Last week's loss was a tough one to take for fans after starting 14-0. Fans salivated over the taste of history of 16-0. In a big sense it's a relief, because now the team can focus all in on the bigger goal, home field advantage for the playoff run to Super Bowl 50. Here are some key things the Panthers will need to do against Tampa Bay in Charlotte Sunday to get to 15-1 and earn that home field advantage.
This first thing is not only the most obvious, but has been the biggest missing piece in the last few weeks... FIND A PASS RUSH! You would have thought the team surviving through Thanksgiving with Charles Johnson out several weeks that things were only about to get better from our front four. Well, that has not been the case yet.
Our defensive ends have struggled mightily getting to the opposing quarterbacks the last few weeks. In fact, the only saving grace has been Kawaan Short with eleven sacks this season. "Big Money" seems to have been playing with pocket change since his return, not recording a single sack. Even after complaining about being taken out in the 38-0 blowout of Atlanta a few weeks ago. While Jared Allen has played the run better, we have yet to really see him excel the way we hoped in our 4-3. If we give Jameis Winston 6-7 seconds to throw the ball, he will surely be able to find Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson open more times than not.
The passing game won't be the biggest thing on the defenses mind this week. Tampa Bay comes into Charlotte this week with the fourth ranked rushing attack in the NFL at 139 yards per game, only five yards behind Carolina at 144 ypg. Tampa also has the NFL's second leading rusher in Doug Martin with 1,354 yards on the year.
While the Panthers held Devonta Freeman to 73 yards on 22 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per attempt. This Tampa running attack is coming in red hot and this will be another vital part in getting this win. The Panthers defense gives up an average of only 89 rushing yards per game, good for fifth in the NFL. It would be a big win to hold Martin and company to this mark or less.
Out of the final two games that were left, I would have pegged Tampa Bay as the toughest of the two. Their run game has been hot and they are building their team the way Gettleman and Rivera built ours, a physical run game and defense. While they have been inconsistent this season with a young Jameis Winston, they have played well and shown some flashes as well. They will be bringing their best and will be looking for a big win to build on going into the off season.
Prediction: I do believe this could be a close game, especially if the pass rush is non-existent again. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the Panthers are coming off their only loss of the season so far. Last week's performance obviously didn't sit well with the team or the coaching staff and I think they will be focused in on their goal of home field advantage on their own turf.
By Tripp Morgan
Follow him on Twitter @TrippMorgan6