Superman’s kryptonite has reared its ugly head for the Carolina Panthers: a rib injury. It’s probably the last thing the Panthers needed at this point.
With a bevy of average-at-best wide receivers, and an offensive line facing a few question marks, the Bucs’ foes in black and light blue were depending on Cam Newton to lead them to a victory in Tampa on Sunday. But now, with the injury forcing Carolina’s head coach Ron Rivera to make Newton a game-time decision against the Buccaneers, the pewter pirates are being handed an amazing opportunity.
If Lovie Smith were to draw up a dream scenario for his Bucs debut, this would be it.
Tampa Bay will open the season in front of a raucous crowd at Raymond James Stadium with a defense that is ready to take the necessary steps to becoming a dominant force in the NFL. In order to be dominant, you cannot struggle against a weak opponent. Instead, you must show no mercy with relentless pressure and feed on any mistake made.
No matter who starts at quarterback for the Panthers (an injured Cam Newton, or veteran Derek Anderson), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to shut them down. This league rarely does you any favors, and while it is unfortunate that Newton has suffered an injury that may hinder the quality of the game on the field, Lovie Smith’s team can’t be worried about taking it easy on their division rival. Even if you eliminate Newton’s injury from the equation, this is still a huge opportunity for the Bucs. It’s their coming out party to the league, and showing that through all of the change, it was all worth it.
A dominant performance against the Panthers will give this entire team confidence going into the next few weeks of their season. The Buccaneers begin the year with two winnable games at home, before going on the road for three straight games, two of which against the other NFC South opponents.
The key, if Cam Newton is as wounded as we think he is, is stopping the Panthers’ running game. Due to past injuries, it has been rare to see DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart at the same time. But on Sunday, that’s exactly what we’re going to get, and it is vital for the Bucs to put a stop to that running game early, and give the Buccaneer offense good field position to aide in putting points on the board.
I cannot emphasize enough how important this game is for the Tampa Bay community. This area finally feels like it could have a winning football team on their hands again, and Bucs teams of the past have won with suffocating defenses. In 2014, they should start things off by feasting on the defending division champs while they are down on their way to earning the trust of their fans again. Also, might I add that these Carolina Panthers absolutely embarrassed the Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football right here in Tampa Bay last season. It was a merciless beat down the likes of which we no longer want to be on the receiving end of.
Sunday is time for revenge, and the changing of the tide in the NFC South. It’s all up to the Bucs to decide whether or not they want to take advantage.