The immediate goal remains the same for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The way they will have to achieve it has changed drastically.
The Buccaneers failed to lock up the 2021 NFC South title in Week 15, losing a Sunday night contest to the New Orleans Saints, 9-0. The loss stung but didn't drastically hurt the Bucs chances of winning the division; just one win in their next three games or one loss by the Saints over the final three weeks will take care of that. Arguably the more significant result from that Sunday night game is a suddenly depleted offense that is now without it's three top weapons.
And thus the Buccaneers will head to Carolina in Week 16 with yet another shot at wrapping up the South but without Chris Godwin, Mike Evans or Leonard Fournette to help them do so. Linebacker and defensive captain Lavonte David will also be unavailable. The Buccaneers' defense is otherwise close to being at full strength but Tom Brady and the highest scoring team in the league will have to forge a new way forward, at least for the next few weeks. Godwin, in particular, is a painful loss as the team's leading receiver is now out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.
"It's just next man up and some young players' roles [have] changed," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "Some are now starting, and others are immediate backups. This time of year, you shouldn't be a young player anymore. You should embrace your role and your opportunity."
The Bucs struggled before and after their star players were injured on Sunday night but hope that a week of practice will help the replacements be more prepared for specific roles this coming weekend.
"That's still no excuse for a drop, but it will help," said Arians of the preparation time. "Everybody will play the position that they practiced, hopefully and we won't have to switch around like we did in that ballgame."
The Bucs will hope to get Evans and Fournette back into the offensive mix for a potential playoff run, but the task immediately at hand is hitting the road and dealing with the Carolina Panthers, who will get two cracks at spoiling the Bucs' playoff hopes. Carolina and Tampa Bay meet again at Raymond James Stadium in the final week of the regular season. The Panthers will counter the Bucs' reshuffled offense with the league's second-ranked defense, one that features a very strong pass rush, a budding star in safety Jeremy Chinn and the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Carolina also has the potential for a massive offensive shift in Week 16, but not due to the loss of anyone to injured reserve. Rather, quarterback Sam Darnold could come off the I.R. list, giving Head Coach Matt Rhule a decision to make. Will he stick with Cam Newton after four straight losses with Newton at the helm, or will he turn back to Darnold, who started the first nine games after a dramatic offseason trade brought the former Jet to Charlotte? The Buccaneers may not know which quarterback they will be facing until late in the week.
It may not matter, depending upon how closely Tampa Bay's defense can replicate it's season-best performance from Sunday night. Kevin Minter will be replacing David in the starting lineup for the second time this season but otherwise the Buccaneers' defense is largely healthy and appears to be pointed in the right direction.
"Absolutely, our secondary to line to linebackers – we've definitely improved throughout the season," said Minter. "We just have to keep climbing. I know it's been a long season, but like you said, we are jelling and that's what it's about this time of year – December football – starting to put your foot on the gas and get ready for these playoffs. We just have to keep going. Like I said, keep climbing."
The Bucs want to be an ascending team heading into the postseason, just like they were a year ago. That will be a harder thing to accomplish with their current injury situation, but they are far from the only team in the NFL dealing with missing stars. To make another long playoff run in 2021, the Buccaneers first have to punch their ticket to the dance, and that's the goal this weekend as they head off to face another division foe.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)
Sunday, December 26, 1:00 p.m. ET
Bank of America Stadium (capacity: 73,778)
Charlotte, North Carolina
TV Broadcast Team: Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Mark Sanchez (analyst), Laura Okmin (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
Last year, the Buccaneers got their first season sweep of the Panthers since 2016. Now they can try to take the series in consecutive seasons for the first time since the NFC South was formed in 2002.
Since Tampa Bay and Carolina became neighbors in the brand-new NFC South Division almost two decades ago, their head-to-head battle has traditionally been one-sided, though that side often flips back and forth. From 2002-17, 13 of the 16 season series between these two teams ended in a sweep, including every one from 2009 through 2017. It went Carolina's way in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Bucs got the sweep in 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2016. Interestingly, the three splits came in years the Buccaneers either made the playoffs (2005, 2007) or really should have (2008…which ended in a four-game losing streak after a 9-3 start). After a pair of splits in 2018 and 2019, the series went back into sweep mode, with Tampa Bay winning both in 2020.
Last year, the Bucs' September win at home against Carolina was the first of 15 they would stack up on their way to a Super Bowl championship, and the first win as a Buccaneer for Tom Brady. Leonard Fournette paced the offense with 116 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns and Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead each had interceptions off Teddy Bridgewater in a 31-17 decision. The rematch in Charlotte in November was a high-scoring affair that included the longest run in Buccaneers' history, Ronald Jones' 98-yard touchdown dash. Incredibly, the Buccaneers scored on 10 straight possessions to pull away from the Panthers for a 46-23 win.
In 2019, the Buccaneers secured a tight win in Charlotte on a Thursday night in Week Two when Vernon Hargreaves knocked Christian McCaffrey out of bounds two yards shy of the sticks on an all-or-nothing fourth-down run off a direct snap. That 20-14 Bucs win was balanced four weeks later by a 37-26 win for Carolina in a game played in London.
Overall, the Panthers have a 24-17 edge in the all-time series, including a 12-9 lead in games played on Carolina's turf. The Bucs and Panthers also met three times before the NFC South was formed and Tampa Bay won two of them, including one in Carolina's inaugural 1995 campaign.
The 2019 game in London officially counted as a home game for the Buccaneers. It marked the first time the Bucs had faced the Panthers in a game outside the country, but the two teams did once meet outside of North Carolina, at Clemson's Memorial Stadium in the aforementioned 1995 series debut. The Bucs' prime-time win in September of 2019 included a three-sack performance from Shaq Barrett, Chris Godwin's 121-yard, one-touchdown outing and a strong rushing effort by Peyton Barber.
Perhaps the most notable wins for Tampa Bay in the series with Carolina came in 2002 and 2005. At the midpoint of the 2002 Super Bowl campaign, the Buccaneers were coming off a deflating loss in Philadelphia (again) and had to play at Carolina without their quarterback, Brad Johnson, who woke up with the flu. Defense dominated and the Bucs were trailing 9-6 late in the fourth quarter before Martin Gramatica saved the day with two long field goals. In 2005, the Buccaneers were in the middle of a late-season three-game road swing when they went to Bank of America Stadium and won a battle for first place by a 20-10 score. Ronde Barber punctuated that game with a sack and a critical interception, becoming the first cornerback ever to reach 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in his career.
- Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht was a member of the Panthers' scouting staff in 1998.
- Tampa Bay's inside linebackers coach, Mike Caldwell, played 11 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL, and the last of those was in Carolina in 2003.
- Buccaneers CB Ross Cockrell played for the Panthers in 2019, appearing in 14 games with 11 starts and recording two interceptions.
- Carolina Tight Ends Coach Brian Angelichio held the same position on Greg Schiano's staff with the Buccaneers in 2012 and 2013.
- Carolina Defensive Line Coach Frank Okam played in the NFL as a defensive tackle, seeing action in 25 games with six starts from 2008-11. The last 12 of those games and all six of his starts came with the Buccaneers during the 2010-11 seasons. Okam went to training camp with the Giants the following season but did not play again in the NFL.
- Panthers cornerback Rashaan Melvin began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers in 2013. He was with the Bucs throughout 2013 and for the first month of 2014 but did not see action in a regular-season game.
- Carolina linebacker Julian Stanford had a stint on Tampa Bay's practice squad in 2015.
- Panthers G Patrick Omameh, who is currently on the team's practice squad, started all 16 games at right guard for the Buccaneers in 2014, getting his first regular-season NFL playing time.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- 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 Matt Rhule
- Offensive Coordinator/Senior Offensive Assistant/Running Backs Jeff Nixon
- Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow
- Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn
KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- S Andrew Adams (FA)
- RB Giovani Bernard(FA)
- LB K.J. Britt (fifth-round draft pick)
- WR Jaelon Darden(fourth-round draft pick)
- CB Pierre Desir (FA)
- CB Dee Delaney (FA)
- OL Robert Hainsey (third-round draft pick)
- CB Richard Sherman(FA)
- QB Kyle Trask (second-round draft pick)
- OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (first-round draft pick)
- RB Ameer Abdullah (FA)
- CB A.J. Bouye (FA)
- T Brady Christensen (3rd-round draft pick)
- QB Sam Darnold (T-NYJ)
- G Pat Elflein (UFA)
- T Cameron Erving (UFA)
- DE Morgan Fox (UFA)
- CB Stephon Gilmore (T-NE)
- K Lirim Hajrullahu (FA)
- CB Jaycee Horn (1st-round draft pick…on injured reserve)
- RB Chuba Hubbard (4th-round draft pick)
- DT DaQuan Jones (UFA)
- G Michael Jordan (W-CIN)
- WR Terrace Marshall (2nd-round draft pick)
- CB Rashaan Melvin (FA)
- QB Cam Newton (FA)
- DT Daviyon Nixon (5th-round draft pick…on injured reserve)
- OLB Haason Reddick (UFA)
- CB Keith Taylor (5th-roound draft pick)
ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE
• While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
• Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
• After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
• The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
• Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.
· The Panthers started the new year by hiring a new general manager, with Scott Fitterer getting the job after a lengthy search that included 15 candidates. Fitterer, who spent 20 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and was most recently that team's Vice President of Football Operations, replaced Marty Hurney, who had been let go the previous December. The Panthers also hired Dan Morgan, previously the Buffalo Bills' director of player personnel from 2018-20, to be the assistant general manager. Morgan had previously worked with Fitterer in Seattle.
· Carolina didn't make any sweeping alterations to Matt Rhule's coaching staff over the offseason but did make one significant change earlier this month. During their bye week, the Panthers parted ways with Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady, who had left LSU to join Rhule in Carolina in 2020. Rhule subsequently gave the coordinator position and play-calling duties to Jeff Nixon, who had been the senior offensive assistant and running backs coach. Nixon previously called plays under Rhule at Baylor from 2017-19.
· The Panthers did get a new quarterbacks coach in 2021 after Jeff Peetz left to be the offensive coordinator at LSU. Carolina brought in Sean Ryan, who had held the same position for the Texans in 2017-18 and the Lions in 2019-20. Carolina also added two sons of former NFL head coaches to the staff, with Tony Sparano, Jr. coming on as the assistant offensive line coach and Kevin M. Gilbride joining the staff as a defensive analyst. In addition, Frank Okam was promoted from assistant defensive line coach to defensive line coach, replacing Mike Phair.
· Since the Buccaneers last saw the Panthers, Carolina has made not one but two very dramatic moves at quarterback. In April, the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold, sending a 2021 sixth-round pick and 2022 second and fourth-round selections to the Jets for the former third-overall pick in 2018. Carolina then shipped its own 2020 starter, Teddy Bridgewater, to Denver in a separate deal. Darnold started the first nine games before landing on injured reserve with a shoulder ailment. Shortly after that development, the Panthers decided to turn back the clock by signing their former franchise superstar, Cam Newton. Newton had spent the 2020 season in New England after being released by the Panthers but had not played in 2021 after losing a competition for the Patriots' starting job to rookie Mac Jones. Newton has started the Panthers' last four games, all losses. Darnold recently returned to practice and could potentially be activated this week.
· The Panthers have also had to turn to Plan B in the backfield after injuries wiped out most of Christian McCaffrey's season for the second year in a row. McCaffrey missed time early with a hamstring injury and played in just seven games before an ankle injury shut him down for the rest of 2021. Rookie fourth-rounder Chuba Hubbard has taken over the lead role in the running game and the team also signed Ameer Abdullah in October after he was let go by the Vikings.
Next Men Up – So just how do the Buccaneers move forward on offense without Godwin, Evans and Fournette? There isn't one simple answer. The return of Antonio Brown from a three-game suspension (and five games missed prior to that with an ankle injury) provides some relief, with Bruce Arians suggesting that Brown may be good for 30-35 snaps this Sunday. With Godwin out for the year, Brown may be the Bucs' best bet to create the quick-throw, run-after-the-catch gains that has become such a big part of the Tom Brady-led offense in 2021. Otherwise, the Bucs will be looking for increased output from young receivers Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller and Jaelon Darden. Tom Brady had difficulty moving the ball with that trio in the second half of last week's game, albeit against a very good Saints coverage group, but have now had a week to design more of the offense around their different strengths. In the backfield, Ronald Jones will get a chance to step up in the absence of Fournette, just as Fournette did last December when Jones was hit with a couple of injuries. The Buccaneers also added veteran Le'Veon Bell over the week, possibly to help fill the backfield pass-catching role that had mostly gone to Fournette and Giovani Bernard (currently on I.R.). Second-year man Ke'Shawn Vaughn could get a few more opportunities, as well. Just how the Bucs' offense is going to look after a very sudden, late-season shift in personnel is an open question, and one we won't start to get an answer to until Sunday.
Newton, Darnold or Walker? – As noted above, Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule has a decision to make this week, and it's one that could affect the team's offseason plans as well. When Sam Darnold landed on injured reserve after nine starts due to a shoulder injury, Carolina chose to bring back the franchise's greatest player, Cam Newton. Newton had spent the 2020 season with the Patriots after the Panthers, after hiring Rhule, chose to go in a new direction, first with Teddy Bridgewater and then this year with the trade to get Darnold. Newton's immediate return was triumphant, as he got some red zone snaps and ran for two touchdowns in a Week 10 win over Arizona that was started by P.J. Walker. Newton replaced Walker as the starter the next week but Carolina has since lost four straight games. Meanwhile, Darnold returned to practice last week and was cleared by Rhule for contact reps this week, meaning its possible the fourth-year passer could be activated this week and perhaps even return to the starting lineup. None of the Panthers' three quarterbacks has a passer rating better than 71.4 or a positive TD-INT ratio, and collectively they have thrown 12 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. Still, Darnold did lead his new team to a 3-0 start and showed some of the same rushing prowess that Newton still possesses. Newton has been a very good weapon on the ground in his four starts and Walker, as noted, did win his lone start of the season. The decision made by Rhule may combine both the desire to be competitive in the next three games and a need to determine if the team wants to move forward with either Darnold or Newton in 2022.
Pressure-Packed Matchup – Tampa Bay's offensive line has been outstanding – and almost totally healthy – throughout the 2021 season, which is a big reason the Buccaneers have the NFL's second-ranked offense. After the Sunday night carnage stripped that offense of its most effective playmakers, those O-Linemen knew that it was even more important for them to shoulder the load in the coming weeks. Said center Ryan Jensen: "As offensive linemen, we always want to take over games. And, obviously with the guys we lost, we're going to have to definitely do that. We're going to have to play our best game every game from here on out until we get some of these guys healthy. Even after allowing a season-high four sacks last Sunday, the Buccaneers rank first in sacks allowed per pass play (3.44%) and they also gaining 4.36 yards per carry, including 4.7 per carry by Ronald Jones, the new lead back after Leonard Fournette's injury. However, Sunday's game at Bank of America Stadium is going to be a good example of strength-on-strength because the Panthers' defense is also quite good in those categories. With Haason Reddick (11.0 sacks) and Brian Burns (9.0) leading the way, the Panthers have racked up 36 sacks and are ranked fourth in sacks per pass play (8.63%) on defense. Carolina also ranks ninth in yards allowed per carry (4.10). Tom Brady has helped the Bucs' line put up great protection numbers all season by routinely getting rid of the ball quickly, but he may have to hold it a little bit longer without Fournette, Chris Godwin or Mike Evans available.
Defensive Surge – The Buccaneers won their final eight games last year, including Super Bowl LV, and a driving force in that run was an offense that suddenly jelled around Tom Brady following the bye week. The Buccaneers may have a hard time taking their offensive game to another level down the stretch this time with so many key players sidelined, but perhaps their defense can step up instead. Until recently, it was the defense that had more pressing injury concerns throughout the season, but now that group is starting to get back to what it was supposed to look like at the start of the season. With obvious exception of Lavonte David, who will hopefully return soon from a foot injury, the Bucs are close to having their anticipated defensive lineup intact. Cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis have recently returned from injured reserve, safety Jordan Whitehead is back after missing two games with a calf injury and safety Mike Edwards has finished a three-game suspension. As disappointing as last Sunday's outcome was, the Buccaneers' defense showed what it is capable of when healthy and in a groove, holding the Saints to three field goals, 214 yards and 3.5 yards per play. By virtually every measure, it was the Buccaneers' best defensive performance of the season, albeit in a losing cause. Now that defense will finish the regular season with three matchups against two teams in the bottom eight of the league's scoring chart. The Bucs may have trouble keeping up their previous 30-point pace, but they may not need to score that much if the defense can stay in that groove.
Scoreboard Watching – Before the Buccaneers even suit up on Sunday in Charlotte they will get to see the 8-6 49ers take on the Titans, the 11-3 Packers play host to the Browns and the 10-4 Cardinals square off against the Colts. Those are all Thursday and Saturday games, and they all will have a bearing on the overall conference standings. The Buccaneers will have plenty of opportunities to clinch the NFC South but the NFC pecking order could go in many different directions. The Buccaneers' 6-4 record in conference play means they could have some tough tiebreaker situations at the end of the regular season if it comes down to that; both the Packers and 10-4 Cowboys are significantly better in that category. Tampa Bay does have a head-to-head tiebreaker against Dallas but that will only come into play if it ends up being a two-way tie between those two teams. Of course, the Buccaneers still have their sights set on the first overall seed and the attendant first-round bye, but that goal became a lot harder to reach after last Sunday's results. The Buccaneers will likely need Green Bay to drop two of their last three games to have a shot at that top seed; the Packers finish up with home games against Cleveland and Minnesota and a trip to Detroit. Tampa Bay players and coaches will be focusing on their own game until that one is in the books, but with the NFC race so crowded and so much at stake for potential home field advantage, it will be hard not to have one eye on the scoreboard.
1. Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown vs. Panthers CB Stephon Gilmore
Brown is back after losing a combined eight games to injury and suspension, but he won't be returning to the exact same role. With Chris Godwin done for the year and Mike Evans currently out with a hamstring strain, Brown is ostensibly the team's number-one receiver now. It's a similar situation to 2019, when both Evans and Godwin went down in the final month and Breshad Perriman responded with three straight 100-yard games as the de facto number-one. Brown obviously has the talent and the track record to suggest he could do something similar with the opportunity; before he was hurt he was averaging 83.6 receiving yards per game and a career-best 10.0 yards per target. Without having to worry about Godwin or Evans, the Panthers may choose to shadow Brown with Gilmore, who is just two years removed from winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. That season, Gilmore allowed a passer rating of just 38.0 when he was the nearest defender to a targeted player, and he remains one of the NFL's most talented cover men in his first season with the Panthers. If Gilmore attempts press coverage on Brown that could give the Bucs receiver an opportunity for big plays; since 2020, Brown has reached an average speed of 8.93 miles per hour within one second of the snap against press coverage, the league's fastest mark according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
2. Panthers G Michael Jordan vs. Buccaneers DL Will Gholston
Carolina has already run the ball on 53.5% of their first-and-10 snaps this year, 12th-most in the league, and reportedly were eager to run it even more after replacing Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady with Jeff Nixon earlier this month. Tampa Bay still has the NFL's third-ranked rush defense but it has not been quite as dominant as it was in 2019, 2020 or the first six weeks of this season. Over their last eight games the Buccaneers have allowed 114.6 rushing yards per outing. Given the Panthers' struggles to throw the ball and protect the passer this season, the Buccaneers would like to shut down Carolina's run game first to try to make the offense one-dimensional, leading to better pass-rush opportunities. One of the key battles in this competing effort to run/stop the run will be between Jordan, Carolina's left guard, and Gholston, Tampa Bay's underrated run-stuffing defensive lineman. Gholston had six tackles last week, most among the Bucs' front-line defenders, as the Bucs held Alvin Kamara and one of the league's best rushing attacks to 61 yards and 2.0 yards per carry. Jordan is one of four players the Panthers have used at left guard this season, holding down that spot for seven of the last eight games. Veteran Pat Elflein started the season at left guard but got injured, was replaced by Dennis Daley and then later had to move to center to replace the injured Matt Paradis. The Panthers got Jordan off waivers from the Bengals in September and later put him on the practice squad; he had started 19 games over two seasons in Cincinnati.
3. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Panthers OLB Haason Reddick
Smith was not one of the three Tampa Bay offensive linemen named to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday, though he is arguably having as good of a season as anyone on that top-notch unit. We already identified the Panthers' healthy pass rush against the Bucs' star-studded O-Line as one of the key storylines in this weekend's matchup, and one of the best individual battles will take place on the left end of the Bucs' line, where Tom Brady's blind side is protected. Reddick is listed as the "ROLB" or right outside linebacker on the Panthers' depth chart but has seen plenty of action on both sides of Carolina's front. He'll certainly get a good number of one-on-one matchups with Smith, who has helped the Buccaneers allow the lowest sack rate in the NFL despite also attempting the most passes. Reddick has been a free agency home run for the Panthers, following up his breakout December in Arizona last year with a team-leading 11.0 sacks and 18 quarterback hits this season. Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians drafted Reddick to the Cardinals in 2017 and on Thursday said that the former 13th-overall pick is a "tremendous athlete." Arians also noted that the Panthers sometimes use a package that includes Reddick and three other speed rushers at the same time and says blocking that is a "hell of a challenge."
4. Panthers WR D.J. Moore vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
With Christian McCaffrey once again sidelined by injuries, Moore has easily been Carolina's most productive offensive player. His 78 catches and 986 receiving yards are both at least twice as much as the next Panther on the list. Moore is one of the NFL's best at gaining yards after the catch, and last year he averaged 18.3 yards per reception. Moore has been dealing with a hamstring injury for the past two weeks but he was able to gut it out last Sunday in Buffalo, catching six passes for 48 yards. The Panthers rested him on Wednesday but will surely do all they can to get him on the field against the Buccaneers. As noted above, Tampa Bay's secondary is starting to get healthy again and the return of Carlton Davis two weeks ago has already made a big difference. Davis has broken up four passes in those past two games and has a team high nine passes defensed despite only playing in six of the first 14 games. Davis has shown the ability to be a shutdown corner and shadow the opposition's best receiver when the team has asked him to take on that role. That could be an option on Sunday with Moore's importance to the Panthers offense so obvious.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- QB Tom Brady (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- ILB Lavonte David (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: Placed on injured reserve.
- CB Jamel Dean (illness) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
- S Mike Edwards (knee) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Mike Evans (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring/ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: Placed on injured reserve.
- DL Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful. (UPDATE: Pierre-Paul was downgraded to "out" on Saturday.
- P Bradley Pinion (right hip) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB Richard Sherman (Achilles) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- T Cameron Erving (calf) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- CB Stephon Gilmore (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DT Phil Hoskins (back) – WEDS: NL; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR D.J. Moore (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
Mostly sunny, high of 76, low of 56, 7% chance of rain in the afternoon, 58% humidity, winds out of the WSW at 8 mph.
Head referee: Brad Allen (8th season, 8th as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-11.0)
· Over/Under: 44.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 98
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 11
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,348
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 100.4
Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 812
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 98
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 1,103
Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 3
Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 9.0
Tackles: LB Devin White, 118
Points Scored: K Zane Gonzalez, 82
Touchdowns: QB Sam Darnold/QB Cam Newton, 5
Passing Yards: QB Sam Darnold*, 1,986
Passer Rating: QB Sam Darnold*, 71.4
Rushing Yards: RB Chuba Hubbard, 500
Receptions: WR D.J. Moore, 78
Receiving Yards: WR D.J. Moore, 986
Interceptions: CB Stephon Gilmore/CB Donte Jackson/LB Shaq Thompson, 2
Sacks: OLB Haason Reddick, 11.0
Tackles: S Jeremy Chinn, 98
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 1st (29.3 ppg)
Total Offense: 2nd (402.4 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (304.9 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 25th (97.6 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 2nd (24.0)
Third-Down Pct.: 2nd (46.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (3.44%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 2nd (65.5%)
Scoring Defense: 14th (21.9 ppg)
Total Defense: 12th (333.6 ypg)
Passing Defense: 21st (244.6 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 3rd (89.0 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-17th (20.6)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 13th (38.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 15th (6.62%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 12th (54.2%)
Turnover Margin: t-7th (+7)
Scoring Offense: 25th (19.4 ppg)
Total Offense: 28th (308.1 ypg)
Passing Offense: 29th (195.4 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 16th (112.6 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 20th (19.4)
Third-Down Pct.: 27th (35.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 23rd (7.42%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 18th (59.0%)
Scoring Defense: 18th (22.4 ppg)
Total Defense: 2nd (294.4 ypg)
Passing Defense: 2nd (178.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: t-19th (115.6 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 4th (18.1)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 8th (36.9%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 4th (8.63%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-28th (69.1%)
Turnover Margin: 28th (-8)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Tom Brady, who is not yet done with just his second season in Tampa, needs just two more touchdown passes to move past Vinny Testaverde (77) and into third place on the Bucs' all-time list. If he happened to throw five touchdown passes on Sunday he would also move past Josh Freeman (80) for second place. Those five TDs would also give him 41 on the season, which would break his own franchise single-season record of 40, set last year. By the way, Brady has already had two five-touchdown games this season.
- Tight end Cam Brate broke a tie with Chris Godwin with his three-yard touchdown catch in Atlanta in Week 14. Brate now has 31 touchdowns, which moves him into a different tie with Kevin House for the fifth-most touchdowns and third-most receiving touchdowns in franchise history. Brate could take the fifth spot for himself with one more score and/or Godwin could join the tie at fifth or move past Brate with one or two TDs of his own.
- Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett had 1.5 sacks against Buffalo in Week 14 and now has 9.0 on the season. Since joining the Buccaneers in 2019, Barrett has racked up 36.5 sacks. He is just 2.5 behind David Logan for fifth place on the team's all-time list in that category.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on RB Ronald Jones having to adjust to a different role this season and now having to step up with Leonard Fournette out: "It's hard, but every time he's been in the ball game, he's running his ass off. I like the way he's responded every week."
- Running back Le'Veon Bell on if he could take on a meaningful roll Sunday after signing with the team on Wednesday: "I could play as many plays as they need me to. I think I am in great shape. I haven't been playing football games, but just with my workout regiment, my diet and the things I have been doing over the course of this whole year – this is literally the best physical form I've ever been in. I'm excited. Whatever the coach asks me to do, I'm going to go out there and do it. I'm excited, I'm ready, I feel good and I'm just ready to go play football."
- Center Ryan Jensen on if there was any panic in the Bucs' locker room after last Sunday's loss: "For us, there is no panic. We came out, we laid an egg, we didn't play [well]. It's pretty simple – as an offense. The defense, they came out and played very well. Football is about playing complementary football and we didn't do that on Sunday. There is no sense of panic for anybody inside of that locker room. I think we just have a team that doesn't allow that kind of stuff to creep in, in the first place. There is no doubt in the talented team that we are. We have the guys in the locker room who believe that wholeheartedly. I don't think any of that kind of doubt is creeping in at all."
- Wide receiver Tyler Johnson on what he has tried to learn from Chris Godwin: "Just the way Chris comes off the ball. He can create separation and he attacks the ball. Those are the small things in his game that I've paid close attention to. Chris is a great player. I'm praying for him [to have] a speedy and healthy recovery."
- Inside linebacker Kevin Minter on the Bucs' rash of injuries: "It sucks, but no one's going to cry over us. Stuff like that happens. This is a physical game. People go down. Regardless, we still have to line up and play the game. Hopefully, those guys get back. We're all praying for them and hoping for a speedy recovery, but at the same time, we have games to play. We have business to take care of."