Gaining from inexperience
For a seventh time, the Panthers will face a starting quarterback who has two or fewer seasons of experience. Today's starter for the Buccaneers will be JOSH FREEMAN, a rookie from Kansas State who sat behind JOSH JOHNSON - a second-year player - the first time the teams met Oct. 18. The Panthers are 2-4 against Johnson, Atlanta's MATT RYAN (twice), Buffalo's RYAN FITZPATRICK, Miami's CHAD HENNE and the New York Jets' MARK SANCHEZ.
Find the focus
A lot has been happening around the Panthers that could serve as distractions: Quarterback JAKE DELHOMME'S broken finger and the subsequent discussion of who will start today and linebacker JON BEASON'S arrest Monday for an alleged November assault at a strip club. The Panthers need to pay attention. They are not so good that the one-win Bucs can't give them a nasty surprise.
Keeping it simple
Tampa Bay coach RAHEEM MORRIS remembers how the Panthers' 28-21 victory Oct. 18 against the Bucs ended: With a 16-play (15 of them rushes), 8-minute, 4-second drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by DEANGELO WILLIAMS. The Panthers rushed for 267 yards, second most in franchise history (behind last season's 299 yards against Tampa Bay). With inexperienced quarterback MATT MOORE starting today, why wouldn't the Panthers keep it on the ground?
Much of the public attention on the Panthers' defensive line is focused on JULIUS PEPPERS and rookie EVERETTE BROWN. Defensive end TYLER BRAYTON, though, is having probably the best season of his career. He had 1.5 sacks last week against the Jets and has four for the season. He had a career-high 4.5 last season. The Buccaneers traded their first-round draft pick in 2003 to Oakland for the right to sign coach JON GRUDEN from the Raiders. Oakland took Brayton with that draft choice.
9-3: The Panthers' record at this time last season.
6-9: The Panthers' record since.
24: Interceptions Jake Delhomme has thrown since this time last season.
9-3 : The Buccaneers record at this time last season.
1-14: The Buccaneers' record since.
3: Times the Bucs have lost on a final-minute drive this season.
This wasn't the way I wanted it to happen, but I will be glad to see MATT MOORE as the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback today.
I've been campaigning for Moore to get a chance since Sept. 29, when Carolina dropped to 0-3 with a loss to Dallas. For whatever reason, this isn't JAKE DELHOMME'S season.
But JOHN FOX stuck with Delhomme until a broken finger has forced him to make this change, in large part because he does not trust Moore to make the right decisions. That is somewhat understandable. But Moore has an arm - watch him throw the deep ball today. He will make a lot of mistakes. But so did Delhomme.
Moore couldn't get a better opponent for his first start since 2007 - a 1-10 Bucs team that is 30th in the NFL against the run and that Carolina has beaten this season. The Panthers won that first game because they ran the ball for 267 yards. Remember, it was after that one that STEVE SMITH said: "I am no longer an asset to this team."
Tampa Bay will try to rattle Moore with blitzes and dare him to beat the Bucs with any receiver except Smith. He needs to get someone besides Smith involved early.
I have been trying to swear off picking the Panthers to win another game for the rest of the season, because every time I seem to pick them to win, they lose. However, I can't quite break the habit. I guarantee I'm going to pick them to lose each of their final four games, but today ... CAROLINA 24, TAMPA BAY 16.