aggressive and varied in its pass-rush packages, and will likely ask its defensive backs to play more press-man coverage than it has in the past, which plays to the strengths of many players in that unit.
· Tampa Bay's offense was prolific in 2018 in terms of yards, especially in the passing attack, and most of its starters return for 2019, so one could reasonably expect another strong season on that side of the ball. If anything, the Bucs may be more aggressive under Arians, whose 'no risk-it, no biscuit' philosophy involves taking the big-play shot when you have the chance.
· QB Cam Newton is heading into his ninth season and in recent years he's had to overcome a few physical challenges to stay at the top of his game. That includes two operations on his shoulder injury, and in an effort to keep that joint healthy he has made some changes to his mechanics, including a tighter passing motion. Newton only three six passes in the Panthers' four preseason games, so the results of these changes are still largely up in the air.
· Late last season, Head Coach Ron Rivera took over the Panthers' defensive play-calling and started experimenting with more odd-man fronts. That led to a deeper change this offseason, as Carolina now identifies as a 3-4 defense, one that is based on a very good San Diego Chargers unit in 2010 when Rivera was the defensive coordinator. To help with this transition, the Panthers signed Bruce Irvin and drafted Brian Burns in the first round, and both players are now listed as LB/DEs on Carolina's roster.
· Earlier this offseason, the Panthers added "game management" to the title of Defensive Line Coach Sam Mills III. In that capacity, Mills will aid Rivera on game day with issues such as clock management and replay challenges.
Return to Prime Time – The Buccaneers were one of only a few teams not to be scheduled for a Thursday night game in 2018, and given the difficulties of a short-week schedule, they probably didn't mind. This year, Tampa Bay gets the prime-time treatment almost immediately, with their Week Two trip to Charlotte. That's a return to the site of the Bucs' most recent Thursday night win, an unusual 17-14 decision over the Panthers on Oct. 10, 2016 that featured a couple of seriously banged-up rosters. Jacquizz Rodgers stunned Carolina with his first 100-yard rushing game and the Bucs picked of backup quarterback Derek Anderson twice. Carolina has lost four of its last five prime-time games but the Bucs won't duck Cam Newton this time. Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians called Newton a "prime-time player" on Monday.
A Familiar Face, Once Again – LB Kwon Alexander, who left the Bucs for a lucrative and deserved contract with the 49ers, brought his new team back to Raymond James Stadium in Week One. Unfortunately for the former Buc, he was ejected in the first quarter after being flagged for a lowering-the-head personal foul. This time the Bucs will be saying hello again to DT Gerald McCoy, who went to six Pro Bowls in his Tampa Bay tenure. McCoy signed with the Panthers after he was released in the spring, and the Buccaneers subsequently signed defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh to bolster their own line. Suh and McCoy have been linked since they were drafted second and third overall, respectively, in 2010. Assuming McCoy stays on the field longer than Alexander, he'll surely be eager to square off against his former teammates. McCoy opened his Panthers career with one tackle against the Rams.
Playing One Opponent, Not Two – While the 49ers appear to be an improving team that got a well-deserved win in Tampa on Sunday, the Buccaneers couldn't help but feel as if they beat themselves in the home opener. Four turnovers, two returned for touchdowns, proved to be the difference on a day the new-look defense actually fared well. The one thing that defense did not do particularly well, however, was avoid turnovers. Several poorly-timed flags extended Niner drives and either flipped field position or led ultimately to points. San Francisco's only offensive touchdown came after a pass-interference call deep downfield on a htird-and-10 incompletion, for example. Carolina didn't have the same penalty problem as the Bucs in Week One but it did lose the turnover battle, 3-1, to the Rams. The team that makes the fewest mistakes on Thursday night will probably come out on top.
Ground Control – Is the Bucs' rushing attack for real? Arians said he was pleased with the ground game in the preseason but the brief playing time for starters and the shuffling through 90 players kept that from showing up in the stats. The true ground game was unveiled in the opener, and it was quite good. Second-year back Ronald Jones had a mini-breakout, leading the way with 75 carries on 13 yards as the Bucs ran for 121 in the game and 4.7 per carry. The Buccaneers only averaged 4.7 or better three times in all of 2018. Meanwhile, Carolina's defense allowed 166 rushing yards and 5.2 per carry to the Rams on Sunday. A second straight strong game from Jones and company would be a good indication that the Bucs will actually have a more balanced attack this year. Tampa Bay's rush defense was also good in the opener but will face a much stiffer test this Thursday in the form of Christian McCaffrey.
Stars Ready to Shine – The Buccaneers leading pass-catcher in the game against San Francisco was third-down RB Dare Ogunbowale, who got his targets late as a check down option against a backed-up defense. Tight end O.J. Howard also had four catches but for just 32 yards after averaging 16.6 yards per catch his first two seasons. Jameis Winston only found superstar wide receiver Mike Evans twice for 28 yards, and breakout candidate Chris Godwin caught a touchdown pass but only two other balls. Cam Brate had two touchdown catches erased by flags and ended up with just eight yards. Winston did spread the ball around, with eight different players catching a pass, but the Bucs' passing attack is at its best when it goes through Evans, Howard and the other big playmakers.
1. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David
Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles says you can't defend McCaffrey with just one guy, and sometimes even two isn't enough. The Rams didn't have much success in that regard on Sunday, as McCaffrey ran 19 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns and added 10 catches (on 11 targets) for another 81 yards. McCaffrey played every single offensive snap, and while he rarely comes off the field he does move all over it, which means at various points he's going to be a stress test for just about every Buccaneer defender. That said, David is a key factor in the Buccaneers' run defense, as was nakedly evident in the opener. David recorded six solo tackles against the 49ers, and five came on running plays. This is how many yards each of those running plays gained: 0, -2, 1, 4, 1. David also had a solo tackle on TE George Kittle on a screen that went for no yards. Obviously, the Panthers are going to throw a variety of short passes to McCaffrey just like the 49ers did with their number-one offensive weapon. David represents one of the Bucs' best chances to cap such plays.
2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers CB James Bradberry
The Panthers like to assign Bradberry to Evans when the Bucs and Panthers meet, and the young corner has had some good days against Tampa Bay's most prolific receiver. Last year, for instance, Evans had a combined five catches for 64 yards in the two Bucs-Panthers matchups. In addition, Bradberry got his 2019 season off to a hot start against the Rams with four tackles, a sack, an interception and two passes defensed. The 6-1, 212-pound Bradberry is big for a corner and can more effectively match up against the sizeable Evans than most corners. Evans was slowed a bit by a weekend illness and got his own 2019 off to a relatively quiet start, with two catches for 28 yards. That said, Winston targeted Evans on deep balls on several occasions and the two narrowly missed hooking up for big gains. Arians noted last week that Evans has deceptively good speed and it seems certain he'll continue to try to get Evans the ball downfield. Bradberry has been up to the task before but Evans won't make it easy on him.
3. Panthers Ts Daryl Williams/Taylor Moton vs. Buccaneers OLBs Shaq Barrett/Carl Nassib
Barrett got his first sack as a Buccaneer with a perfectly-timed dash around the right tackle on Sunday, but that was the only sack of the game for Tampa Bay's defense. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said he was pleased with the pass rush overall, as the 49ers were getting rid of the ball very quickly. Barrett and Nassib got most of the snaps on the edge in the opener, with Nassib on the field for 62 of a possible 68 plays and Barrett on for 56. The Buccaneers didn't keep the two on specific sides; rather, the alignment was dictated by where the tight end set up. Assuming a similar approach, both the left (Williams) and right (Moton) tackles for Carolina will get Barrett and Nassib in plenty of key matchups. Carolina allowed Newton to be sacked three times and hit five times in the opener but the Panthers' pass protection was actually pretty good last year, with the team ranking sixth with a sacks-per-pass-play rate of 5.68%.
4. Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones vs. Panthers DT Kawann Short
Head Coach Bruce Arians said before the season that he would ride the hot hand in the Bucs' backfield, should one emerge. That was definitely what happened in the opener, as Peyton Barber started but Jones ended up leading the team in carries (13) and rushing yards (75). Will the hot-hand approach span from one game to the next? That is, will the Buccaneers specifically game plan more for Jones this week against the Panthers? If Jones is to stay hot, he'll obviously have to contend with active linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson. But he'll have to get past Short first. Short is more than just a space-eater freeing up lanes for Kuechly and Thompson; in the Panthers' opener, he tied for the team lead with three tackles against the run. A Pro Bowler for the second time last year, Short has always had hefty tackle totals for an interior lineman, finishing between 52 and 55 stops in each of the last five years.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· S Justin Evans (Achilles) – MON: DNP; TUES: Placed on injured reserve
· QB Blaine Gabbert (left shoulder) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· TE O.J. Howard (ankle) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· RB Ronald Jones (toe) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches (finger) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· ILB Devin White (illness) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Bobo Wilson (ankle) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Rashaan Gaulden (groin) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WEDS: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· LB/DE Bruce Irvin (hamstring) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· T Greg Little (concussion) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· RB Christian McCaffrey (not injury related) – MON: NL; TUES: LP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· TE Greg Olsen (back) – MON: DNP; TUES; DNP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
Clear skies, high of 96, low of 71, 10% chance of rain, 57% humidity, winds out of the N at 4 mph.
Head referee: Jerome Boger (16 years as an official
· Favorite: Panthers (-6.5)
· Over/Under: 50.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Scoring: WR Chris Godwin/CB Vernon Hargreaves, 6 points
Touchdowns: WR Chris Godwin/CB Vernon Hargreaves, 1
Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston, 194
Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston, 45.4
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 75
Receptions: TE O.J. Howard/RB Dare Ogunbowale, 4
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 53
Interceptions: CB Vernon Hargreaves, 1
Sacks: OLB Shaq Barrett, 1.0
Tackles: S Jordan Whitehead, 8
Scoring: RB Christian McCaffrey, 12
Touchdowns: RB Christian McCaffrey, 2
Passing Yards: QB Cam Newton, 239
Passer Rating: QB Cam Newton, 72.1
Rushing Yards: RB Christian McCaffrey, 128
Receptions: RB Christian McCaffrey, 10
Receiving Yards: RB Christian McCaffrey, 81
Interceptions: CB James Bradberry, 1
Sacks: CB James Bradberry, 1.0
Tackles: S Tre Boston/LB Shaq Thompson, 9
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: t-22nd (17.0 ppg)
Total Offense: 25th (295.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 26th (174.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 13th (121.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-16th (21.0)
Third-Down Pct.: t-16th (45.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 18th (8.33%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-25th (25.0%)
Scoring Defense: 26th (31.0 ppg)
Total Defense: 6th (256.0 ypg)
Passing Defense: 3rd (158.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: t-13th (98.0 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-7th (17.0)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: t-11th (38.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 20th (3.70%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-1st (0.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-23rd (-2)
Scoring Offense: t-13th (27.0 ppg)
Total Offense: 22nd (343.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: t-21st (216.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 9th (127.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-16th (21.0)
Third-Down Pct.: t-16th (45.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 17th (7.89%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-1st (100.0%)
Scoring Defense: t-23rd (30.0 ppg)
Total Defense: 15th (349.0 ypg)
Passing Defense: 9th (183.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 28th (166.0 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-18th (22.0)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 24th (52.9%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: t-24th (2.56%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-21st (75.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-23rd (-2)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· TE Cameron Brate has three career games with multiple touchdown receptions. With one more he would tie Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles for the most such games by a tight end in team history.
· LB Lavonte David has 10 career interceptions. With one more he would surpass David Lewis (also 10) for the second most by a linebacker in team annals. Derrick Brooks holds the record with 15.
· CB Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted a pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown against San Francisco in Week One. He now has a chance to become the first Buccaneer in three seasons to have consecutive games with an interception. The last to do so was Keith Tandy, against San Diego and New Orleans on Dec. 4 and 11 of 2016.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on if he stuck with RB Ronald Jones II because Jones had a hot hand: "I don't know if it could've gotten any hotter unless he [would have] run through the last one and scored a couple times, but he was very decisive and there were a lot of holes for him to be decisive in. Running through arm tackles – that's exactly what I expected out of him."
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles on how much of a challenge it will be to stop Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey: "Major – he creates a lot of problems. He had about 200 total yards yesterday [himself in 343] yards of offense. Again, not just running the ball but catching the ball, as well. He is a great route runner, he has great hands [and] he is probably one of the best all-around backs in the game right now."
· Arians on putting a Week One loss in perspective with 15 games to go: "Yeah – whether Week One or Week 10, it's the next one. Learn from what you did, get it corrected, and when you get it corrected, the wins will start happening. I don't think everybody that lost yesterday's season is over. This is a quick turnaround, so it kind of helps mentally because we are right into our game plan now [and] this one's over."
· T Donovan Smith on what he took out of the review of Sunday's game: "Yeah, we've just got to stop beating ourselves. Obviously, there's a bunch of things that we could have done better, executed better but, yeah, we've got to stop beating ourselves. I think we played physical, but we've just got to stop beating ourselves."
· DL Vita Vea on if the Bucs need to prepare for the type of misdirection plays the Panthers successfully used against them last year: "Yeah, I think so. Also, another thing, we had a different team last year, a different defense, different coaches. So I feel like it will be handled different for us up front and as a defense. We haven't gone over the plan yet so we'll see what it's going to look like."