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Carolina Panthers

The Day After: Focused on Tampa Bay


CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks is conscious of the challenge that lies ahead in Tampa Bay.

The Buccaneers may not be at the top of their game statistically, and it may have taken overtime to beat a four-win Cardinals team Sunday, but Wilks has plenty of respect for what the NFC South leaders bring to the table – especially their quarterback named Tom Brady.

"I think when you have the greatest to ever do it, it's pretty easy, pretty simple; they're never out of the game," Wilks said. "Tom Brady is in a class of his own, and he does a tremendous job. So you can never count the Buccaneers out."

The Panthers returned to the facility Monday after a big Christmas Eve win over Detroit and an off day Sunday to spend the holiday with their families. Win at Tampa Bay, and the division crown is still in reach with a Week 18 win over New Orleans. Lose, and the Bucs take the playoff berth.

Carolina held Brady and the Tampa Bay offense to just a field goal in their first meeting this year, when the Panthers took a 21-3 victory in Charlotte in Week 7. But Wilks isn't letting the last result bleed into this one – as he said, "Last time was last time."

Wilks said the Panthers would focus on stopping the Bucs' ground game, which runs through Leonard Fournette. Fournette accounted for 162 all-purpose yards (72 rushing, 90 receiving) in the Bucs' win over Arizona on Christmas Day.

Brady also has Julio Jones back to catch passes. Jones was out with a knee injury for October's first meeting with the Panthers. 

"We've got to make sure that we execute; we've got to stop the run," Wilks said. "Fournette did a great job yesterday in getting his yardage in the run game. They did a tremendous job finding ways to get him the ball out on the perimeter. He's definitely going to be a guy that we've got to make sure we try to contain.

"Those receivers – Julio is back. We didn't play against him the first go-around, so they definitely have some weapons. And, again, we've got to stop the run first and try to make them one-dimensional." 

Wilks said he still wants to avoid playoff chatter between players or coaches, keeping the message consistent from when the Panthers were coming off a Week 15 loss to Pittsburgh. 

The possibility of postseason play may be on the horizon, but Wilks doesn't want anyone in the building getting ahead of themselves.

"It's the same outlook," Wilks said. "Right now, we're just worrying about trying to beat Tampa, win the day, have productive meetings, go out and have a good walkthrough. Keep the focus on us, and take it day by day. We'll see exactly what happens in the end."

– Cornerback Jaycee Horn will undergo surgery for a broken left wrist sustained in Saturday's game against Detroit, Wilks said.

Horn's status for the rest of the season will be determined after the surgery.

"I've seen different scenarios where if surgery goes well, they'd be able to club it up, and he'd go play," Wilks said. "But we have to wait and see exactly what the doctors and trainers say."

Former Panther cornerback Josh Norman signed to the practice squad after a workout Monday, and the 35-year-old veteran could be elevated to the active roster for Sunday's game if the Panthers find themselves needing more depth.

– Veteran return specialist Andre Roberts said he was feeling "OK" as he works to return to the active roster from a long stint on injured reserve with a knee issue. 

"The plan has always been to come back," Roberts said. "So I'm going to progress how I've been progressing and try to get back as soon as I can." 

The 34-year-old receiver was placed on IR in September and was designated to return last Tuesday, opening the 21-day window to be activated to the 53-man roster.

"This is the longest I've missed in my career, and I plan on not doing that anymore," Roberts said. "It's been tough just being on the sidelines and watching everything play out, but I have my chance. I have this 21-day window, so we'll see what happens in the next few weeks."

With Roberts out, rookie Raheem Blackshear has handled kickoff returns, while Shi Smith has been on punt return duty. Smith left the Detroit game with a foot injury, and Wilks said he'll have more details on Smith's injury Wednesday.

As for Roberts, Wilks sounded more optimistic than he did at the end of last week regarding his status. 

"Andre progressed well last week," Wilks said. "I'm hoping that he can give us that spark in the kicking game this week. So we'll see exactly where he is."

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 16 game against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve.

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