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NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - INSIDE SLANT
When you go to the movies, you never know which "Coming Attractions" you'll get. Some tease ahead to a comedy or a good heist flick. Others preview horror films that put a scare into you.
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera won't be at the theater Monday night, but he will be home, watching the scariest offense his top-ranked defense will see this season.
"I'll have my notepad with me. I'll have plenty of popcorn," Rivera said, when asked if he"ll be watching the Saints against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. "I'm going to watch it from start to finish and get as much as I can out of it."
Rivera's Monday night TV schedule is just a small part of the Panthers' preparations for their vital upcoming games with New Orleans. The division rivals will meet Sunday for the first of two games in 15 days that could decide the NFC South champion and a possible first-round playoff bye.
The red-hot Panthers will take their franchise-record eight-game win streak into the Bayou, looking to win their third straight against the Saints. Rivera is 2-2 against New Orleans, which swept Carolina in 2011.
In his four meetings with the Saints, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is 61-of-109 for 883 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. His counterpart, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, went 115-of-172 for 1,469 yards, with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions in those four games.
Newton and the Panthers set up this week's Superdome showdown with a relatively comfortable win Sunday over the Bucs. After needing fourth-quarter comebacks in their previous three victories, the 27-6 final was a nice break for Carolina's stress level.
"It was great to be a part of this type of win," Newton said. "But we all know that all roads are leading to New Orleans."
And while this first chapter of the Panthers and Saints is widely anticipated, the great news is it is that there is already a sequel planned.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Panthers swept the Bucs for the sixth time in 12 years, outscoring Tampa Bay 58-19 in their two meetings this season, while allowing a total of 114 rushing yards.
--Fullback Mike Tolbert led Panthers running backs with 44 snaps, 48 rushing yards and 41 receiving yards Sunday.
After coming to Carolina from San Diego as a free agent before the 2012 season, Tolbert's touches were limited last year by former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Tolbert had a total of 81 rushes and receptions in 2012. This season he already has 97 touches through just 12 games.
"Really? Hmm," Tolbert replied, when told he surpassed his chances from last season. "I feel very involved doing the different things that coach (Mike) Shula (offensive coordinator) has me doing -- whether I'm lining up at tight end and motioning back, or lining up at fullback and blocking, or running the ball at running back or protecting the quarterback. Being able to do so many things gives us a different aspect that a lot of other teams don't have."
Tolbert's role was expanded against the Bucs because of an injury to running back DeAngelo Williams, but Sunday's results may force the Panthers to keep their 5-9, 245-pound fullback very much involved even when Williams returns.
--For the first time this season, and for just the fourth time since Cam Newton took over at quarterback at the beginning of 2011, the Panthers did not allow a sack.
Tampa Bay had three sacks in their first meeting with Carolina this season, but the Bucs didn't even register a quarterback hit on Newton in the rematch.
"Any time you play a team a second time you are more prepared," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We had a full week of practice against it, and our coaches do a really great job showing us all the looks we are going to see."
On the other side, the Panthers sacked Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon a season-high five times.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Steve Smith, who had three receptions for 51 yards, passed former Steelers WR Hines Ward for 20th all-time in receiving yards.
--WR Brandon LaFell caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season, setting a new career high. The fourth-year player is just two receptions away from a career-best 45 catches in a season.
--TE Greg Olsen, who had scored a touchdown in four of his last five games, did not find the end zone against the Bucs, but Olsen did catch five passes for a season-high 85 yards.
--QB Cam Newton set up the Panthers first touchdown with a a 56-yard rush in the first quarter, Carolina's longest run play this season.
--LB A.J. Klein, making his fourth straight start, picked up his second career sack and added three tackles for a loss.
--CB Melvin White, an undrafted free agent, was replaced in the starting lineup by 11-year veteran Drayton Florence.
--DE Wes Horton, an undrafted free agent, had two of the Panthers three sacks.
--FS Mike Mitchell caught his team-high fourth interception. Mitchell had just two interceptions in his previous four seasons with the Raiders.
--DE Charles Johnson, who missed his second straight game with a knee sprain, is expected to practice Wednesday and play against the Saints.
--RB DeAngelo Williams sat out against the Bucs with a bruised quad, but he is expected to return to practice Wednesday.
--LB Chase Blackburn, who has been out since Week 10 with a foot injury, is expected to return to practice Wednesday.
--TE Ben Hartsock, who has been out since Week 10 with a knee injury, is expected to return to practice Wednesday.
--LB Jordan Senn injured his hamstring in the third quarter Sunday, but he expects to play against the Saints.
--DT Dwan Edwards had his troubled hamstring tighten up in the fourth quarter Sunday, but the Panthers don't expect him to miss the Saints game.
REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The Panthers were able to overcome two interceptions from QB Cam Newton, something they struggled to do in his first two seasons. Newton threw touchdown passes to WRs Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn, TE Greg Olsen racked up a season-high 85 yards, and WR Steve Smith cracked the top 20 in all-time receiving yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- QB Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing for the third straight game, which is not ideal, but FB Mike Tolbert provided a spark the run game has been missing. Tolbert banged his way to 48 yards on nine carries, spelling starting RB Jonathan Stewart, who managed just 39 yards on 14 carries.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his nine starts and he was sacked a season-high five times. Rookie DE Wes Horton helped fill in for the injured Charles Johnson with two sacks. CB Drayton Florence, who took over a starting spot from rookie Melvin White, gave up a 60-yard completion to WR Vincent Jackson.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Panthers' stout rush defense allowed the Bucs to squeak out just 16 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Tampa Bay finished with 66 rushing yards on 20 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- K Graham Gano made both of his field-goal attempts and P Brad Nortman averaged a solid 46 yards on three punts. Returner Ted Ginn struggled again to provide much of a spark, totaling 25 yards on three punt returns and 34 yards on a pair of kickoff returns.
COACHING: A-minus -- After a lackluster first half against the Dolphins put the Panthers" win streak in jeopardy in Week 12, head coach Ron Rivera had his team better prepared for another lesser opponent this time. Carolina took care of business against the Bucs, and now they can look ahead to their Sunday night showdown with the Saints.