It’s been a long, long, looooooooooong time since the Panthers found themselves above .500, but they have a great opportunity tonight as they take on the Greg Schiano-led Bucs. Schiano has managed to burn this franchise to the ground in less than two years and will find himself looking for a job sooner than later. With that being said, Tampa Bay beat Carolina twice last season and these two teams are quite unpredictable. The question is which Panthers team will ultimately show up.
Over the past two weeks Carolina has quietly climbed back to .500 with back-to-back impressive wins, albeit against less than stellar competition. That trend won’t change this week either as the Bucs enter tonight’s contest with an 0-6 record. Tampa Bay’s biggest loss was a 20-point defeat to New England, but other than that the Bucs have been competitive in almost every game. If it weren’t for late game collapses this team would own wins over New York (Jets), New Orleans and Arizona. Alas that is not the case.
Those games in which Tampa was competitive in featured Josh Freeman at quarterback and a healthier squad. That won’t be the case tonight as rookie Mike Glennon is now the signal-caller for the Bucs, and he won’t have the privilege to hand it off to Dough Martin who is said to be out with a shoulder injury. Martin was a thorn in the Panthers’ side last season, so his absence should make Carolina fans feel a bit more at ease.
As banged up as the Bucs are this is a home game for them on a short week. These Thursday night games are generally sloppy and feature poor offensive play, which could lead to a defensive battle. In that case the Panthers should feel pretty good as they carry one of the top units in the league into the game up against a rookie quarterback. Carolina’s defense is led by a talented front seven and a blue collar secondary. Safety Mike Mitchell isn’t going to garner many fans among other teams, but the physical style of play he brings to the table has made him a fan favorite in the Carolinas.
Even with the obvious defensive advantage the Panthers have in this one it will be up to Cam Newton and Co. not to self destruct like they did in Arizona. That was a game Carolina should have won, but the offense couldn’t stop tripping over its own feet. A similar performance against a hungry Bucs team and Friday morning won’t be much fun. The good news is the offense has put together back-to-back quality showings and appears to be on track.
With a winning record on the line for the first time since 2008, this feels like a turning point for this Panthers team. A win here against a team they should beat would put them at 4-3, tied for the final wild card spot and have them relevant. I don’t even want to discuss what a loss would do, but let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty.