1:00 PM ET, December 4, 2011
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera doesn't care that his team got back on track against the league's only winless club last weekend.
There will be no apology coming if Carolina hands the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their sixth consecutive loss.
With a chance to move ahead of the Buccaneers in the NFC South, the Panthers look to win two in a row for the first time in two seasons Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
With the Panthers (3-8) coming off three straight losses -- including a 49-35 defeat at Detroit on Nov. 20 in which they were outscored 35-8 in the second half -- Rivera said that last Sunday's 27-19 victory over Indianapolis could be "used as a springboard." He has a clear response for those who might argue that defeating a Colts team that fell to 0-11 is not a big enough win.
"People want to downplay this victory, that's fine," Rivera said Monday after the Panthers snapped a franchise-record 12-game road losing streak. "Just understand it's the NFL and it really doesn't matter. A win is a win and we're going to work off of it, feed off of it and use it to build."
While the Panthers' plan to move past last season's 2-14 debacle and build their franchise around Cam Newton hasn't produced many wins, the rookie quarterback is having a record-setting season.
Last year's Heisman Trophy winner added to his rookie record with his 10th rushing touchdown last Sunday, and he needs 647 yards passing to break Peyton Manning's rookie record of 3,739 set in 1998.
One goal Newton hasn't accomplished is winning two in a row. The Panthers last did that during a 3-0 stretch Dec. 20, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.
"What I'd like to do is get him in a situation where he can have back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins and see how he handles that," Rivera said. "It's all about him growing and developing as a football player and that'll help us as a football team and I think the whole idea of drafting Cam and developing Cam is for the future of this franchise.
"That young man can be here as long as we can have him if he stays healthy. He's an explosive football player that makes dynamic plays."
Newton ran for 53 yards on nine carries last week as the Panthers piled up a season-best 201 rushing yards.
That doesn't bode well for a Buccaneers team that's given up at least 177 yards on the ground in four of the last five games. Tampa Bay (4-7) allowed 202 rushing yards in last Sunday's 23-17 loss at Tennessee.
"No excuses and no explanations," said coach Raheem Morris, whose team last dropped six straight during an 0-7 skid to begin his tenure in 2009. "We've got to stop the run better at the end and we can't turn the football over."
Tampa Bay already has four more turnovers this season (23) than in 2010 after committing a season-high five against the Titans.
Third-year quarterback Josh Freeman's rough season continued last Sunday with an interception and a lost fumble. However, he said that a cut he suffered on his right throwing thumb during a shooting range incident during the bye week about a month ago is not an issue.
"The scratch on the thumb was purely cosmetic," Freeman said. "The main thing that affected me was the sprain (thumb suffered in a 24-18 loss to Chicago on Oct. 23)."
Freeman also injured his right shoulder in the closing seconds of last week's game.
Whatever the problem is, Freeman needs to do a better job helping the Buccaneers finish strong. Tampa Bay was a league-best 5-1 in games decided by three points or fewer last season, but it's lost three times this season in games decided by seven or less.
With just six fewer attempts, Freeman already has twice as many fourth-quarter INTs (6) than all of 2010.
"That's been the deal," Morris said. "... Last year we won those games. We haven't been able to get that this year."
Tampa Bay was 2-0 against Carolina last season after losing 11 of the previous 14 meetings. The Panthers were without injured running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in a 31-16 loss at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 14, 2010.
Carolina hosts the Buccaneers on Dec. 24.
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After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Panthers-Buccaneers matchup.
1. Pound the rock: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are giving up 140 rushing yards per game, third-highest in the NFL. With the Carolina Panthers averaging 5.1 yards per carry, second-highest in the league, we can expect to see a heavy dose of their two explosive backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|Avg Points Allowed||27.0||27.4|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CAR|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CAR|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Carolina leads 13-7|
|Nov 14, 2010||CAR 16, @TB 31|
|Sep 19, 2010||CAR 7, TB 20|
|Dec 6, 2009||CAR 16, TB 6|
|Oct 18, 2009||CAR 28, @TB 21|
|Dec 8, 2008||CAR 38, TB 23|
|Oct 12, 2008||CAR 3, @TB 27|
|Dec 30, 2007||CAR 31, @TB 23|
|Sep 30, 2007||CAR 7, TB 20|
|Nov 13, 2006||CAR 24, TB 10|
|Sep 24, 2006||CAR 26, @TB 24|
|Dec 11, 2005||CAR 10, TB 20|
|Nov 6, 2005||CAR 34, @TB 14|
|Dec 26, 2004||CAR 37, @TB 20|
|Nov 28, 2004||CAR 21, TB 14|
|Nov 9, 2003||CAR 27, TB 24|
|Sep 14, 2003||CAR 12, @TB 9|
|Nov 17, 2002||CAR 10, @TB 23|
|Oct 27, 2002||CAR 9, TB 12|
It was reported that Josh Freeman required stitches on his right thumb after a mishap at a gun firing range on October 31st. However, Freeman, who is 2nd in the league in interceptions, has had remarkable similar numbers before and after the injury this season.[+]
Josh Freeman This Season
ESPN Stats & Information