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NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (5-4) at Carolina (2-7)



By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to remain players in the postseason race and notch their longest winning streak in four years on Sunday as they battle the division rival Carolina Panthers for the second time this year.

Playing under first-year head coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs have ripped off three straight wins to move above .500 at 5-4 and into second place in the NFC South. However, that is still a distant three games behind the first-place Atlanta Falcons.

Tampa Bay has averaged 37.3 points per game over its three-game winning streak and is coming off a 34-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers last weekend. The Buccaneers scored in all three phases, getting a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Josh Freeman, an 83-yard pick-six by rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson and a 29-yard return for a score by linebacker Adam Hayward following a blocked punt.

The Bucs survived 337 passing yards and three touchdowns by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, picking him off twice while notching two sacks.

"Today we played team football. We held each other up, and it is critical against a good football team," Schiano said. "We ran into Philip Rivers, he's been as hot as a fire cracker the last two games. We did just enough to find a win. It's a good feeling."

An even better feeling would be for Tampa Bay to post its first four-game winning streak since a perfect November during the 2008 campaign.

The Bucs would love to duplicate their 16-10 season-opening win at home over the Panthers as they held Carolina to just 10 yards rushing. That matched the lowest total yards allowed on the ground in team history and Tampa Bay helped ice the win by picking off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on back-to-back drives beginning late in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay's win came after it lost both of its contests last season to Carolina, which leads the all-time series 14-10 with a 7-5 advantage at home.

The Panthers, though, enter this game just 2-7 and failed to follow up a big win over the Washington Redskins, falling last Sunday by a 36-14 margin to the Denver Broncos.

Like Tampa Bay last weekend, Denver found a variety of ways to score versus Carolina. The Broncos scored a pair of touchdowns on offense, returned a punt 76 yards for a score and also got an interception returned 40 yards for a touchdown. That was enough to overshadow Newton's two touchdown passes to tight end Greg Olson.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera stressed after the loss that inconsistency has plagued his club all year long.

"Some of us have to make plays when you get the opportunities. I think that is a big part of it," he said. "If you look at it you'll see that we missed some opportunities. We missed some blocks. You have to be able to protect the offensive line. When the ball is thrown, you have to catch it. You have to make good decisions when you go throw it. Defensively we were really good on third down, but you can't give up a big play."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Special teams could play a big factor in this contest, which would favor the Buccaneers.

After all, the Panthers fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy on Monday because of what Rivera said were "philosophical differences and productivity" and it is unfortunate that the punt return for a score by Denver's Trindon Holliday may have been the final nail given as the play should not have even counted. Replays showed that Holliday's was in fact a touchback in favor of Carolina after the returner tossing the ball out of his hands in early celebration before crossing the goal line.

The NFL said in a statement on Monday that the play should have been reviewed by referee Alberto Riveron and overturned.

That doesn't help the Panthers, who tabbed assistant special teams coach Richard Rodgers to replace Murphy.

"I told coach Rodgers what I wanted," Rivera said. "I wanted things simplified. I wanted to come back to fundamental basics and that's the direction we're going to head right now."

For the Bucs, they used the play of their special teams to turn the momentum of their game and Schiano would like for the unit to continue to be aggressive.

"We've done some good things on special teams and then we've done some things that aren't so good. That's where we need consistency on our special teams. That will be something that if that can come and we can be consistent, that can win us some games here," Schiano.

Hayward scooped up the blocked punt by linebacker Dekoda Watson for the score and he will see a bigger role this weekend due to the loss of Quincy Black, who was placed on injured reserve this week following a neck injury versus the Chargers that saw him carted off the field and taken to a local hospital.

The 28-year-old had 32 tackles this year and while Hayward will likely see an increase in playing time, others like Watson and rookie Najee Goode will need to be ready as well.

"He's a professional. He works very hard and stays up to speed on all three linebacker positions," Schiano said of Hayward, a special teams captain. "That's why I say we'll have some flexibility. Guys will move around so it won't be just exclusive Adam for Quincy."

For his part, Hayward is ready to contribute.

"I've got to step in and be that starter and show people that this defense is not going to skip a heartbeat. The only thing we can do is go up and play better," he said.

Hayward and his defense will look to keep Carolina's 15th-ranked run defense in check and is giving up only 80.1 yards per game on the ground, tops in the league.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams finished with minus-1 yard on six carries in the Week 1 meeting, which fellow back Jonathan Stewart missed due to injury, and Newton had four yards on five carries.

Playing from behind versus the Broncos, Carolina ran for just 52 yards. Stewart led the club with 31 yards on eight carries, while Williams had six on six attempts.

Newton ran for seven yards on four carries and was under pressure throughout the game. He was sacked seven times, once for a safety. Carolina's offensive line has struggled since Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil landed on injured reserve due to a foot injury and the Panthers this week signed Jeremy Bridges, who started 28 games for Carolina from 2006-08.

"I feel pretty confident he's going to come in do some of the things we need him to do for us," Rivera said of Bridges. "I don't ready enough to start, but ready enough to be ready just in case."

Many of Carolina's offensive players praised the defense for its effort last weekend and ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy were part of that. Johnson has 8 1/2 sacks after getting one versus the Broncos and also forced a fumble, as did Hardy.

The duo should have their eyes on Bucs running back Doug Martin, who following up his 251-yard, four-touchdown explosion in a win over the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 4 with over 100 yards of total offense against the Chargers. The 2012 first-round pick had 68 yards on 19 carries and caught another three balls for 51 yards.

Freeman, meanwhile, is the first Buccaneers quarterback to throw at least two touchdown passes in five straight games since Brad Johnson from Nov. 3-Dec. 8 during the 2002 season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Many Panthers admitted how embarrassed they were following last week's loss and Rivera may need to start shaking things up to get his club on a positive path.

First and foremost will be preventing Tampa Bay's middle-of-the-road offense from churning out a number of big plays and that means containing Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Carolina will need to test Tampa Bay's secondary and for whatever maturity Newton may seem to be lacking, he is still full of confidence. He should lean on his new top target Olsen and turn veteran Steve Smith loose in a much- needed win.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Panthers 23, Buccaneers 20

11/15 12:59:34 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
GT 80
NCSU 81
Final
LOU 78
UNC 68
Final
NYR 4
CAR 1
Final
UVA 63
DUKE 69
Final
ETST 61
NCCU 59
 
4th
DEN 84
CHA 102
 
Final
ORL 93
DAL 108
Final
IND 94
SAC 99
Final
WAS 116
TOR 120
Final
DET 114
HOU 101
Final
ATL 91
PHI 85
Final
MIN 90
CLE 106
Final
MEM 85
OKC 74
Final
MIL 95
POR 88
 
4th
DEN 84
CHA 102
 
4th
SAN 69
LAC 86
 
2nd
GSW 23
PHO 32
 
Final
TENN 71
AUB 63
Final
CLEM 64
BC 49
Final
STJOE 75
DAVID 70
Final
GT 80
NCSU 81
Final
PITT 76
ND 72
Final
STJ 75
PROV 66
Final
UNH 63
USB 48
 
Final
WVU 77
TTU 58
Final
TEMPL 55
TULA 37
Final
EMICH 69
WMICH 63
 
Final
IOWA 63
WISC 74
Final
SHU 90
XAV 82
Final
UF 57
ARK 56
Final
STET 75
LIP 73
 
Final
ILL 60
PSU 58
Final
TULSA 78
SFLA 71
Final
INDST 64
BRAD 58
 
Final
MAINE 59
GTDNS 77
 
Final
LEH 89
BU 86
 
Final
MARQ 68
BUT 72
Final
DEL 71
COC 68
 
Final
CREI 40
GEOR 67
Final
CLST 76
UWGB 62
 
Final
NEOM 65
MAST 75
 
Final
LOYC 45
ILLST 48
 
Final
KU 68
KYST 57
Final
JVU 50
KNST 51
 
Final
MSST 73
LSU 67
Final
SHU 71
MNTER 77
 
Final
VCU 55
RICH 64
Final
ISU 83
TCU 66
Final
BING 76
MLOWELL 69
 
Final
HART 46
VERM 65
 
Final
DEP 55
VILL 68
Final
WAKE 73
VT 70
Final
UGST 74
ARKST 43
 
Final
FAM 44
COOK 61
 
Final
NDAK 80
IDST 69
 
Final
ARMY 71
GHND 77
 
Final
BEL 71
TENT 53
 
Final
TXSA 57
UAB 65
Final
ILLCH 65
VALPO 70
 
Final
DRAK 70
EVAN 65
 
Final
IND 72
RUTG 64
Final
UMO 79
BST 73
 
Final
RMU 68
BRY 71
 
Final
WAGN 86
CCST 55
 
Final
GWEBB 66
CCAR 64
 
Final
MDES 92
COPST 82
 
Final
RFLSH 68
FD 63
 
Final
RIU 59
GWU 55
Final
SCAR 67
UGA 50
Final
Terriers 81
LIU 64
 
Final
PAC 71
LMU 76
 
Final
STLU 56
UMASS 60
Final
HOW 64
MRGST 48
 
Final
DREX 85
UNCW 76
 
Final
LOU 78
UNC 68
Final
MIZZ 47
MISS 67
Final
ALCOR 56
SOUTH 65
 
Final
NIOWA 70
WICHS 54
Final
JMU 65
WMARY 84
 
Final
RAD 73
WINT 66
 
Final
EILL 57
SIUE 54
 
Final
UNCA 70
CAMP 63
 
Final
MORE 57
EKENT 66
 
Final
NICST 58
INCWORD 69
 
Final
CMICH 74
OHIO 69
 
Final
TEXAM 69
VANDY 58
Final
UWMIL 78
DET 74
 
Final
UNCG 73
WCU 78
 
Final
EWASH 98
IDAHO 95
 
Final
SDKST 69
DEN 39
 
Final
SHSU 63
HOUB 52
 
Final
MVSU 75
JST 62
 
Final
TXST 63
LALAF 72
 
Final
LATU 81
MARS 57
Final
SD 72
ORU 73
 
Final
LAMON 67
SALA 61
 
Final
PVU 89
ALAAM 63
 
Final
GRAM 53
ARKPB 65
 
Final
PRIN 64
DART 53
 
Final
SCST 78
DELST 74
 
Final
COLST 80
FRES 57
Final
MINN 60
NEB 42
Final
WYO 63
NEV 55
Final
GAELS 62
PEPP 67
 
Final
NW 60
PURD 68
Final
BAY 83
TEX 60
Final
CHAT 78
CITA 73
 
Final
SMISS 62
WKENT 73
Final
CORN 57
YALE 65
 
Final
NORST 63
HAMP 60
 
Final
SAV 59
NCAT 62
 
Final
BGU 68
AKR 69
 
Final
KENT 70
ALA 55
Final
CLMB 86
BRO 65
 
7:00pm Tonight
LIB
CSOU
 
Final
LIB 62
CSOU 74
 
Final
BUCK 69
COL 71
 
Final
UVA 63
DUKE 69
Final
NE 80
ELON 61
 
Final
CHAR 70
FIU 78
Final
ODU 68
FATL 57
Final
SAMF 68
FUR 58
 
Final
DUQ 62
GMAS 53
Final
PENN 38
HARV 63
 
Final
LBSU 65
HAW 50
 
Final
BONA 56
LAS 66
Final
NAVY 65
LAF 74
 
Final
PBY 67
LONG 71
 
Final
WOFF 49
MERC 46
 
Final
ETST 61
NCCU 59
 
Final
MCNST 68
NO 61
 
Final
FLGC 74
NKENTUCKY 64
 
Final
IONA 68
PETE 61
 
Final
UNF 74
USCU 79
 
Final
LAM 84
ABCHRIST 74
 
Final
GSOUT 76
ARKLR 61
 
Final
STEPH 61
TAMCC 51
 
Final
UCR 66
CSNO 62
 
Final
SELA 73
NWST 88
 
Final
OKST 56
OKLA 64
 
Final
UNT 75
RICE 65
Final
SDU 77
USF 69
 
Final
NMU 67
SJST 41
Final
PEAY 64
SEMIZ 70
 
Final
NILL 69
TOL 80
 
Final
HOF 72
TOWS 86
 
Final
SMU 75
UCF 56
 
Final
MURST 65
TENNM 62
 
Final
SDST 62
UTST 42
Final
MIZST 52
SILL 46
 
Final
TXARL 54
TROY 55
 
Final
TXSOU 80
ALAST 65
 
Final
TENST 45
JVST 43
 
Final
WASU 89
STAN 88
 
Final
GRCN 55
CHIST 56
 
2nd
UTEP 76
MTST 66
 
Final
SUTAH 60
NARZ 81
 
Final
BYU 78
SCU 57
 
2nd
NMST 50
TXPA 46
 
Final
NCOL 71
WEBER 57
 
2nd
UNLV 40
AFA 32
 
2nd
UCD 30
CPSL 42
 
Half
GONZ 43
MEM 25
 
2nd
UCI 42
UCSB 36
 
2nd
SACST 33
MONT 36
 
2nd
PORST 51
MNTST 39
 
1st
UCLA 23
COL 21
 
Half
CALST 29
SEAT 29
 
1st
WLVRN 17
UMKC 19
 
Final
DET 4
NYI 1
Final
NYR 4
CAR 1
Final
WIN 2
DAL 5
Final
NJD 3
FLA 1
Final
PHI 1
TOR 0
Final
TAM 3
CLB 1
1st Intermission
CAL 0
EDM 2
 
1st
SJS 1
CHI 0