Coming off a 31-point victory at New Orleans, the Carolina Panthers are a confident bunch heading into Sunday's home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They can't afford to be too confident.
"When you only have four wins, you don't really overlook anyone," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We're by no means in a position to judge anyone's record. We understand this is a big challenge, a division game that we've got to have. We're dialed in for this."
While the Panthers at 4-8-1 could be alone in first place atop the NFC South at the close of business Monday, the Buccaneers aren't that far behind at 2-11. They lost to Carolina back in Week 1 but barely, rallying from a 17-0 deficit before falling 20-14.
"When you watch Tampa on film, you can't tell if they're up or down because they play hard all the time," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "I like seeing a team like that, a team that doesn't quit."
Here's what the Panthers need to do to take care of business.
BACKUP PLAN: Quarterback Derek Anderson's last start came in that season-opening victory in Tampa, when Cam Newton missed the first game of his career with a rib injury. Now with Newton out following a harrowing car accident earlier in the week, Anderson gets the call against the Buccaneers again.
"I missed some throws, but overall I thought I played all right," Anderson said of the first game. "We can learn from the things we did in the first game, but they've evolved over the course of the season. It's been 14 weeks."
Anderson was a collected leader in the opener, and the Panthers need that from him again.
FIND HOLES INSTEAD OF DIG THEM: Anderson could use a boost from the running game, and recent trends make that a promising prospect.
Behind what was a new offensive line – Mike Remmers at right tackle, Trai Turner at right guard, Ryan Kalil at center, Andrew Norwell at left guard and Byron Bell at left tackle – the Panthers piled up a season-high rushing total two weeks ago and then repeated the feat behind the same line in New Orleans.
"We're just going to try to keep the ball rolling," said Remmers, who made his first NFL start two weeks ago. "I feel so blessed by the opportunity to go out there and play and am so thankful for everything. I'm just trying to make the most of it."
The Panthers topped 100 rushing yards against Tampa Bay in Week 1, something they didn't again do until Week 6. The Buccaneers allow 115.8 rushing yards per game, 20th in the league.
TREE-MENDOUS CHALLENGE: Both standing 6-foot-5, Tampa Bay's tandem of starting receivers are hard to miss, but the Panthers think they can make life hard on them.
"They've got trees out there – mahogany trees," cornerback Josh Norman said. "We're definitely going to try to limit what they do and be physical with those guys, and I know they're going to try to be physical with us. We're going to go out there and give it our best, and may the best man win. That's how I look at it."
Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson were held mostly in check in the first matchup, combining for 73 yards on nine catches. Evans has really come on over the second half of his rookie campaign, but so has a Carolina secondary that has mixed in more young players with veterans.
"You see older guys out there making plays and being aggressive, and younger guys want to get a piece of that," Norman said. "It's showing."
SOUNDS OF VICTORY: Carolina hasn't played at Bank of America Stadium since Nov. 16, when a boisterous crowd helped pump up the Panthers during a rally from a 13-point deficit that just fell short against Atlanta.
The Panthers are seeking their first home victory since Oct. 5. Players and coaches aplenty spoke out this week about what a positive role fans can play in getting back to their winning ways at home.
|Panthers in the Park||Located at Romare Bearden Park in Third Ward between Church Street and Mint Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free, interactive area offers fun for the entire family with appearances by the TopCats, Sir Purr and PurrCussion and the Fuel Up to Play 60 Kids Combine. Get Fuel Up to Play 60 awareness bracelets, bookmarks and pedometers from the Southeast Dairy Association.|
|Panthers Lair||Located on the corner of Mint Street and Morehead Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for photos at the 107.9 The Link van, Sir Purr appearing throughout the morning and a performance by PurrCussion. Charge your phone at the AT&T Connection Zone. Learn about protecting your home from CPI Security. Play CW Plinko and win prizes from WCCB-TV. Visit the Papa John's Pizza tent for a free keychain, bracelet and other giveaways. Show off your cornhole skills at the Red Robin tailgate area. Area also features a DJ.|
|Pregame||Mascot Bowl XVI|
|Invocation||Rabbi Yisrael Levin - Ballantyne Jewish Center, Charlotte, N.C.|
|Chesnee (S.C.) High School War Eagle Battalion|
|National Anthem||Olivia Harbin|
|Halftime||Flippenout Trampoline Show |
Punt, Pass & Kick Recognition