BUCS BANGED UP
The 0-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are banged up heading into their game vs. the 0-2 Carolina Panthers.

Bucs guard Davin Joseph (knee) and tight end/long snapper Dave Moore (rib) have already been ruled out of Sunday’s contest at Raymond James Stadium with their respective injuries. Four other players – defensive tackle Chris Hovan (ankle), cornerback Brian Kelly (foot), defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (hip) and linebacker Ryan Nece (knee) – are listed as questionable on Tampa Bay’s official injury report.

Joseph, Kelly, McFarland, Moore and Nece were held out of Wednesday’s practice at One Buccaneer Place.

There is some growing concern that Kelly’s foot injury, which he deemed a degenerative turf toe condition, isn’t improving. It kept him out of last Sunday’s game in Atlanta and could force him to miss the upcoming game vs. Carolina.

“We’re still getting information,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Kelly’s foot injury. “We haven’t seen him yet today. He’s coming back with the information from the doctor that looked at his foot. Because of that, I’ve listed him as questionable. We're optimistic but we’re also realistic, so we’re downgrading him to questionable for the game.”

Bucs running back Cadilac Williams, who has been bothered by back spasms over the past two weeks but played in the game vs. Atlanta, isn’t listed on Tampa Bay’s injury report and practiced Wednesday.

“He plays better when he practices and obviously if his back wasn’t a problem he would be practicing,” Gruden said of Williams. “He practiced today and I think he’s making progress. When your go-to back is not feeling great, it’s not one of the happier days of my life. But he is coming around and we think he’ll be ready to go for the Panthers.”

Carolina isn’t in great shape heading into Sunday’s game vs. its division rival, either.

Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan (head) is out, safety Shaun Williams (foot) is doubtful and wide receiver Drew Carter (hand), running back Nick Goings (thigh), center Justin Hartwig (groin), cornerback Ken Lucas (neck), wide receiver Steve Smith (thigh) and linebacker Jason Kyle (shoulder) are listed as questionable.

Goings, Hartwig, Lucas, Morgan, Smith and Williams were all held out of practice Wednesday.

BUCS PREPARING TO CLASH WITH PANTHERS
Before the 2006 seasons started, most pundits predicted the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would compete for the NFC South division title. Just two games into the regular season, the Bucs and Panthers are 0-2, and they’re both desperate for a win Sunday.

 “For a lot of different reasons it’s huge,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Tampa Bay’s game vs. Carolina. “We are playing at home against a team that, although they’re 0-2, is a very good football team. They almost went to the Super Bowl last year. So this is going to be a battle of two football teams that desperately need a victory and it’s going to be a very physical game, I can assure you that.”

The Panthers had defeated the Buccaneers five straight times until December of 2005, which is when Tampa Bay went into Carolina and downed the Panthers, 20-10. According to Gruden, the Bucs had to play a near perfect football game and will have to do the same in order to down a team as talented as the Panthers.

“We played a pretty error-free game,” Gruden recalled of Tampa Bay’s 20-10 win in Carolina last year. “We tried making field goals for a change, and we didn’t turn the ball over for another. Those two things alone give you a chance to win in this league. You’re going to be in a game against a team that’s very talented. We know each other, and that can make sometimes for a slugfest. If you can win the field position battle and capitalized on the scoring opportunities, and you don’t turn the ball over, you’ve got a chance to win in this league.”

The Bucs aren’t calling Sunday’s game a must win, but they know that 0-3 will put one of these teams in deep hole – one they might not be able to climb out of.

“Way deep, but we don’t expect to be there,” said Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard. “We’re hopefully fine-tuning some things now where we had some success last week in the passing game. We’ll get Caddy going now and hopefully we’ll have a little more success in the passing game also, and we’ll find a way to get a win.”

PUT IT ON FILM
Despite his recent woes, Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, who has tossed six interceptions and no touchdowns through two regular season games, still has the support of his teammates.

“My teammates have been great,” Simms said Wednesday. “Too nice. Just casually telling me things have been going good. ‘Hey, just keep your head up,’ all the usual sayings. And I really do appreciate that. But at the same time I’m going to be mad at myself until I play a good game. That’s just the way it’s going to be. And then I will completely let it go.”

Tampa Bay’s offense has scored just three points in two games and has yet to reach the end zone. Batted passes continue to be a problem for Simms and the Bucs offense. While several ideas have been tossed around on talk radio, including the possibility of using the shotgun formation, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Simms is working hard to play up to his potential.

“Throwing the quick game is part of pro football, not just here,” said Gruden. “You can’t drop back and put the shotgun in and say all our troubles are at ease now. We’re going to support our young quarterback. He’s had stages of his career that have been difficult. He’s battled through them before. He’s working his butt off and I give him credit for that. We’re going to stay with him and hopefully he plays much better. That’s all I can say. We’ll get what we deserve and all we can keep doing is working hard.”

Tampa Bay’s defense has its fair share of problems. Last Sunday in Atlanta, the Bucs defense allowed the Falcons to rush for 306 yards. The Bucs are currently ranked dead last in run offense and run defense. Gruden suggested the defense would have to prove they could stop the run to quiet their critics.

“They’re going to keep talking about it,” Gruden said of Tampa Bay’s run defense. “You’ve got to be man enough to take responsibility. That’s what I’ve done; our players have done that. We can’t sit around and talk about it forever. We've got to move on. The schedule is here, the Carolina Panthers are coming in here. The only way to do something about it is do something about it and show that we have resolved the problems if we have any that we can stop the run.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY
Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice on the 0-2 Bucs facing the 0-2 Carolina Panthers:

“I’m excited about this situation. I really am. I’m not lying. I’m not giving you a pipe dream. I’m excited about being 0-2 and I’m excited about being 0-2 coming into this game. This is a game where you can show your character and really show what you’re about. It’s easy to be at the top. It’s easy to be 2-0. It’s easy to flourish in that situation because it’s made for you. But how many cats are going to be able to come out of 0-2 and flourish, and still walk with a bounce and believe in yourself?”

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