It's bounce-back time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or so they hope and believe.
The Buccaneers had been bouncing higher and higher in the NFC playoff race with a pair of three-game winning streaks surrounding a one-point loss to Chicago in Week Five. They had a chance to take a commanding lead in the NFC South and even the top spot in the conference standings with a win over the visiting New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.
Then the trampoline ripped and the Bucs crashed to the earth with a 38-3 loss that ranked among the most surprising in team history and which allowed the Saints to cruise back into first. All of which leaves Tampa Bay trying to get big air again as they fly to Charlotte for a rematch with another division foe, the Carolina Panthers.
The Buccaneers can look to the Green Bay Packers for inspiration. After losing in Tampa in Week Six to drop from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Packers rebounded the following week by heading to Houston and putting a 35-20 bruise on the Texans. On paper, the Bucs' follow-up situation may look similar, as the Texas are struggling through a two-win season and the Panthers have lost five straight to drop to 3-6. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Sunday's game in Charlotte won't be as easy as that record would suggest. Carolina is surprisingly frisky for a supposedly rebuilding team and just missed upsetting the defending-champion Chiefs in Kansas City in Week Nine.
The Bucs will try to balance one division sweep with another, because they beat Carolina in Week Two right after opening the season with a loss in New Orleans. Tampa Bay hasn't swept their division foes from the north since 2016, but doing so in 2020 would even up their record in the NFC South at 2-2, with two games left against Atlanta. It would also improve the team's record against conference foes to 3-2, which could end up being very significant. More on the playoff race in the Storylines section below.
The Week 10 game in Charlotte is also a break for the Buccaneers amid a string of prime-time and high-profile late afternoon games. Since Week Five, the Buccaneers have played a Thursday night game in Chicago, a marquee late-afternoon game against Green Bay, a Sunday night game in Las Vegas that had to be moved to the late afternoon amid COVID concerns, a Monday night game in New Jersey against the Giants and last week's Sunday night collapse against the Saints. After facing the Panthers, the Bucs will then follow with another Monday-nighter at home against the Rams and a late-afternoon showcase against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs before finally hitting their bye week.
All of that national attention is obviously a very good thing for the Buccaneers franchise and the upcoming Monday Night Football appearance against Los Angeles is a great showcase for a team that looks to have a good chance to end a long playoff drought. That said, the Bucs haven't played their best football under the lights and might appreciate at least one 1:00 p.m. game to get a hard reset.
There should be no shortage of motivation for the Panthers, though. Just nine games into Head Coach Matt Rhule's tenure, the future for Carolina looks quite promising. The Panthers have been in virtually every game they've played, with five of their six losses coming by a single score. The only loss that falls outside of that list is the Week Two game in Tampa, which was a one-score game with two minutes to go until Leonard Fournette broke off a 46-yard touchdown run.
And, even at 3-6, the Panthers don't have to consider themselves out of the playoff hunt. They are 2.5 games out of the last spot with eight weeks and seven games left, and that's assuming the field stays at seven teams per conference. The NFL will expand the field to eight teams per conference if COVID complications cause the cancellation of any regular-season games.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receivers Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore had strong games against Tampa Bay's defense in Week Two. Carolina actually out-gained the Buccaneers in the game by a margin of 427 to 339 yards. But the Buccaneers had the game's only five sacks, committed four fewer penalties and won the turnover battle, 4-2. It might take another "clean" performance, like the ones the Bucs strung together in their big wins over Green Bay and Las Vegas, to take down the Panthers in their home. It's a rare early game for Tampa Bay, but it's starting to get late in the season and every division game looms very large.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) at Carolina (3-6)
- Sunday, November 15, 1:00 p.m. ET
- Bank of America Stadium (capacity: 73,778…limited capacity will be in attendance)
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
- TV Broadcast Team: Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Pam Oliver (reporter)
- Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
- Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 10 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers head to Charlotte hoping to avoid a split in the head-to-head series for the third straight year. A win in Week 10 would give Tampa Bay its first season sweep of the Panthers since 2016.
Since Tampa Bay and Carolina were clustered into the new NFC South Division in 2002, their head-to-head battle has traditionally been one-sided, though that side would flip 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).
But now parity has returned to this rivalry, as each of the last two seasons have ended with a split of the series. Last year, 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 24-16 edge in the all-time series, and after the Bucs' Week Two win that broke down into identical home and road splits. Carolina is 12-8 against Tampa Bay in its home stadium and 12-8 in Tampa. If you're wondering how the numbers can be even when the Bucs and Panthers haven't played the second half of this year's series yet, it's because they also met three times before the NFC South was formed. The Bucs won two of those, including one in Carolina's inaugural 1995 campaign.
Last year's 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 last September 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.
- 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 in 2018 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.
- Carolina LB Adarius Taylor is back where he began his NFL career in 2014, but he spent the 2015-18 seasons in Tampa and made 14 starts on the Buccaneers' defense in 2017-18.
- Panthers practice squad WR Ishmael Hyman spent 10 weeks on Tampa Bay's practice squad last year and was also active for two games in December, during which he caught two passes for 34 yards.
- Buccaneers WR/KR Jaydon Mickens went to training camp with the Panthers in 2019 but ultimately ended up in Tampa later that season.
- 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.
- Panthers Defensive Line Coach Mike Phair has previously worked for the Buccaneers in two different capacities, as a scout and as a coach. Phair was first with the team as an area scout from 2002-04, arriving along with Jon Gruden's Super Bowl-winning staff in '02. Phair subsequently shifted to coaching in Seattle in 2008 and in 2014 he returned to Tampa for one year as the team's assistant defensive line coach.
Phair is helped in his coaching of the Panthers' D-Line by Frank Okam, the team's assistant defensive line coach. Okam also 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.
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 Joe Brady
- Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow
- Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- QB Tom Brady (UFA)
- WR Antonio Brown (FA)
- RB Leonard Fournette (FA)
- TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE)
- T Joe Haeg (UFA)
- WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick)
- RB LeSean McCoy (FA)
- DT Steve McLendon (T-NYJ)
- C A.Q. Shipley (FA)
- K Ryan Succop (FA)
- RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick)
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (2nd-round draft pick)
- T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)
- WR Robby Anderson (UFA)
- QB Teddy Bridgewater (UFA)
- DT Derrick Brown (1st-round draft pick)
- S Juston Burris (UFA – currently on injured reserve)
- P Joseph Charlton (UDFA)
- S Jeremy Chinn (2nd-round draft pick)
- WR/KR Pharoh Cooper (UFA)
- DE Yetur Gross-Matos (2nd-round draft pick)
- G John Miller (FA)
- CB Troy Pride (4th-round draft pick)
- DE Stephen Weatherly (UFA)
- LB Tahir Whitehead (FA)
ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
- Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown.
- Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three.
- The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.
- The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett will play on the tag's one-year contract this fall.
- The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense.
- Carolina is one of five NFL teams with new head coaches in 2020, having moved on from Ron Rivera after a largely successful nine-year run under Rivera's stewardship. Taking his place is Matt Rhule, who gets his first shot at an NFL head coaching job after seven years of leading teams at Temple and Baylor. Rhule turned around both struggling programs, in particular inheriting a Baylor program that had been rocked by scandals and taking them from 1-11 to 11-1 in just two years. A creative offensive mind, Rhule lands with a team in flux in several major areas and will have a chance to put his stamp on every corner of the organization.
- The only holdovers in Charlotte from Rivera's staff are Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn and former Running Backs Coach Jake Peetz, who will now tutor the quarterbacks. That means Rhule brought in nearly a completely new staff, and perhaps his highest-profile hire was Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady. Brady has former NFL coaching experience as an offensive assistant with the Saints in 2017-18 but he gained notoriety last year as the passing game coordinator for the nearly unstoppable LSU offense. Rhule's choice as defensive coordinator is the same man who held that position under him at Temple and Baylor, Phil Snow.
- Like the Buccaneers, the Panthers made a dramatic change at the game's most important position in the offseason. Cam Newton, who won a league MVP award in his fourth season after being drafted first-overall in 2012, was released in March and would later move on to New England. The Patriots, of course, needed a replacement for Tom Brady, who replaced Jameis Winston in Tampa. Winston then signed with the Saints, who needed a new backup for Drew Brees after Teddy Bridgewater left to take the starting gig in Charlotte vacated by Newton. Bridgewater was 5-0 as a starter for the Saints in 2019 while Brees was recovering from a thumb injury.
- Quarterback isn't the only position that has a new look in Rhule's first year. According to the depth chart posted on the Panthers' official website, Carolina currently has 10 starters who were not on the team last year: Bridgewater, LT Russell Okung, RG John Miller, WR Robby Anderson, LDT Zach Kerr, RDT Derrick Brown, MLB Tahir Whitehead, ROLB Jeremy Chinn, CB Rasul Douglas and SS Sam Franklin. Brown, Gross-Matos, Chinn and Pride were all draft picks by Carolina in April.
Which Team Gets Back on Track? – Last week, the Buccaneers prepared for a prime-time battle between two streaking teams. The Bucs had won three straight heading into the game while the visiting Saints had won four in a row. The winner was going to take control of the division. A week later, the Buccaneers are in a matchup of two teams looking for rebounds. The Bucs only have one loss in the last four weeks but it was a disheartening one, while the Panthers have been frustratingly close during a streak of four straight losses that followed three consecutive wins. The outcome of Sunday's game could be significant in setting the path for both teams during the last seven weeks of the season. The Buccaneers simply need to do what they did after losses in Weeks One and Five to New Orleans and Chicago, respectively – learn the right lessons, move on and put that Week Nine performance behind them. Demonstrating that they could do so would be a strong argument that the lopsided loss to the Saints was the aberration and not any sort of defining moment for the season. Meanwhile, the Panthers draw yet another team that is thick in the playoff hunt after losing to the Bears, Saints and Chiefs in three of the last four weeks. Carolina could keep their outside playoff hopes alive with a win in Week 10, while dropping to 3-7 would make that path extremely slim.
Will CMC Be In, And Will He Break Out? – Panthers superstar running back Christian McCaffrey had his first post-big contract season put on hold in Week Two when he sprained an ankle late in his team's loss in Tampa in Week Two. The injury caused him to miss games for the first time in his career, as he sat out the next six contests before returning last week against Kansas City. McCaffrey was definitely ready to go – while he didn't play his traditional 95-plus percentage of offensive snaps he still went off for 151 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown both on the ground and through the air. However, he sustained a shoulder injury near the end of the game and is now a question mark to play in the rematch against the Buccaneers. That and the concussion that kept Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet out of last week's games are the two biggest injury concerns regarding Sunday's game, and the Panthers will obviously be better if McCaffrey is on the field. However, Tampa Bay's defense should have confidence going into the game if McCaffrey does suit up because it has handled the versatile back better than any other defense in the league over the last two seasons. Since the start of 2019, McCaffrey has played 19 games and exceeded 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 of them. The exceptions were a 98-yard day against New Orleans late last year and…the three times he's faced the Buccaneers. In that span, McCaffrey has averaged 62.7 yards from scrimmage per game against the Bucs' defense and 161 yards from scrimmage per game when playing anyone else.
Finding Balance – The Buccaneers set an NFL record for fewest running plays in a game last Sunday, with five, and while that sounds a lot more calamitous than it really was, it does underscore the difference between the team's 16th-ranked passing attack and 30th-ranked running game. The record-low total against the Saints was a function of the team unsuccessfully throwing on play-action to start their first two drives, both of which were three-and-outs, and their opponents' quick and repeated tallies on the scoreboard. Before long, the Bucs simply had to throw the ball to have any sort of shot at an epic comeback. No coach goes into a game planning to run the ball five times, and in this specific case the Buccaneers have a pair of productive runners in Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. But even beyond that one-game anomaly, the Buccaneers have frequently not had much balance in their offense this season. Tampa Bay would like to get both Jones and Fournette involved and productive in the same game, but so far it hasn't had a single game in which both of those players topped 50 yards from scrimmage. Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense have looked capable of being dominant at time this season but has not settled into a week-to-week groove, which isn't particularly surprising given the little time that Brady had to get settled into a new system before the real games began. Getting the running game going and thus taking a little pass-rush heat off Brady would help the Bucs find that groove down the stretch. Carolina is giving up an average of 114.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 13th in the league, but their 4.57 yards allowed per carry is just 23rd.
Turning up the Heat – Heading into Week Nine, the Buccaneers were second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers in total sacks racked up by their defense. The Bucs' 28 sacks at the midway point had them on pace to break the franchise single-season record in that category, set by Warren Sapp and the 2000 squad at 55. The Bucs' defense also ranked fourth in the league in sacks per pass play before the Saints game. Like most of the team's most impressive stats, those numbers took a hit on Sunday night but in this case they still look pretty good. Tampa Bay remains second in overall sacks to Pittsburgh and only dropped one spot to fifth in sacks per pass play, though their overall rate dropped from 9.59% to 8.87%. As noted above, the Buccaneers were able to sack Teddy Bridgewater five times in their Week Two win, and that was a big factor in the outcome. The Panthers have actually given Bridgewater decent protection in their other eight games, as he's been sacked 13 other times and the team ranks 15th in sacks allowed per pass play. The Buccaneers have definitely fared better when they've gotten pressure on the opposing quarterback, winning five of the six games in which they've recorded at least three sacks. The Bucs have averaged 1.67 sacks per game in their three losses and 4.00 per game in their six wins. In addition to having a talented front that includes 2019 NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett and the seemingly indestructible Jason Pierre-Paul, the Bucs are also directed by an aggressive play-caller in Todd Bowles who is never scared to send extra pass-rushers. If the Bucs can generate the same sort of pressure on Bridgewater that they did in Week Two they'll have a much better chance of leaving Charlotte with the season sweep.
Keeping Pace – It's undeniable that Sunday night's loss hurt the Buccaneers' playoff odds. A win would have given them a 1.5-game lead in the division and the NFC's best record. With the loss, the Bucs are now behind the Saints by a half-game, which is more like a 1.5-game deficit given the hammer of a two-game head-to-head tiebreaker for New Orleans. Tampa Bay is also only one game ahead of the team that is currently in the eighth spot looking in, the Chicago Bears. Still, 6-3 with either a seven or eight-team playoff field is a pretty good place to be. This week, not only will the Buccaneers be looking to help their own cause but there are a number of important games involving NFC teams that are thick in the race. Green Bay (6-2) is a two-touchdown favorite over Jacksonville and New Orleans (6-2) is heavily favored over San Francisco, but the 5-3 Cardinals (at home against Buffalo), 6-2 Seahawks (on the road against the Rams) and 5-4 Bears (at home against Minnesota) should all have their hands full. Even if the Saints take care of business in the 49ers, Tampa Bay could move up the NFC ladder a little bit with a win and some help around the league. All three of those contests just noted either kick off in the late afternoon on Sunday or, in the Bears-Vikings case, on Monday night, so there should be plenty of scoreboard watching by the Bucs after they finish up in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon.
1. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin vs. Panthers CB Corn Elder
Chris Godwin returned for the Buccaneers last week after missing one game due to a finger fracture and subsequent surgery, and the coaches didn't exactly ease him back into action. Godwin played all but three of the team's offensive snaps, the most of any of the Bucs' wideouts. He didn't appear to have difficulty catching the ball and hauled in three passes for 41 yards on a night in which the offense as a whole was out of sync. Godwin didn't play in the Week Two game against Carolina due to a concussion, so his addition to the season series is a welcome one for Tampa Bay. Against the Saints, Tampa Bay used three and four-receiver sets on 40 of their 46 offensive plays, and on most of those, Godwin operated out of the slot, where he was one of the NFL's most effective pass-catchers during his enormous 2019 breakout season. Godwin is tough for a slot corner to handle because he's bigger and stronger than most of those opponents but is also precise in his routes, sneakily fast and able to make plays on short, intermediate and long throws. Godwin should see some matchups with Elder in the slot, and he would indeed have a size advantage on those snaps, standing 6-1 and 209 pounds to Elder's 5-10 and 185. Because of the offensive packages put on the field by Atlanta and Kansas City, Elder has played nearly 80% of his team's defensive snaps the past two weeks and he had six tackles and a forced fumble in those games combined. He has also broken up a pair of passes this season. Elder only played sparingly on defense in his first two seasons in Carolina, partially because he spent much of last year on the practice squad, but he's showing in Year Three that he can be a viable option in the slot.
2. Panthers RT Taylor Moton vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett
Carolina took Moton at the end of the second round in 2017 and soon they'll have to decide whether or not to invest heavily in keeping their 6-5, 325-pound right tackle around for years to come. For the past three seasons, Moton has been a point of stability for a Panthers' line that has had plenty of upheaval due to injuries and roster movement. He has started 41 straight games dating back to the start of 2018 and has proved to be a solid performer in terms of both run and pass blocking. As noted earlier, the Buccaneers did record five sacks in their Week Two win over Carolina, but three of those came from interior pass-rushers Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston and another was recorded by blitzing safety Antoine Winfield. Jason Pierre-Paul, who generally rushes against the left tackle, had the fifth sack that afternoon. Barrett, who has been the Buccaneers' most impactful pass-rusher the past couple of weeks, did not have a sack or a quarterback hit in that game. Barrett collected his fourth sack of the season on Sunday night against New Orleans and also helped cause a pair of interceptions in Week Eight against the Giants with well-timed hits on quarterback Daniel Jones. Though Barrett is extremely unlikely to match his NFL-leading total of 19.5 sacks from last year, he is still putting a significant amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2020. According to Next Gen Stats, Barrett had 34 QB pressures through the season's first eight games, which was tied for third in the NFL. After recording a pressure rate of 13.4% in 2019, he was actually up to 14.2% through the first half of this season, which was seventh in the league among all players with at least 120 pass rushes. Moton will have his hands full trying to slow down the ascending Barrett.
3. Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Saints LB Shaq Thompson
Brady tried to get the ball to his long-time teammate repeatedly in Sunday night's loss, targeting him six times, including once in the end zone. Though those two have a strong connection forged over almost a decade of playing together, it didn't work out against the Saints, as Gronkowski's six targets only resulted in one two-yard catch. Prior to that, Gronkowski had gotten on a bit of a roll, catching 17 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns over the previous four weeks. Brady isn't likely to stop targeting the big tight end, so Sunday in Charlotte could be a bounce-back game for Gronkowski against a Panthers defense that just gave up 10 catches for 159 yards on 12 targets to Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce. Obviously, it's no great shame to be torn up by Kelce, but Atlanta's Hunter Hayden had five catches for 54 yards the week before and the Saints' Jared Cook scored on them in Week Seven. Thompson has the speed and range to keep up with tight ends in coverage, though he's obviously at a bit of a size disadvantage against Gronkowski. Last season, according to Next Gen Stats, Thompson was one of the most-targeted linebackers in coverage, with the ball thrown his way 49 times (2nd-most among NFL LBs), resulting in 37 completions for 258 yards and a touchdown. Thompson does have four passes defensed this season, so he has been able to win a number of battles in coverage. Gronkowski and Thompson may also do battle at times in the ground game as the Bucs' tight end, a strong blocker, tries to clear a path for the Bucs' running backs. Thompson is the Panthers' leading tackler, with 73 stops, though almost exactly half of them have come on passing plays.
4. Panthers WR Robby Anderson vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
On Wednesday, Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians noted that one of the main reasons the Bucs' two second-year corners, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, had recently given up a higher number of receptions while in coverage than they had earlier in the year is that opposing quarterbacks are staying away from Davis. Davis leads the team with four interceptions and leads the entire NFL in passes defensed since the start of 2019. If the Buccaneers wanted to try to take a specific Panthers receiver out of the game plan, they would probably have Davis shadow him, as the Bucs' third-year corner has done on more than one occasion. And that targeted player could be Anderson, who leads the team with 60 catches, 22 more than the next wideout on the list. Anderson has speed to burn but he's not running as many vertical routes for the Panthers as he did for the Jets, and that's reflected in his 12.5-yard per-catch average, well below what it was in New York. Anderson has proved to be a reliable weapon in the short and intermediate range; at the midway point of the season, he was ranked fifth in the NFL yards gained per route run (minimum: 100 routes), with a mark of 3.0. The Panthers do move Anderson around but he's taken 65% of his snaps on the outside, split pretty evenly between the right and left side. Davis has developed very strong man-to-man coverage skills and this year he has done a better job of finding the football and turning some of those passes defensed into interceptions.
- DNP: Did not participate in practice
- LP: Limited participation in practice
- FP: Full participation in practice
- NL: Not listed
- OLB Shaq Barrett (shoulder) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- ILB Lavonte David: – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB Carlton Davis: – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Chris Godwin (finger) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP. FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- G Ali Marpet (concussion) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Out.
- NT Steve McLendon (shoulder) – WEDS: LP: THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Jaydon Mickens (not injury related) - WEDS: NL. THURS: NL. FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Scotty Miller (hip/groin) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (groin) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DL Ndamukong Suh (not injured related) - WEDS: NL; THURS; NL. FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
- RB Reggie Bonnafon (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- DE Brian Burns (groin) - WEDS: NL; THURS: LP
- S Jeremy Chinn (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- RB Mike Davis (toe) - WEDS: NL; THURS: FP
- DE Yetur Gross-Matos (ankle) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP
- DE Marquis Haynes (shoulder) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- CB Donte Jackson (toe) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP
- RB Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- T Russell Okung (calf) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- TE Ian Thomas (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- DE Stephen Weatherly (finger) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- LB Tahir Whitehead (not injury related) - WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP
Partly cloudy, high of 69, low of 49, 20% chance of rain, 71% humidity, winds out of the SSW at 8 mph.
Head referee: Land Clark (3 seasons, 1 as referee)
- Favorite: Buccaneers (-5.0)
- Over/Under: 50.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
- Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 74
- Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 7
- Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 2,398
- Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 96.2
- Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 538
- Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 34
- Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 437
- Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
- Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 6.5
- Tackles: ILB Devin White, 82
- Points Scored: K Joey Slye, 78
- Touchdowns: RB Christian McCaffrey, 6
- Passing Yards: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 2416
- Passer Rating: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 98.7
- Rushing Yards: RB Mike Davis, 353
- Receptions: WR Robby Anderson, 60
- Receiving Yards: WR Robby Anderson, 751
- Interceptions: CB Donte Jackson, 3
- Sacks: DE Brian Burns/DE Marquis Haynes, 3.0
- Tackles: LB Shaq Thompson, 73
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
- Scoring Offense: 10th (27.8 ppg)
- Total Offense: 22nd (349.0 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 16th (259.6 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 30th (92.1 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: 21st (21.3)
- Third-Down Pct.: 24th (40.0%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 8th (3.75%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 5th (75.0%)
- Scoring Defense: 9th (22.6 ppg)
- Total Defense: 4th (312.9 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 14th (235.0 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 1st (77.9 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (19.0)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 17th (41.7%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 5th (8.87%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 17th (63.3%)
- Turnover Margin: t-4th (+5)
- Scoring Offense: 23rd (23.3 ppg)
- Total Offense: 15th (369.2 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 11th (259.3 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 18th (109.9 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: 14th (22.6)
- Third-Down Pct.: 11th (43.9%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 15th (5.79%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 19th (60.0%)
- Scoring Defense: 15th (25.1 ppg)
- Total Defense: 17th (361.8 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 20th (247.4 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 13th (114.3 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 22nd (23.4)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 31st (54.2%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 32nd (2.70%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 14th (60.6%)
- Turnover Margin: t-9th (+3)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- After breaking into the Bucs' all-time top 10 in sacks in Week Six, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul moved up another spot into ninth when he got another one against the Giants in Week Eight, putting him at 27.5 since he arrived in Tampa in 2018. That broke a ninth-place tie with Broderick Thomas and now one more would move him past Ronde Barber (28.0) into eight place.
- WR Mike Evans caught four passes against New Orleans in Week Nine, increasing his career total to 496 receptions. If he grabs at least four more against the Panthers on Sunday he'll be the first player in franchise history to hit the 500-catch plateau.
- ILB Lavonte David made his 130th career start on Sunday against the Saints, all of them for the Buccaneers. David's next start, ostensibly this Sunday against Carolina, will push him past Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp for the seventh-most starts in franchise history.
- WR Chris Godwin has 19 career touchdown receptions. His next one will tie him with Vincent Jackson for the 10th-most in team annals.
- CB Carlton Davis has a team-high four interceptions this season. If he gets one more he'll be the first Buccaneer with a five-interception season since Lavonte David in 2013.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on moving past the loss to New Orleans in Week Nine: "[We have a] 24-hour rule. That game is over. We've got a heck of an opponent in Carolina. You have Monday to lick your wounds and Tuesday you get ready to start for the next one. That's the beauty of coaches and players – we don't have to worry about [it for long]. Everybody has to worry about it for a week [but] we go back to work, we're on to the next one. That's in the rear view mirror now."
- Wide Receivers Coach Kevin Garver on utilizing Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, Scotty Miller and the rest of the Bucs' pass-catchers, and the resulting numbers being down for some of those players: "The way that Tom [Brady] plays the game – and his approach to the game – he's going to spread the ball out. I think if you actually go back and you look at all of our games, you see that. Sometimes it's Mike's week. Earlier in the year against the Panthers, Mike got a lot of balls. Then there was another game [that] Gronk got a lot of balls. [In Las Vegas], Scotty got a lot of balls. To me, that's just the way it is. Instead of just having one guy and we're just going to feed that guy – in my opinion, it actually makes it a little bit more challenging to the defense. Because, OK, they want to try to take one guy out of the game? All right, well we've got enough guys that are going to step up and make the plays."
- Wide Receiver Chris Godwin on the impact the addition of Antonio Brown could have on how often he and Mike Evans are targeted: "Honestly, I think we'll be fine. Me and Mike – we're no stranger to that. I think we're coming in with the same mentality that we've always had. We've got a bunch of great guys in this locker room that are solely focused on winning, and when you have a chance to add another really great talent, you do that. We're looking forward to the opportunity learn, grow and fit him into the offense."
- Arians on if opposing teams are using more two-tight end packages against the Bucs since the loss of Vita Vea in order to crack the league's top run defense: "I think it's more to keep us out of nickel. In base defense, you only can do so much. Nickel, you can get pretty exotic with them. I think the three tight ends is something that tries to get you in base defense to throw the ball more than run it. Taysom Hill – we just didn't stop the power play. We stopped [Alvin] Kamara really well, but we didn't stop Taysom Hill. In the Giants [game] we got out of our gap twice and tried to do too much. I'm not concerned with the running game right now. I think we'll bounce back pretty good against a really good, talented backfield."
Who's playing who in Week 10?
Thursday, Nov. 12
Sunday, Nov. 15
- Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Washington Football Team at Detroit Lions (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Los Angeles Chargers at Miami Dolphins (4:05 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (4:05 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET on CBS)
- San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET on NBC)