The 6-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to pull an upset to end the year, but need a win over 14-1 Carolina. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
When: 4:25 p.m. ET – FOX
Last meeting: 37-23 loss in Tampa Bay in 2015
Series notes: Panthers have a 19-11 advantage over Bucs all-time
1. START FAST TO QUELL THE CROWD
Tampa Bay trailed New Orleans 14-0 early en route to a 24-17 defeat then trailed 21-3 at St. Louis in a 31-23 beatdown on Thursday Night Football four days later. Last week, the Bucs used a blocked punt to get a quick touchdown and take a 7-0 lead against the visiting Bears, but then allowed Chicago to score three times to take a 13-7 lead into halftime. Tampa Bay would lose 26-21 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate.
In Week 4’s loss 37-23 loss to Carolina at Tampa Bay, the Bucs fell behind early 10-3 in the first quarter and then 17-10 at halftime. For the Bucs to have any chance of pulling an upset on the road in Week 17, they have to come out and establish an early lead to give them some momentum and quiet the crowd that will certainly be in full throat as the Panthers are trying to stake claim to home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a victory. Tampa Bay must start fast offensively with a first quarter touchdown drive and the defense must get an early takeaway, which has been something that has eluded the defense in three of its last four games.
Panthers QB Cam Newton – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
2. WIN ON THIRD DOWN
In two of its last three games, the Bucs have lost the time of possession advantage in a big way. Against New Orleans and Chicago, Tampa Bay had the ball 15 minutes less than its opponent, which is an entire quarter. The reason why that’s happened can be found in poor play on third down on both sides of the ball. The Bucs have had trouble getting opponents off the field defensively by not getting stops on third-and-short or sacks or pass breakups on third and long. The Bucs have misfired offensively on third down or have had penalties on first and second down that have led to unmanageable third-and-long situations.
Tampa Bay must control the clock against Carolina, and will be aided in that effort with the loss of Carolina’s top running back, Jonathan Stewart (989 yards, four touchdowns), and backup Fozzy Whitaker. Still, the Panthers have Cameron Artis-Payne (139 yards, 2 TDs) and Mike Tolbert (197 yards, 1 TD) to rely on in the ground game, as well as quarterback Cam Newton (626 yards, 8 TDs), who can move the chains with his arm or legs on third down. The key to getting defensive stops is stopping Newton on the first attempt whether it’s a sack behind the line of scrimmage or a tackle beyond the line of scrimmage. Offensively, Jameis Winston must be accurate and Mike Evans must be sure-handed on third down for Tampa Bay.
3. SPY NEWTON IN THE RED ZONE
Tampa Bay cannot sit back and play its regular defense – either man or zone – in the red zone against Carolina. It must have a new wrinkle that features its best athlete, weakside linebacker Lavonte David, spying Newton at all times. Newton is one of the best red zone runners in the NFL and has scored all eight of his touchdowns in the red zone this year.
David has struggled with red zone pass coverage as it is, so Tampa Bay doesn’t lose a lot re-arranging the pass defense to accommodate this one-on-one matchup. The Bucs must also try to get some takeaways, especially in the red zone, by blitzing Newton and forcing him to make quick throws. Rushing just four defensive linemen and spying Newton will David only allow the mobile quarterback the opportunity to hang back and find an eventual open receiver.
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
4. RUN MARTIN DESPITE THE ODDS
It might not make a lot of sense running Doug Martin into the teeth of Carolina’s top-10 rush defense, but the Bucs will need a balanced offense in order to try to upset the Panthers. Martin has 1,354 yards rushing and can still get the NFL rushing title depending on how Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (1,418 yards) fares on Sunday. The Bucs had success rushing against Jacksonville’s run defense despite a lofty ranking earlier in the year. Establishing the run is a mindset on the offensive line’s part, and it can be done even against stacked odds.
Perhaps more importantly to Martin’s individual success, is the fact that the Bucs’ ground game opens things up for Winston in the play-action passing game. Winston needs to help the ground game by coming out and throwing successfully throwing on first down to keep Carolina off balance. Then Martin and Charles Sims need to have effective runs on second down to pick up first downs or set up manageable third-and-short opportunities.
5. GET ASJ MORE INVOLVED
Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed nine games of the season with a rotator cuff injury and has been used sparingly since his return. Despite playing in just six games this year, Seferian-Jenkins has 18 catches for a career-high 290 yards with four touchdowns, which is double the amount from his rookie year. Seferian-Jenkins saw less than 20 snaps last week against the Bears, yet caught two passes for 60 yards, including a 43-yard Hail Mary touchdown with one second left in the loss to Chicago.
The Bucs have seen the emergence of tight end Cameron Brate cut into Seferian-Jenkins’ playing time, but it’s time for Tampa Bay to feature the second-round tight end in the 2015 season finale. Seferian-Jenkins and Winston are best friends and have a natural rapport that was on display in Week 1 when Seferian-Jenkins caught five passes for a career-high 110 yards and two touchdowns. It’s time that Seferian-Jenkins, who has had touchdowns in back-to-back games for Tampa Bay, was featured that way again and Sunday’s game at Carolina would be the perfect time, especially with Carolina’s Pro Bowl safety Kurt Coleman doubtful with a foot injury.
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith – Photo by: Getty Images
6. SHOW SOME PEWTER PRIDE
We know that Winston, the Bucs’ fire-starter, will show up in Carolina. But who else will? Will Tampa Bay mail it in on Sunday and rush into the offseason with what could be a blowout loss? Or will the Bucs put up one hell of a fight for the sake of pride and keep this game close, or perhaps even pull off a monumental upset against the Panthers, who are undefeated at home this year?
Carolina has played the role of bully in this matchup for far too long. The Panthers have swept the Bucs the last two years with five straight wins and are on the verge of making it three years in a row. It’s time for the Bucs to stand up to the bully and punch him in the mouth. If the Bucs don’t come out with vigor, and fight until the end, it certainly won’t bode well for Lovie Smith, who is on the verge of losing five of his last six games this season as head coach, including the last four games of 2015 if Tampa Bay loses at Carolina. A blowout loss to end the season might have the Glazers re-thinking their decision to keep Smith on for another year despite a record of 8-23 heading into Week 17.
SR’s Prediction: Panthers 34, Buccaneers 17
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
We Will See Buc Fans.Who will they pickup in FA & draft in 2016. Lets see if bucs can show the NFL that they can win-Go Bucs
A win or even a decent game and close loss would go a long ways with fans, Glazers, players, etc that Lovie is on the right track. I expect we will get thumped though. Expect many mistakes, penalties, bad clock management, etc. It hasn’t changed in 15 games so no reason to think it will now. Other than a good draft this last year I can think of many positives for him. If Koetter was going to leave for a head coaching job they would be foolish not to offer him the job and send Lovie packing. Who would hurt us more losing Lovie or Koetter? Easy answer to that. Anyways I’ve heard the arguments for giving Lovie another year. Stability. Etc. It’s hard to argue that stability wouldn’t be good for Winston, but I just don’t know about Lovie. All signs point to sub par results continuing IMO.
Agreed, we need to hold on to Koetter at all costs! Lovie hasn’t done much to show he is a valuable HC or even DC. The Glazers should force him to relinquish his defensive control and let Frazier do his job. At this point we’re already looking toward FA and the draft. Licht has proven he is capable of finding quality players and hopefully that will continue for us on defense this offseason
As for this game, I’m torn. I’d love to see us beat the Panthers and I think it would go a long way in building confidence in this young team. I’m also thinking we may be better off losing to gain some ground in the draft though
Yea losing would help our draft, but I just hate the Panthers! I do think beating the best record NFC team does mean something and would carry something positive into next year. I do believe in momentum and stopping the losing culture here.
All I have is HOPE at this point in time. Go Bucs!
Like last year, we long-suffering fans are ready to close the book on another losing season. As Scott alluded, this is a game to watch the attitudes as much as the physical play. Scott is right on point with how this team responds to the neighborhood bully being the most important aspect of this game. As Sapp often said, “The eye in the sky don’t lie.” That goes for the coaching staff too. We’re all watching you Lovie. Will you let “Riverboat Ron” turn you into
“Lifeboat Lovie” prompting the Glazers to set you adrift from this sinking “Ship of Fools” or will you show them and us that we are back on course, full speed ahead to 2016?
Nice post Scubog, couldn’t agree more.
Good post Scubog; I hope this happens. I also am hoping Lovie will go back to his basement and rethink his defensive game plans for next season if he stays. I’m all for a win as it might help soften my thoughts of Lovie being here another year. If we lose he should go. Carolina has a lot of starting player injury’s that are Inactive especially on their Offense today.
Every year same thing. Lets lose to get better draft position. For once I would like to see us just kick the sh@#! out of someone to end the season and who better then the Panthers!!!!! Go Buc;s.
please lose and then fire lovie
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