By Jeff Berlinicke
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last met the Carolina Panthers, they received their worst drubbing of the season, a 34-14 meltdown at Raymond James Stadium just a few short weeks ago.
What has changed since, and why should the Bucs have any chance when they travel to Charlotte on Sunday?
A few things. First, running back Cadillac Williams has reverted to the player he was when he set an NFL record, rushing for more than 100 yards in his first three NFL games. Second, the defense has been downright awesome, especially Pro Bowler Ronde Barter who picked off three passes in last week's domination of New Orleans. Next, and most importantly, the Bucs offensive line has been dominating and staying away from penalties.
They'll need all of that and more against the Panthers on Sunday. The Panthers recently had a seven-game winning streak snapped, but they are still battling the Bucs for the NFC Southeastern Division. Running back DeShaun Foster has picked up his game after slow start and quarterback Jake Delhomme, while not spectacular, is a winner. He's a lot like a Chris Simms-type. He doesn't make many mistakes and throws shorter rather than longer. When he does throw, Delhomme has the game's best receiver and MVP candidate Steve Smith.
On defense, the key matchup is All-Pro Julius Peppers who drove Bucs tackle Kenyatta Walker batty in their previous meeting, at one point forcing Walker offsides on three of four plays.
Peppers has shown that he can get inside Walker's head and he can be a one-man wrecking crew when that happens. Peppers hasn't had his best year, but look for him to come up big on Sunday.
The Panthers have beaten the Bucs five straight times and can take a two-game lead in the division with a win.
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