Tue, 20 Oct 2020

2020 Game Preview: Panthers-Buccaneers, Week 2

Buccaneers
20 Sep 2020, 19:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Bucs may be facing a familiar opponent in their 2020 home opener, but much about the Panthers has changed since their last meeting, including the head coach, the quarterback and much of the starting defense Scott Smith

Week Two of the unprecedented 2020 NFL season sees the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing their first home game of the year but their second contest within the division. The Buccaneers will also play in front of an empty Raymond James Stadium for the first time ever - COVID-19 pandemic precautions have caused the team to delay opening its gates for at least the first two games - but they did get a taste of that strange game day atmosphere in a fan-less Superdome last Sunday.

The Buccaneers dropped that opener in New Orleans, 34-23, to Drew Brees and the Saints. Now they face Brees's 2020 understudy, Teddy Bridgewater, who signed with Carolina in the offseason to replace the departed Cam Newton under center. The Panthers also lost their season opener, 34-30 at home to the Raiders, so both teams will be chasing an all-important first win and first NFC South win on Sunday in Tampa.

While the Tom Brady-Drew Brees convergence was clearly the biggest storyline for the Bucs' Week One trip to Louisiana - or simply that long-time Patriots superstar was making his Buccaneer debut - the most notable thing about Tampa Bay's Week Two opponent is how much they've changed. Bridgewater isn't the only addition since the Bucs and Panthers split their season series in 2019; most notably, there's a new coaching staff in place, with former Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule replacing long-time Panther Ron Rivera. With Rhule at the helm and joined by former LSU Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady, Bridgewater now at the wheel of the offense and wide receiver Robby Anderson adding a new speed element, the Buccaneers will be facing a Carolina offense that should look nothing what they know from the Newton era.

At least the Buccaneers do know that the Panthers attack will still run through do-everything running back Christian McCaffrey. Just the third player to combine 1,000+ rushing yards with 1,000+ receiving yards in the same season, McCaffrey came out in midseason form to start 2020, with 134 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against Las Vegas. The Panthers' defense, on the other hand, may be completely unrecognizable.

That group is already starting three rookies - DT Derrick Brown, S/LB Jeremy Chinn and CB Troy Pride - and MLB Tahir Whitehead, S Juston Burris and DE Stephen Weatherly are veteran free agency acquisitions who were in the Week One starting lineup. The Panthers signed Whitehead to pair with linebacker Shaq Thompson because Luke Kuechly, one of the best players in franchise history, elected to retire after the 2019 season. Also gone from Carolina's 2019 defense are cornerback James Bradberry, edge rushers Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison and defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe.

If the coaching change and significant roster churn suggest the beginning of a rebuild in Charlotte - though the Panthers would probably not describe it that way - the Buccaneers are clearly all-in for 2020 with the additions of Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy plus the aggressive free agency work to keep the defensive front intact. That makes the Week One loss to the defending division champions a little tougher to swallow and adds to the importance of playing a more complete and error-free game against another division foe in Week Two.

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

Carolina Panthers (0-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)

Sunday, September 20, 1:00 p.m. ET

Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618...no fans will be in attendance)

Tampa, Florida

Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)

TV Broadcast Team: Adam Amin (play-by-play), Mark Schlereth (analyst), Lindsay Czarniak (reporter)

Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station

Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

In recent years, the Buccaneers and Panthers have proven their still flexible enough to do the splits.

Since Tampa Bay and Carolina were clustered into the new NFC South Division in 2002, their head-to-head battle has traditionally been one-sided, though that side would flip back and forth. From 2002-17, 13 of the 16 season series between these two teams ended in a sweep, including every one from 2009 through 2017. It went Carolina's way in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Bucs got the sweep in 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2016. Interestingly (if you're into this kind of thing), the three splits came in years the Buccaneers either made the playoffs (2005, 2007) or really should have (2008...which ended in a four-game losing streak after a 9-7 start).

But now parity has returned to this rivalry, as each of the last two seasons have ended with a split of the series. Last year, the Buccaneers secured a tight win in Charlotte on a Thursday night in Week Two when Vernon Hargreaves knocked McCaffrey out of bounds two yards shy of the sticks on an all-or-nothing fourth-down run off a direct snap. That 20-14 Bucs win was balanced four weeks later by a 37-26 win for Carolina in a game played in London.

Overall, the Panthers have a 24-15 edge in the all-time series, including a 12-8 mark in Buccaneer home games (which technically includes the one last year at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium). Prior to becoming division mates in '02, the Bucs and Panthers had only met three times since Carolina joined the league as a 1995 expansion team, with the Bucs winning twice.

Last year marked the first time the Bucs had faced the Panthers in a game outside the country, but the two teams did once meet at Clemson's Memorial Stadium in Carolina's inaugural 1995 season. The Bucs' prime-time win last September included a three-sack performance from Shaquil Barrett, Chris Godwin's 121-yard, one-touchdown outing and a strong rushing effort by Peyton Barber.

Perhaps the most notable wins for Tampa Bay in the series with Carolina came in 2002 and 2005. At the midpoint of the 2002 Super Bowl campaign, the Buccaneers were coming off a deflating loss in Philadelphia (again) and had to play at Carolina without their quarterback, Brad Johnson, who woke up with the flu. Defense dominated and the Bucs were trailing 9-6 late in the fourth quarter before Martin Gramatica saved the day with two long field goals. In 2005, the Buccaneers were in the middle of a late-season three-game road swing when they went to Bank of America Stadium and won a battle for first place by a 20-10 score. Ronde Barber punctuated that game with a sack and a critical interception, becoming the first cornerback ever to reach 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in his career.

NOTABLE CONNECTIONS

• Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht was a member of the Panthers' scouting staff in 1998.

• Tampa Bay's inside linebackers coach, Mike Caldwell, played 11 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL, and the last of those was in Carolina in 2003.

• Mark Carrier, Carolina's executive director of football staff, is the second-leading receiver in Buccaneers' history in terms of yardage, and he held the record for nearly two decades before it was surpassed in 2018 by Mike Evans. Carrier was drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round in 1987 and he played the first six of his 12 NFL seasons in Tampa.

• Carolina LB Adarius Taylor is back where he began his NFL career in 2014, but he spent the 2015-18 seasons in Tampa and made 14 starts on the Buccaneers' defense in 2017-18.

• Panthers practice squad WR Ishmael Hyman spent 10 weeks on Tampa Bay's practice squad last year and was also active for two games in December, during which he caught two passes for 34 yards.

• Buccaneers WR/KR Jaydon Mickens went to training camp with the Panthers in 2019 but ultimately ended up in Tampa later that season.

• Carolina Tight Ends Coach Brian Angelichio held the same position on Greg Schiano's staff with the Buccaneers in 2012 and 2013.

• Panthers Defensive Line Coach Mike Phair has previously worked for the Buccaneers in two different capacities, as a scout and as a coach. Phair was first with the team as an area scout from 2002-04, arriving along with Jon Gruden's Super Bowl-winning staff in '02. Phair subsequently shifted to coaching in Seattle in 2008 and in 2014 he returned to Tampa for one year as the team's assistant defensive line coach.

SENIOR COACHING STAFFS

• Tampa Bay:

• Head Coach Bruce Arians

• Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin

• Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles

• Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich

• Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong

• Carolina:

• Head Coach Matt Rhule

• Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady

• Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow

• Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn

KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS

Buccaneers:

• QB Tom Brady (UFA)

• RB Leonard Fournette (FA)

• TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE)

• T Joe Haeg (UFA)

• WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick)

• RB LeSean McCoy (FA)

• C A.Q. Shipley (FA)

• K Ryan Succop (FA)

• RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick)

• S Antoine Winfield Jr. (2nd-round draft pick)

• T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)

Panthers:

• WR Robby Anderson (UFA)

• CB Eli Apple (FA - currently on injured reserve)

• QB Teddy Bridgewater (UFA)

• DT Derrick Brown (1st-round draft pick)

• S Juston Burris (UFA)

• P Joseph Charlton (UDFA)

• S Jeremy Chinn (2nd-round draft pick)

• WR/KR Pharoh Cooper (UFA)

• DE Yetur Gross-Matos (2nd-round draft pick)

• G John Miller (FA)

• CB Troy Pride (4th-round draft pick)

• WR Seth Roberts (UFA)

• DE Stephen Weatherly (UFA)

• LB Tahir Whitehead (FA)

ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE

Buccaneers:

• Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Coincidentally, Winston will be there for Brady's Buccaneers debut as he signed with the Saints as an unrestricted free agent.

• Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history.

• The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.

• The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett will play on the tag's one-year contract this fall.

Panthers:

• Carolina is one of five NFL teams with new head coaches in 2020, having moved on from Ron Rivera after a largely successful nine-year run under Rivera's stewardship. Taking his place is Matt Rhule, who gets his first shot at an NFL head coaching job after seven years of leading teams at Temple and Baylor. Rhule turned around both struggling programs, in particular inheriting a Baylor program that had been rocked by scandals and taking them from 1-11 to 11-1 in just two years. A creative offensive mind, Rhule lands with a team in flux in several major areas and will have a chance to put his stamp on every corner of the organization.

• The only holdovers in Charlotte from Rivera's staff are Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn and former Running Backs Coach Jake Peetz, who will now tutor the quarterbacks. That means Rhule brought in nearly a completely new staff, and perhaps his highest-profile hire was Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady. Brady has former NFL coaching experience as an offensive assistant with the Saints in 2017-18 but he gained notoriety last year as the passing game coordinator for the nearly unstoppable LSU offense. Rhule's choice as defensive coordinator is the same man who held that position under him at Temple and Baylor, Phil Snow.

• Like the Buccaneers, the Panthers made a dramatic change at the game's most important position in the offseason. Cam Newton, who won a league MVP award in his fourth season after being drafted first-overall in 2012, was released in March and would later move on to New England. The Patriots, of course, needed a replacement for Tom Brady, who replaced Jameis Winston in Tampa. Winston then signed with the Saints, who needed a new backup for Drew Brees after Teddy Bridgewater left to take the starting gig in Charlotte vacated by Newton. Bridgewater was 5-0 as a starter for the Saints in 2019 while Brees was recovering from a thumb injury.

• Quarterback isn't the only position that will have a new look in Rhule's first year. According to the depth chart posted on the Panthers' official website, Carolina could start the season with as 10 starters who were not on the team last year: Bridgewater, LT Russell Okung, RG John Miller, WR Robby Anderson, DT Derrick Brown, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, MLB Tahir Whitehead, ROLB Jeremy Chinn (listed as a co-starter with Jermaine Carter), RCB Tony Pride and SS Juston Burris. Brown, Gross-Matos, Chinn and Pride were all draft picks by Carolina in April.

TOP STORYLINES

Tom Brady and Offensive Progression - Tom Brady said it, in a number of different ways, before his first live action as a Buccaneer: The offense was probably going to be a work in progress in the season's early going. The vanished offseason and canceled preseason meant any team with a substantial change on offense was going to be figuring things out on the fly, even when that change was bringing in the greatest quarterback of all time. Here's a representative quote from Brady: "We're going to play a game and we're going to figure out what we're good at and what we're not good at. I wish we knew those things right now, but I think the reality is we don't know what we're very good at [and] we don't know what we're not good at. But, we're going to try some things and we're going to see how it looks under real competition. This is the first time this 2020 team has had a chance to perform and compete together. There's a lot of different parts. We have to figure out quickly what we can repeat consistently at a very high level to beat good football teams." One game will not answer all those questions, and not all of the Bucs' struggles on offense in their Week One loss can be chalked up to a lack of continuity. But it is clear that Brady needs the live action against unfamiliar defenders to know how best to distribute the football. Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller and O.J. Howard were his best weapons in Week One; moving forward, how will Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, Cam Brate, Justin Watson and the running backs fit into the attack?

Main Takeaways - Neither the Buccaneers nor the Panthers came away with a win in Week One. They also combined for exactly zero takeaways on defense. Twelve NFL teams failed to generate a takeaway on opening weekend, and only three of those teams won, including the Raiders, who beat the Panthers in a turnover-free game all around. It's hard to win in the NFL when you lose the turnover battle. Clearly that will be a focal point for both teams when Tampa Bay and Carolina prepare to square off at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Last year's Bucs-Panthers series certainly proved that point. In the Bucs' Week Two win in Charlotte, the Tampa Bay offense didn't commit a single turnover; in the Week Six rematch in London, the Bucs coughed it up seven times and lost by 11 points. Last weekend, the Bucs also lost by 11 in New Orleans despite generating more total offense. Tampa Bay's three touchdown drives in that game covered 90, 85 and 75 yards. Meanwhile New Orleans didn't have a scoring drive longer than 64 yards and also got seven points on a pick-six. The Buccaneers probably didn't need a reminder that turnovers swing game outcomes, but that Week One loss only served to reinforce what will be at the front of their minds in Week Two.

Empty Nest Syndrome - On Sunday, Raymond James Stadium might feel a bit like a five-bedroom house after the youngest child has gone off to college: Lots of extra room and a lot less noise. Like most teams around the NFL, the Buccaneers are playing their home games in the season's first quarter without fans in the stand, part of the effort to counter a pandemic, most importantly for the safety of the crowd but also in an effort to keep the season going. The Buccaneers found out what an empty Superdome was like last weekend - NOT a normal experience - and now they'll play in their own home without most of their family on the premises. Will there be any home field advantage for the Buccaneers in this sort of atmosphere? Players and coaches reported no difficulty hearing each other amid the piped-in "crowd noise" in New Orleans, and that will likely be even more true in an open-air venue. After that Week One experience, multiple Buccaneers players have noted that they now understand that it is up to them to keep the energy level up without the backing of a delirious crowd. That may actually be more difficult to do in a home game, when Buccaneers players are specifically missing the cheers after they make big plays.

McCaffrey vs. a Wall - We did not include Panthers star running back Christian McCaffrey in our Key Matchups selection below because there isn't one specific defender who will be most responsible for keeping him in check Sunday. Because Carolina uses McCaffrey all over the formation and just as much in the passing game as the rushing attack, he'll end up with some one-on-one battles against a variety of Buccaneer defenders. For the most part, however, the Buccaneers will be trying to get as many players as possible to McCaffrey's spot when he gets the football. Tampa Bay's tackling on defense was relatively sound in the season opener in New Orleans, which helped them hold Alvin Kamara and company to 2.4 yards per carry on 34 attempts. McCaffrey is a similar threat to Kamara in that he's a better inside runner than many people realize, but that's also a very difficult place to run against Tampa Bay's defense, which led the league in rush defense last year. With Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston clogging the lanes, the Bucs are picking up where they left off in 2019, when they allowed just 3.3 yards per carry on the season. And while McCaffrey is never fully contained and rarely even stopped, the Buccaneers should come into Sunday's game confidence in their chances. That's because Tampa Bay stopped McCaffrey like no other team in 2019, holding him to 68 rushing yards and 110 yards from scrimmage across two contests. McCaffrey averaged 94.2 rushing yards and 163.0 yards from scrimmage in Carolina's other 14 games last year.

Turn Up the Heat - The Buccaneers' defense had 47 sacks in 2019, the second-highest single-season total in franchise history, but only one of those came in two games against the Saints. In last Sunday's game, Jason Pierre-Paul's third-down smothering of Brees was Tampa Bay's only sack of the game. This didn't come as a complete surprise as Brees plays behind a strong offensive line and makes quick decisions with the football. He has only been sacked 30 times in his last 27 games combined. The Buccaneers' pass rush needs to write a different story in Week Two against Bridgewater and the Panthers' new-look offensive line. Tampa Bay's secondary held up quite well against Brees, Michael Thomas and the Saints' passing game, allowing only 198 passing yards, 38 of them on a gadget double-pass play involving Taysom Hill. Cornerback Carlton Davis was particularly strong in coverage against Thomas, holding him to three catches for 17 yards. If that blanked coverage by the secondary had been paired with a more robust pass rush, the final result might have been much better for the Buccaneers. A better combination of rush and coverage in Week Two would go a long way towards securing the team's first victory of 2020.

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Panthers WR D.J. Moore vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis

Did we mention that Carlton Davis had a very strong game against Michael Thomas? We did? Well, it's worth repeating because that is not easy to do. Neither was his near shutdown of then-Texan DeAndre Hopkins last December. Bruce Arians called Davis a "top-10" cornerback in the league early in training camp and David appears intent on proving that wasn't hyperbole. The Bucs may not choose to use Davis to shadow one particular Panther, as they did with him and Thomas last Sunday, but he will surely get plenty of reps against D.J. Moore, who had a breakout 1,175-yard campaign in 2019. New Panther Robby Anderson led his team with 115 yards on six catches in Week One but is more of a hit-and-miss big-play receiver. Moore led the team with nine targets and last year was targeted 135 times, second only to Christian McCaffrey's 142 among Panther targets. Moore isn't quite as big as Thomas but he's still a solid 6-0 and 210 pounds and he has higher-end speed, as evidenced by his 4.42 40-yard dash at the 2018 Scouting Combine. Davis has the size and length to match up with physical receivers like Moore, and he has the coverage ability to shut down any foe on any given Sunday.

2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers CB Troy Pride

This one-on-one matchup, for however many snaps it happens, could swing sharply in the Buccaneers' favor, especially if Mike Evans is still not hampered by the hamstring injury that kept him off the practice field last week. Evans progressed rapidly over the weekend and was able to play against the Saints, and even though his only catch was a two-yard touchdown he did draw nearly 70 yards worth of pass-interference penalties on plays on which he got deep open. The 6-5, 230-pound Evans would have a distinct size advantage any time he lines up across from Troy Pride, who is listed at 5-11 and 195. That's a change for Evans in competition with Carolina, in that he had previously drawn most of his coverage from the 6-1, 215-pound James Bradberry. Bradberry is now a New York Giant, and one of the players the Panthers brought in to replace him was Notre Dame's Pride, a fourth-round draft pick. Carolina also signed former Saint Eli Apple in free agency and probably would have started him opposite returning corner Donte Jackson, but Apple landed on injured reserve to start the season. Pride started the opener and contributed seven tackles. Evans obviously has an experience edge over Pride as well, and it's unlikely the Panthers would choose to shadow Evans with Jackson given that Chris Godwin must be accounted for, as well.

3. Panthers C Matt Paradis vs. Buccaneers DL Vita Vea

As noted above, Christian McCaffrey has been very effective as a runner between the tackles in his young career; last year, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry on inside runs, second-best in the league among all backs with at least 75 such plays. Unfortunately for the Panthers, and as was evidenced in two matchups last year, the Buccaneers' defense is particularly strong up the middle, too. The 340-pound Vea, who commonly lines up as a nose tackle, is difficult to move, even with multiple blockers, and he's flanked by two other good run-stoppers in Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston. There will be plays where the 6-3, 300-pound Paradis is asked to contain Vea on his own, or move the big defender out of the way to create a lane, and those one-on-ones should be an entertaining battle of power on power. A highly-regarded center for the Broncos, Paradis signed with the Panthers last year to provide an anchor for a line that has had a lot of moving parts and not much continuity in recent years. Obviously, Paradis deserves some credit for the Panthers' rushing success up the middle, and he's got good feet and instincts to go with his toughness. On passing downs, the Buccaneers will hope Vea can get past Paradis and the guards to provide some pressure up the middle on Bridgewater.

4. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Panthers DE Brian Burns

The Buccaneers believe that Donovan Smith has the skills to protect Tom Brady's blindside and that when he's at the top of the game he can shut down even the best pass-rushers. Brian Burns may soon be considered part of that group. Despite playing fewer than 50% of the Panthers' defensive snaps as a rookie, Burns still contributed 7.5 sacks in 2019. Now Burns is the starter with Carolina changing over much of their front-seven personnel in the offseason and in the opener he played 68% of the snaps. The 2019 first-round pick has a very quick first step; in fact, according to Next Gen stats his average time to cross the line of scrimmage after the snap last year was 0.75 seconds, the quickest among all NFL edge rushers. Last year, Burns had one sack in each of his two games against the Buccaneers, but he and the Panthers' pass rush was shut out last weekend against Derek Carr.

INJURY REPORT

Key:

DNP: Did not participate in practice

LP: Limited participation in practice

FP: Full participation in practice

NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

• TE Antony Auclair (calf) - WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.

• WR Mike Evans (hamstring) - WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

• WR Chris Godwin (concussion) - WEDS: DNP: THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Doubtful.

• OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (not injury related) - WEDS: NL: THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

• T Donovan Smith (knee) - WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

• DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) - WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.

• S Jordan Whitehead (elbow) - WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

Panthers:

• WR Pharoh Cooper (Ribs) - WEDS: FP; THURS: FP

• G Dennis Daley (ankle) - WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP

• CB Donte Jackson (ankle) - WEDS: FP; THURS: FP

• DE Yetur Gross-Matos (eye/concussion) - WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP

• DT Kawann Short (foot) - WEDS: DNP: THURS: LP

• LB Shaq Thompson (groin) - WEDS: FP: THURS: FP

• DE Stephen Weatherly (hamstring) - WEDS: FP; THURS: FP

WEATHER FORECAST

Partly cloudy, high of 84, low of 72, 20% chance of rain, 72% humidity, winds out of the ESE at 5-10 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: John Hussey (19 seasons, six as referee)

BETTING LINE

• Favorite: Buccaneers (-8.5)

• Over/Under: 47.5

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers- Points Scored: QB Tom Brady/WR Mike Evans/TE O.J. Howard, 6

Touchdowns: QB Tom Brady/WR Mike Evans/TE O.J. Howard, 1

Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 239

Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 78.4

Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 66

Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 6

Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 79

Interceptions: None

Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 1.0

Tackles: ILB Lavonte David/ILB Devin White, 11

Panthers- Points Scored: RB Christian McCaffrey, 12

Touchdowns: RB Christian McCaffrey, 2

Passing Yards: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 270

Passer Rating: QB Teddy Bridgewater, 98.9

Rushing Yards: RB Christian McCaffrey, 96

Receptions: WR Robby Anderson, 6

Receiving Yards: WR Robby Anderson, 115

Interceptions: None

Sacks: None

Tackles: LB Shaq Thompson, 12

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers- Scoring Offense: t-16th (23.0 ppg)

Total Offense: 23rd (310.0 ypg)

Passing Offense: t-17th (224.0 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 25th (86.0 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: t-13th (23.0)

Third-Down Pct.: 18th (38.5%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: t-23rd (8.33%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: t-1st (100.0%)

Scoring Defense: t-27th (34.0 ppg)

Total Defense: 6th (271.0 ypg)

Passing Defense: 7th (189.0 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 6th (82.0 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-3rd (18.0)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: t-6th (33.3%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: t-22nd (3.23%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-9th (50.0%)

Turnover Margin: t-31st (-3)

Panthers- Scoring Offense: 8th (30.0 ppg)

Total Offense: 8th (388.0 ypg)

Passing Offense: 10th (260.0 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 15th (128.0 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: t-17th (22.0)

Third-Down Pct.: t-4th (53.9%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 8th (2.94%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: t-14th (66.7%)

Scoring Defense: t-27th (34.0 ppg)

Total Defense: 19th (372.0 ypg)

Passing Defense: 17th (239.0 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 20th (133.0 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-17th (23.0)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: t-30th (54.6%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: t-30th (0.00%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-20th (75.0%)

Turnover Margin: t-15th (0)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

• While together with the Patriots for nine seasons (2010-18), Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski hooked up on 78 regular-season touchdown passes. Brady and Gronkowski are together again in Tampa and their next scoring connection will be notable. Their 79th shared touchdown will tie Dan Marino and Mark Clayton for the fourth-most between any two teammates in NFL history.

• Tight end Cameron Brate has 27 career touchdown catches, which is tied for the fifth-most in franchise history. The next one he gets will move him from that tie into one for fourth place with former Bucs WR Joey Galloway.

• LB Lavonte David is moving up the Buccaneers' all-time tackles chart at an inexorable pace. He started his ninth season with 1,006 career stops (an average of 125.8 per campaign) and then added 11 more in the season-opener at 11. Now at 1,017, he is just 11 behind Hardy Nickerson, who is third on the list.

• WR Chris Godwin has 2,779 receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches in his career. With 169 more yards and three more touchdowns, he would move into 10th place on both of those lists in franchise history.

• OLB Jason Pierre-Paul is also closing in on a Buccaneers all-time top 10 list. He has already recorded 22.0 sacks in 27 games with Tampa Bay, and four more would put him into a tie with Greg Spires for that 10th spot.

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

• Head Coach Bruce Arians on if was surprised by members of the media expressing doubt about Tom Brady after one game: "I mean, I was amused when they handed us the Lombardi Trophy in July. It's part of the business. You deal with it. It's one week at a time, one day at a time. [If] we win a few games in a row everybody will be back on the bandwagon and happy. It's part of the game."

• CB Carlton Davis on the origin of his confidence in covering the league's top receivers: "It just comes from putting in work. Only hard work can breed confidence. My coaches put me in a position to show my skillset and be able to provide what our team needs in a corner. Just having those guys trust me and having our coaches give me this job is everything I need to go out there and do a job. At the end of the day, I want to do whatever I can to help our team win. I've always been this type of corner where I'm following the best receiver since college. So, coming to the NFL is definitely different, but it's the same job and I'm used to the pressure."

• ILB Devin White on if he will have coverage responsibilities on Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey: "Most definitely. Any time he goes wide, I've got to go do it, and I want to do it, and I will do it. Everybody knows that's one of the reasons I was drafted, to go man up on those guys. I was watching film and I think the Raiders were putting a safety on him. When you play us, it's not needed. Just like went Alvin Kamara went out I went out and covered him. Week-in and week-out I'm going to get better. We've got fast guys on the scout team right now giving me a great look. I'm just playing my technique and playing ball and making plays. That's what I'm going to do when the game comes Sunday, I'm going to go make plays. Any time they line up empty and we're in man-to-man, I'll be out there guarding him."

• WR Scotty Miller on the great accuracy Tom Brady showed on deep balls in Week One: "He can still sling it, absolutely. That was the one thing - when he announced he was coming here everyone was saying, 'He doesn't have the arm anymore.' But I found out the first day I threw with him he absolutely still has it. He throws just as hard as almost anyone I've ever thrown with, still. And then his deep balls are great as well and I think he showcased that a little bit on Sunday and I think he will for the rest of the year. So I don't think we're worried about that at all with him. He's going to put the ball on the money every time."

• S Antoine Winfield, Jr. on if the Bucs' approach changed this week after there were some problems with execution in the season opener: "We're approaching it the same way. We've got Carolina [this] week. Our goal was just to come in today and focus on them, and just get ready and prepared for them. I feel like nothing really changed. We still have the same mindset: Just come in here and get better and go out there and execute this Sunday."

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