GAME SNAPSHOTKICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 10th meeting. Panthers lead 5-4. The Panthers have won the last four meetings, including a 37-20 win at Raymond James Stadium. In that game Jake Delhomme threw 214 yards and four touchdown passes. Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad had another big game with eight grabs for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
2005 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 16th (24th rush, 10th pass); defense 17th (2nd rush, 26th pass). Bucs: offense 22nd (11th rush, 23rd pass); defense 1st (1st rush, 3rd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs desperately need QB Chris Simms to step up and make some plays downfield. Until he does, Tampa Bay will see a litany of eight and nine-man fronts, making it very difficult for rookie RB Carnell Williams to get untracked against the league's second-best run defense. Simms will be blitzed from all kinds of answers on third-and-long, so the Bucs must be productive on first and second downs. The only run defense better than Carolina's this season is Tampa Bay's, so this isn't likely to be the week the Panthers improve on their paltry 3.1 yards per carry.
The matchup downfield will be interesting with red-hot WR Steve Smith attacking a Bucs Cover-2 defense designed to eliminate big pass plays. Smith will get his receptions, but the big factor will be whether the Bucs can prevent him from making big plays after the catch.
FAST FACTS: Past six meetings have been decided by an average of 7.7 points. Panthers: Have won the past four meetings. ... RB Stephen Davis' nine touchdown runs is a franchise season record. Bucs: Simms will make his first career start at home. ... WR Joey Galloway leads the NFL with 301 receiving yards on third down.
--QB Jake Delhomme looks to extend his winning streak over Tampa Bay to five games.
--RB Nick Goings had 233 yards rushing in two games against the Bucs last season. But Goings is now only the team's No. 3 back behind Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.
--RB Stephen Davis has three multiple touchdown games for the Panthers but all of them have come at home. On the road, Davis has only one rushing touchdown.
--WR Keary Colbert has been extremely quiet for the Panthers this season, but he did have a touchdown last Sunday and this week plays against a Tampa Bay team he scored against twice last year.
--DE Mike Rucker returned to practice on Thursday for the Panthers and will start on Sunday. Rucker had been ill, forcing him to miss Wednesday's practice.
---RB Cadillac Williams has rushed 24 times for 33 yards in his last two games. But Williams had his best practice in weeks on Thursday.
"Maybe the best thing that happened this week or the last couple of weeks is Carnell Williams had a great day today," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He made some great cuts. He was totally different."
--RB Michael Pittman underwent an MRI exam on his injured shoulder Wednesday but returned to practice Thursday. He was held out of contact drills and is listed as questionable for Sunday.
--LB Derrick Brooks did not practice Thursday to rest a sore hamstring and is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Panthers.
--TE Alex Smith is tied for fifth among rookies with 16 receptions for 136 yards.
--C John Wade (ankle) returned to practice on Thursday and took all the first-team reps.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:Panthers:
Stephen Davis thinks rookie running backs Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown are pretty darn good, but who does he think is the best former Auburn running back in the NFL?
"Shoot, me," smiled Davis. "Did you think I was going to say one of (ITALICS)them(END ITALICS)?"
Davis leads the Panthers against Williams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in a battle for first place in the NFC South.
Williams and Davis have a tough job this weekend.
Tampa Bay boasts the league's top-ranked run defense, while the Panthers rank right behind them, second in the NFL.
The Bucs are giving up 75.7 yards per game on the ground; Carolina 78.3. Both teams have surrendered only four rushing touchdowns, a big reason they're 5-2 and tied for first place with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South.
"It will be very tough," Davis said. "They got guys who make plays on defense. They play good team ball and have a lot of quick guys up front. They have been in the same defense for a long time, so everybody is on the same page and knows what they're doing."
Ironically, the only running back to run for 100 yards against the Panthers this season is Brown, who racked up 132 yards on the ground in helping the Miami Dolphins to an upset in Week 3.
Meanwhile, Davis hasn't sniffed 100 yards this season and is averaging just 3 yards per carry, the lowest mark of his nine-year career. However, he has been a huge weapon in goal-line situations with nine touchdowns, helping Carolina convert an NFL-best 82 percent of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
"Yeah, I'm helping the team win by getting in the end zone," Davis said. "That's all that matters."
Davis believes he's the second-best running back ever to come out of Auburn, behind Bo Jackson and ahead of Joe Cribbs and Rudi Johnson.
"I opened the door for (Williams and Brown)," Davis said. "If you look at it, me and Rudi Johnson (in Cincinnati) were the last running backs that were drafted out of Auburn before they got there and up until now.
"The thing is, if you're a running back at Auburn it's a great opportunity. In fact, they have one there now who is good at running the ball. And when Ronnie and Cadillac were there they were great."
Joey Galloway is winning the race against Father Time.
Despite turning 34 later this month, Galloway is on pace for a career season.
He has 31 receptions for 499 yards and five touchdowns. Dating to last season, he has reached the end zone 11 times (10 receiving and one punt return) in his past 12 games.
What's been the difference?
Galloway has been given a few days off here and there during training camp and practice to keep his legs fresh.
"I think that's the difference, to be honest with you," Galloway said. "I worked out the same, came in prepared the same and the plan to take it a little easier in camp, a little easier during the week of practice, has worked out pretty good. Really, that's the only change."
The idea to give Galloway a break came after he missed six games with a groin pull last season.
"You have to take into consideration that this is a 33- or 34-year-old man who has incredible speed," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "We've done a lot of research on him, professional research, to see what best works for him. Going twice a day for four weeks at training camp at that speed probably isn't wise. I don't see any of the world-class track guys who we talked to who run that amount every day for four weeks consecutively if they're getting ready for the Penn Relays."
Galloway's production is what Gruden hoped for when the Bucs acquired him in a trade for Keyshawn Johnson from the Cowboys at the end of the 2003 season.
"I really think he's a great receiver," Gruden said. "I've tried to say that. Hopefully, his season continues to go on as it is. He's had his ups and downs in his career, obviously, but he is a great player. An unbelievable football player, if you ask me."