Final
  for this game

Panthers, Bucs seek to avoid 0-3 starts

Sep 19, 2006 - 9:20 PM Carolina (0-2) at Tampa Bay (0-2) Sunday 1:00 pm EDT

TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The Carolina Panthers were a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also had designs on reaching Miami for Super Bowl XLI.

But heading into Sunday's pivotal NFC South matchup, the Panthers and Bucs both are trying to avoid 0-3 starts.

Last season, the Panthers and Bucs each won 11 games. Tampa Bay won the division based on a tiebreaker, while Carolina made the playoffs as a wild card.

While the Bucs lost in the wild card round, the Panthers advanced to the NFC championship game before being beaten by Seattle.

The Panthers have been unable to build on their impressive finish to last season as they have managed just one offensive touchdown while also struggling defensively.

Of course, some of the Panthers' problems offensively could be attributed to the absence of Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith, who has missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. His status for this contest is uncertain.

Featuring an impressive defensive line that includes end Julius Peppers and tackle Kris Jenkins, the Panthers have allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers in losses to Atlanta and Minnesota. Carolina ranks 31st against the run, allowing 196 yards per game.

Peppers registered three sacks and blocked a field goal in last week's 16-13 overtime loss at Minnesota. First-round pick DeAngelo Williams provided the Panthers' offense, rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Like the Panthers, the Bucs also have struggled offensively, managing just one field goal in two games.

The Bucs' problems have centered around quarterback Chris Simms and running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. Simms has thrown three interceptions in each of the first two games and Williams has rushed for 59 yards on 23 attempts.

"I've made some bad throws and some stupid decisions," said Simms, who also has had seven passes batted down. "I know I know better. I know I can do better physically. That's what hurts the most."

Simms drew the ire of fiery coach Jon Gruden in last week's 14-3 loss at Atlanta after completing 28-of-53 passes for 313 yards with three interceptions.

At one point in the game against Atlanta, television replays captured Gruden screaming expletives at Simms.

The teams split two meetings last season, with each winning on the road.

In the meeting here in November, the Panthers sacked Simms five times and forced four turnovers, including two interceptions, in a 34-14 victory. Smith had five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.

The Bucs exacted a measure of revenge in December as "Cadillac" Williams rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-10 victory.






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