By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Carolina Panthers have yet to play the team they are
chasing for first place in the NFC South, but that will change very soon.
And there in lies the dreaded trap.
The Panthers, riding a franchise record-tying seven-game win streak, can't
afford to look past the suddenly-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday at Bank
of America Stadium.
Carolina's string of victories comes after a 1-3 start and has the club right
behind the 9-2 New Orleans Saints for the top spot in the division. The
Panthers will visit New Orleans next Sunday before hosting the Saints two
But first the Panthers welcome to town a Buccaneers team that has followed up
an 0-8 start with three straight victories. Tampa Bay is now looking to become
the first team since the 1978 St. Louis Cardinals to follow up a winless
eight-game start with four consecutive victories.
Carolina was a contributor to Tampa Bay's slow start, dealing the Bucs a 31-13
setback on Oct. 24 as Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw a pair of
touchdown passes and ran for another.
A victory by the Panthers this Sunday would keep up the recent trend of the
two teams alternating series sweeps for a fifth straight season.
The victory over the Buccaneers put the Panthers at 4-3 and above .500 for the
first time since the end of the 2008 season and the club has since matched is
longest winning streak first set in 1996.
Carolina did so by rallying to beat the Miami Dolphins 20-16 last Sunday.
Newton capped off an 80-yard, go-ahead drive by finding tight end Greg Olsen
in the end zone from a yard out with 43 seconds to play.
The Panthers trailed 16-6 at the half, but Newton ran in from five yards out
to score 6:52 into the third quarter and the Carolina defense pitched a
"We didn't play as well as we're capable of in the first half and (the
Dolphins) had a lot to do with it as well. But we came out in the second half
and got the opening kickoff and we got some energy," said Panthers head coach
Ron Rivera. "I thought the defense continued to play with a lot of effort. We
did some really good things but we did some silly things. We gave up too many
Newton threw for 174 yards and was picked off once while rushing for 51 yards
on eight carries. Carolina ran for 136 yards total, while Olsen and wideout
Steve Smith both caught five passes.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has sandwiched a pair of three-point victories around a
41-28 rout of the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 17. The Bucs won for the first time
in five road games this season by besting the Detroit Lions 24-21 this past
The Buccaneers forced the Lions into a number of turnovers, grabbing four
interceptions and recovering a fumble. Cornerback Leonard Johnson took a pick
48 yards for a score late in the second quarter and rookie corner Johnthan
Banks sealed the win with a late interception with Detroit in field goal
"Our secondary really stepped its game today," said Bucs quarterback Mike
Glennon. "That is one of the best passing offenses over there, and they have
the best receiver (Calvin Johnson) of our time. So the job the secondary did
today was amazing."
Glennon threw for 247 yards, a large chunk of that on an 85-yard touchdown
pass to wide receiver Tiquan Underwood less than a minute into the fourth
quarter to cap the scoring.
Underwood finished with two touchdowns, while running back Bobby Rainey was
held to 35 yards on 18 carries a week removed from a 163-yard game on the
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While recording four interceptions, the Bucs' secondary did allow Lions
quarterback Matthew Stafford to complete three touchdown passes and rack up
297 yards, while the run defense yielded 104 yards on the ground.
Tampa Bay linebacker and leading tackler Lavonte David will need his unit to
stay disciplined against Newton, who has rushed for five touchdowns and posted
a 10.6 passer rating in five previous meetings.
Newton has been a touchdown machine this season, throwing 17 scoring passes
while also leading the club with five rushing TDs.
"I think his confidence level right now is very high," Olsen said of his
quarterback. "I think he feels really good about what we do in the passing
game. I think he feels really good about both the designed runs and his
ability to extend plays when things break down. That's what just makes him so
hard, because he's not a sitting duck back there."
That is what Tampa Bay is up against, though the defense will have strong
safety Dashon Goldson back from his one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet
hit versus Atlanta.
However, talented linebacker Mason Foster (55 tackles, 2 INT) missed the Lions
game with a concussion, while cornerback Darrelle Revis did not play in the
second half due to a groin injury.
Banks stepped into Revis' role and was able to keep Calvin Johnson out of the
end zone, while safeties Kelcie McCray and Keith Tandy, who had an
interception, helped fill Goldson's role.
"It is tough, but at the same time you've got guys that stepped up. When one
guy goes down ... you've got guys that are biting at the opportunity," said
McCray. "We don't wish for anybody to get hurt or be out, but we've got guys
that look for those opportunities to go in and make a play such as Banks, or
(cornerback Danny) Gorrer, or myself."
Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano has taken his fair share of criticism this
season, but his decision to part ways with Josh Freeman and go with the rookie
Glennon has looked good as of late.
The 23-year-old Glennon has set an NFL rookie record with a touchdown in each
of his first eight starts and he is just 74 passing yards shy of passing
Freeman's club-rookie record of 1,855 set in 2009.
In his last two games, Glennon has completed 77.3 percent of his passes and
completed four TD passes to zero interceptions for a 142 passer rating. He has
10 touchdowns to one pick in his last six games.
Schiano said that Glennon has done a good job of not trying to force plays and
is throwing the ball down the field with confidence.
"That is the development or the maturation of a quarterback," added Schiano.
"I think we're all seeing it right in front of our eyes. I think this is a guy
that certainly, as long as he continues on this trajectory, you'd love to have
as your quarterback for a long time."
While Glennon has weapons such as Underwood and Vincent Jackson (58
receptions, 5 TD), the tight end position has seen better times. Tom Crabtree
joined Luke Stocker and Nate Byham as tight ends on injured reserve after
tearing his biceps versus Detroit, leaving rookie Timothy Wright as the lone
tight end on the roster until Kyle Adams was signed this week.
Wright has been solid, ranking second on the club with 34 catches for 366
yards to go along with a pair of touchdown catches. His first career scoring
grab came versus the Panthers.
Carolina is hoping to have defensive end Charles Johnson back after he missed
Sunday's game versus the Dolphins due to a sprained knee. He is a half-sack
shy of becoming the first player in franchise history to have nine sacks in
four straight seasons.
Tampa Bay's recent surge may be a good thing for the Panthers at may have
prevented them from taking the Buccaneers too lightly and looking past this
"We are facing a good team that is now playing with confidence, said Rivera.
"We knew they were a good team when we played them earlier and now they are
Now Tampa Bay will need to show it against Carolina's third-ranked defense,
one that leads the NFL with just 13.7 points allowed per game. That is bad
news given that Tampa Bay is averaging only 19.2 points per game and is 31st
with 303.4 yards per game.
"You have to finish strong. You finish strong, you'll be heading into 2014
with a great mindset," said David. "We have a great football team and you look
around this locker room, we have a great group of character guys, leaders
everywhere. Once this season finishes out, then roll over into 2014, we're
going to hit the ground running."
The Bucs' defense did well against the pass-heavy Lions, but will be put to
the test by a Newton-led offense that can move the ball a variety of ways.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Panthers 23, Buccaneers 13
11/28 11:38:42 ET
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