NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (2-11) at Carolina (4-8-1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - When you're 2-11, it becomes a challenge to find positives.
But here's one: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are effective at stopping opposing running backs.
They've allowed just 3.94 yards per carry through 13 games and permitted just one 100-yard rusher.
And the first time they faced this week's opponent - the Carolina Panthers - running back Jonathan Stewart was held to only 20 yards on nine carries in a 20-14 Carolina win in Week 1.
Stewart comes in with a little more momentum this time around, having romped for 155 yards overall, 69 of which came on a single touchdown run, during last week's defeat of New Orleans. In his last two games, Stewart has gained 240 yards and averaged a scintillating 7.5 yards per attempt.
Problem is, when the Bucs are through stopping people, their offense takes over to iffy results.
Tampa Bay has exceeded 17 points just once in its last eight games and is averaging less than 70 rushing yards over its last 11. The total yardage number was an ugly 233 in a 34-17 loss last week at Detroit, with just 26 of those yards coming via run.
The production has been little better at quarterback, where the starting role may have been briefly up for grabs given that reigning starter Josh McCown has thrown five interceptions in his last three games while completing just 51.7 percent of his passes. He had two TDs and two interceptions against Carolina in Week 1, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith had been initially noncommittal when it came to backup QB Mike Glennon's chances to again see the field.
"We're going to do what gives us the best chance to win," he said. "If playing a player in a position won't hurt our football team to win the football game, we'll always look at that. We want to put the best product on the field, guys in the right spot, ones that give us the best opportunity to win - things we've been saying each week."
Glennon started 13 games for Tampa Bay last season, prior to Smith's arrival as coach, and completed 55.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions in five starts this season while McCown was injured.
But Smith was more firm on Wednesday when the starter question again was raised.
"Josh is our quarterback," he said. "He gives us the best chance to win."
In terms of targets, wide receiver Vincent Jackson hauled in 10 passes for 159 yards in the loss to Detroit, but had just four catches in the opener against the Panthers and has never reached triple-digit yardage against them in six career games. His receiving partner, rookie Mike Evans, has scored eight times in the last six games.
"We're not looking at guys. It's like every other week," Smith said. "The guys that start are the guys that I think give us the best chance to win. That's not going to change. Week 16 it will be the same way."
As for Carolina, the starter comes down to who's the healthiest.
Quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a Tuesday afternoon car accident and suffered two small fractures in his lower back. He spent one night in a hospital and will not play this weekend, and whether he'll be available for the Panthers' final two games with Cleveland and Atlanta is up for debate.
"That will be determined really on a day-to-day basis and we'll see how fast the soreness goes away," team spokesman Charlie Dayton said. "He'll start the recuperation process (immediately)."
The injury is positioned as similar to what was sustained by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo earlier this season after he took an on-field hit against Washington. Romo missed one game, but Newton's forecast is cloudier because his injury occurred off the field.
"I kind of felt he was in pain, but with him it's so hard to tell," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "He has a way of flashing that smile to let you know everything is OK, and when he did smile and flash it, I knew he was going to be OK."
Backup QB Derek Anderson will start against the Buccaneers, a role he'll reprise from Week 1, when he also faced Tampa Bay while Newton sat out while recovering from offseason ankle surgery.
"The most important thing about this whole week is about the safety and health of one of my brothers," Anderson said. "Let him know we're all thinking about him and hoping for a speedy recovery. We're all fired up about this weekend. Last week we played well and we hope to continue that."
Newton was the NFC's offensive player of the week after throwing for three touchdowns and running for another in a 33-21 win at New Orleans, which put Carolina a half-game behind Atlanta for the lead in the NFC South with three games to play. The Panthers will win the division for the second straight year if they win out.
Anderson completed 24-of-34 passes for 230 yards and two TDs in the season- opening win in September. He's appeared in five games, completed 40-of-57 passes and not been intercepted.
"We're facing Tampa," Rivera said, "and we have to beat Tampa."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Go Catch, Young Man
It's a meeting of two of the league's top young receivers in the form of Tampa Bay's Evans and Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin. Evans was selected seventh overall out of Texas A&M and had five catches for 37 yards in his debut against the Panthers, while Benjamin, the 28th overall pick out of Florida State, started out with six catches for 92 yards and a TD in that same game.
Mister Anderson's Neighborhood
With Newton's absence, continuing the drive toward a division title falls to Anderson, who fared well in the initial meeting with the Bucs and has been perfectly serviceable in the spot duty he's been given as the No. 2 man. Given Tampa Bay's ability to clamp down on the run, it'll be important for Anderson to connect with Benjamin - as he did in Week 1 - and tight end Greg Olsen, who had 10 catches last week.
The initial reaction when a team loses a starting quarterback - especially one who occasionally reaches the levels that Newton reaches - is doom and gloom. But given that the Panthers are home, that they're facing a two-win foe and that the No. 2 man has NFL experience and won a game against this week's opponent earlier this season, it doesn't have to be that way. And it says here it won't be.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Panthers 24, Buccaneers 20
12/14 09:27:23 ET