With their regular-season shutout against the Bears to end the 2002 season and Monday night's 17-0 win at Philadelphia, the Bucs will be looking to hold a team scoreless for the third straight time in the regular season.
The Bucs, coming off a Monday night victory, had a short week to prepare for the Panthers. A lot of players were sore heading into the Wednesday practice and Gruden took it easier on them.
"It impacts us," said Gruden. "Normally, when you play on Sunday you have Monday and Tuesday to prepare your game plan. When you get back Tuesday morning at five o'clock in the morning, obviously you have to rely on some of the preparation that you did during training camp during the few extra moments that you had before the Philly game. It's a challenge."
Bucs DE Simeon Rice recorded four of his 15.5 sacks last season against Carolina. Rice is off to a hot start, sacking Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb twice Monday night.
After winning over the hearts of Panthers fans, and more important, the confidence of coach John Fox, by leading the Panthers back from 17 points to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Jake Delhomme will make his first start this Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay.
"Obviously, this will be a good test," Delhomme said. "What better way then to go up against the World Champs and see how you measure up and see if you can perform against them? They've made a lot of good quarterbacks look bad. Hopefully we can go in there and do some good things in there."
This will be the first time the Bucs face Delhomme as a starter, but they are familiar with his work. Delhomme came off the bench for an injured Aaron Brooks and completed a critical third down pass to seal the Saints win over Tampa Bay at the Superdome a year ago.
Delhomme knows the Bucs' history of mistreating new starting passers, but he's not concerned. "They have a history of treating quarterbacks who have been in the game not very well, either. I just need to play smart football and try not to give them anything."
Carolina RB Stephen Davis vs. Bucs LB Nate Webster: Davis is a battering ram and had plenty of success against the Bucs when he played against them at Washington. Webster is starting in place of Shelton Quarles, who is out with a broken forearm.
Carolina QB Jeff Delhomme vs. Bucs secondary: Delhomme completed a critical third down pass against Tampa Bay last season to seal the victory for New Orleans at the Super Dome. But other than that, he hasn't had much experience against the Bucs defense. Tampa Bay has been harsh on first-time starters.
Bucs defensive line vs. Carolina defensive line: Although they don't line up against each other, the war of words started in training camp when Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said his front four was better than Tampa Bay's. The Bucs beg to differ and plan to let their pads do the talking.
Panthers WR Muhsin Muhammad vs. Bucs CB Ronde Barber: Muhammad was limited to six catches for 80 yards in two games against the Bucs last season and was basically a non-factor. If the Panthers are to move the ball, Muhammad must get free and come up with some big plays. It won't be easy against a tough Tampa Bay secondary and given that Jake Delhomme won't have much time to throw.
Tampa Bay: LB Shelton Quarles is out with a broken left forearm and Nate Webster makes his second straight start in his place. ... FB Darian Barnes is questionable with a right knee sprain. If Barnes cannot play, the short yardage fullback would be Jameel Cook. ... DE Ellis Wyms missed the final regular season game and was inactive against Philly with a sprained ankle. He is probable for Sunday's game against Carolina.
Other Buccaneer injuries include: DE Greg Spires - Probable (Groin); RB Tony Taylor - Out (Knee); DB Than Merrill - IR (Undisclosed); CB Torrie Cox - Out (Knee)
Carolina: Linebacker Mike Caldwell will be the only player listed on Carolina's injury report this week. He is out four weeks with a knee sprain... Fullback Brad Hoover was back at practice on Wednesday and will start for the Panthers after hyperextending his elbow against Jacksonville. The Panthers aren't even listing him on the injury report.
Other Panther injuries include: WR Kevin Dyson - PUP (Achilles); FB Casey Moore - IR (Undisclosed); S Damien Richardson - IR (Knee); WR Terrence Wilkins - IR (Ankle); OT Melvin Tuten - IR (Undisclosed); LB Mark Fields - Out (Hodgkins Disease); WR Nathan Black - Out (Hand)
Bucs lead the all-time series 4-1, including sweeping the Panthers last season. Both games were defensive struggles, with the teams combining for just three touchdowns in two games. Tampa Bay was fortunate to pull out a 12-9 win in Charlotte last year as Martin Gramatica connected on a 47-yard field goal with five seconds remaining. The Bucs overcame a 7-0 deficit to rally to a 23-10 win after the defense forced four turnovers and four sacks. The Bucs one loss against the Panthers was a 24-0 shutout in 1996.
October 1, 1995 @ Carolina W 20-13
December 1, 1996 @ Carolina L 24-0
October 18, 1998 @ Tampa Bay W 16-13
October 27, 2002 @ Carolina W 12-9
November 17, 2002 @ Tampa Bay W 23-10
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