Tampa Bay Buccaneers by the numbers
2012 Record: 0-0 (Season Opener)
All-Time Record vs. Carolina: 9-14
Last Meeting: Panthers 48, Buccaneers 15 (Dec. 24, 2011)
Current Streak vs. Carolina: L2
Longest Losing Streak vs. Carolina: 3 (1998-2002)
Not many people know what to expect from a Buccaneers team that went just 4-12 last year, because there have been so many changes, and it started with the head coach. Greg Schiano moves from the college ranks with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights into the NFL spotlight as the team’s ninth head coach. The big question is whether the Tampa Bay ownership got it right this time.
Raheem Morris got the boot after three seasons and a 17-31 record, but to be fair, he was hamstrung by the lack of money invested in the on-field product. Even so, many believed he was over his head going from defensive backs coach to the top job. He followed Jon Gruden, who did win a Super Bowl, but was fired with a mediocre overall mark of 57-55.
Schiano has been a college coach for 21 years, the last dozen at Rutgers, and it is his job to turn around the fortunes of a downtrodden franchise and one of the more gifted quarterbacks in the NFL.
Josh Freeman was the 17th overall selection in the 2009 Draft out of Kansas State, the first quarterback to ever come out of that program as a first round pick. It came on the recommendation of Morris, and Freeman had a breakout season in 2010, throwing 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He regressed last year getting picked off 22 times while tossing just 16 TDs despite completing more than 61% of his passes both seasons.
The Buccaneers and Panthers combined for only 10 wins, and when the season ended they were two organizations going in different directions. Carolina was clearly on the upswing. Now Tampa Bay must slow down a division rival in the opener or they could end up starting 0-4 with road games against the Super Bowl champion Giants, the Cowboys who beat the Giants on opening night, and back home against the revitalized Redskins with Robert Griffin III under center.
The key matchup
While optimism abounds at One Buccaneer Place, just a stone’s throw from Raymond James Stadium where the Panthers will visit on Sunday, Tampa Bay must help Freeman by keeping a potent Carolina offense, led by Rookie of the Year quarterback Cam Newton, off the field–something they didn’t do well against most opponents in 2011. Statistically they were the worst in the NFL.
The Buccaneers can win if the Bucs return to the Pound the Rock ground game, led by rookie Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount, that made them so successful in years past it could allow Freeman to get creative and test a reworked Panthers defense. They need to create and capitalize on turnovers and hope that free safety Ronde Barber finds a Fountain of Youth and team with one of the best corners in the league, Aqib Talib.
The Buccaneers will lose if they cannot contain Cam Newton. Plain and simple.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.