It's deja vu for the Panthers, who for the second time this season will take on Tampa Bay without their starting quarterback. The Panthers welcome the Bucs to Bank of America Stadium Sunday in what has become a key NFC South matchup. Last week's win over New Orleans vaulted the Panthers back into the mix for the division title, while the Bucs fell to 2-11 on the year after a 34-17 loss to the Lions last week. “Carolina really looked good, looked like the defending champ,” says Bucs coach Lovie Smith. “Not the team that had lost seven in a row, or whatever. To go down to New Orleans like that and win, is saying quite a bit.”
The Panthers played well in their first matchup with the Bucs this season, with Derek Anderson running the offense. That will be the case again today as Cam Newton recovers from injuries suffered in a car crash this week, and teammates are confident in the 10-year veteran. “He’s a proven quarterback, he knows how to get the job done,” says fullback Mike Tolbert. “He’s been here before and he can do it again.”
Anderson and the Panthers will face a Bucs defense that has improved since their first matchup but still ranks near the bottom of the league in most categories. Starting defensive end Adrian Clayborne and starting cornerback Mike Jenkins are both on IR and the Bucs also traded away safety Mark Barron and linebacker Jonathan Casillas. But they've still got All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He anchors the front line and leads the team with 8.5 sacks. Former Bill Jacquies Smith teams with Michael Johnson at defensive end, they've combined for 9 sacks on the season. The linebackers feature All-Pro Lavonte David; he leads the Bucs and is 3rd in the NFL in tackles. Danny Lansanah has been outstanding, he's 2nd on the team in tackles and has three picks, 2 of those returned for touchdowns. Mason Foster starts at middle linebacker. The Panthers boast the league's 11th ranked rushing attack averaging 116 yards per game, but offensive lineman Byron Bell says they'll be tested today. “They’ve been in a lot of their games,” says Bell. “They’ve got a nice little defensive line, they got Johnson coming in from Cincinnati, they’ve got some solid linebackers, they’ve got a nice little defensive back corps. They do a lot.”
Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner teams with 2nd year player Jonathan Banks at cornerback - Banks leads the team and is 5th in the NFL with 4 interceptions, one of those a pick six. Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson teams with Major Wright and 2nd year player Bradley McCougald.
The Bucs offense is having its own share of problems - they rank 29th in the NFL in total offense and points scored, and are second to last in rushing yards averaging just 78 yards a game. Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin has just 273 yards on the season. Bobby Rainey leads the team with 406 yards and also has 33 catches, rookie Charlie Sims is also in the mix. They'll face a Panther defense that ranks 19th against the run allowing 115 yards per game.
Josh McCown is once again the Bucs starting quarterback, although he was benched for six games in favor of former NC State standout Mike Glennon. But Glennon threw 6 picks and was sacked 16 times in those games. So McCown is back in control for now and has some talented receivers to work with. Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson teams with rookie Mike Evans. Jackson i