1:00 PM ET, November 18, 2012
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't need a big performance from Josh Freeman to beat the Carolina Panthers in September. Given his recent efforts, Freeman seems likely to play a bigger role in this week's rematch.
The Buccaneers quarterback will try to lead his team to its first four-game win streak in four years Sunday in Charlotte.
In an inauspicious season debut, Freeman passed for 138 yards and Tampa Bay totaled 258 against Carolina on Sept. 9. The Buccaneers, though, came away with a 16-10 victory as their defense limited the Panthers to 10 rushing yards, intercepted Cam Newton twice and essentially put the game away with a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs (5-4) still stumbled to a 1/3 start, but Freeman has since powered their surge, throwing for 13 touchdowns and posting a 115.9 rating in the last five games. He hasn't been picked off in his last 151 attempts.
"I think he understands better what we're doing and what we're asking of him," coach Greg Schiano said. "He's playing within himself. He's not trying to make plays. He's just trusting his training and the plays come when you're as talented as Josh Freeman is."
Freeman went 14 of 20 for 210 yards and a pair of TDs in a 34-24 win over San Diego last week. Tampa Bay has averaged 37.5 points in its last four victories and has scored at least 28 points in a team-record five consecutive games.
The Bucs also got a blocked punt return for a score from Adam Heyward and an 83-yard interception return for a TD from Leonard Johnson versus the Chargers.
"What we're trying to do is get guys loose and playing free, knowing what they're doing instead of having to think about it," Schiano said.
Tampa Bay, seeking its first four-game win streak since Nov. 2-30, 2008, has gone 1/3 in its last four visits to Charlotte.
The most recent of those was a 48-16 Panthers win Dec. 24 as Newton passed for three TDs and ran for a 49-yard score.
The Panthers, though, come in having lost six of seven and a 36-14 defeat to Denver on Sunday led to another change, as the team fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy the next day. Carolina let go general manager Marty Hurney on Oct. 22.
"This is a production-based business, and in the end, winning and losing is what it comes down to," coach Ron Rivera said.
To get that much-needed win, the Panthers could use a much better performance by the offensive line. Carolina gave up seven sacks last week, tied for third most in team history.
Newton threw for two touchdowns for the second time this season last week but was intercepted twice, giving him five in the last four contests. The Panthers (2-7) were held to 14 or fewer points for the fifth time in 2012.
"It's very embarrassing, but things are going to change -- hopefully," Newton said. "I can't keep saying that and not holding up to it, but there are brighter days ahead for the Carolina Panthers."
The Buccaneers won't have linebacker Quincy Black to help stop Newton after he suffered a neck injury in a collision with San Diego running back Ryan Mathews. Black was taken off on a cart and later released from the hospital but is still having issues with his left arm.
Cornerback Eric Wright's status is uncertain after he re-aggravated his Achilles' in last week's victory.
Doug Martin is 138 yards away from becoming the 11th player in Bucs history to rush for 1,000 yards, and the fourth to do so as a rookie. Martin had 95 yards on 24 carries in the first matchup with Carolina.
More from ESPN.com
Spygate, 'culture of cheating' vexes ex-GM
The "DeflateGate'' controversy in New England resurrected questions former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney had about the Patriots after losing Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Bajakian leaves Vols to be QB coach in NFL
Tennessee offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian is leaving the Vols, but it's unclear whether he'll stay in the college ranks or head to the NFL, sources told ESPN's Adam Caplan and Brett McMurphy.
'Man of Year' finalists: Rodgers, Boldin, Davis
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis have been selected as finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
Bucs-Panthers: What to watch
After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the Week 11 Buccaneers-Panthers matchup.
• Tampa Bay needs to keep the momentum up front: The Buccaneers have done a phenomenal job replacing injured linemen this year. Both starting guards, Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks, were lost to injuries. They are doing a great job of protecting the pocket as well as opening up running lanes for rookie RB Doug Martin. Look for more of their power running game as they try to maintain ball control and eat up the clock.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||23.0||24.3|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||TB|
|Rush Yds Allowed||TB|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Carolina leads 13-9|
|Sep 9, 2012||TB 16, CAR 10|
|Dec 24, 2011||TB 16, @CAR 48|
|Dec 4, 2011||TB 19, CAR 38|
|Nov 14, 2010||TB 31, CAR 16|
|Sep 19, 2010||TB 20, @CAR 7|
|Dec 6, 2009||TB 6, @CAR 16|
|Oct 18, 2009||TB 21, CAR 28|
|Dec 8, 2008||TB 23, @CAR 38|
|Oct 12, 2008||TB 27, CAR 3|
|Dec 30, 2007||TB 23, CAR 31|
|Sep 30, 2007||TB 20, @CAR 7|
|Nov 13, 2006||TB 10, @CAR 24|
|Sep 24, 2006||TB 24, CAR 26|
|Dec 11, 2005||TB 20, @CAR 10|
|Nov 6, 2005||TB 14, CAR 34|
|Dec 26, 2004||TB 20, CAR 37|
|Nov 28, 2004||TB 14, @CAR 21|
|Nov 9, 2003||TB 24, @CAR 27|
|Sep 14, 2003||TB 9, CAR 12|
|Nov 17, 2002||TB 23, CAR 10|
|Oct 27, 2002||TB 12, @CAR 9|
Josh Freeman has already set a career high with 19 completions on throws more than 20 yards downfield while posting a completion percentage (48.7) more than 17 points higher than his career average. Ten of Freeman's 19 completions have been to Vincent Jackson.[+]
Josh Freeman Passing More Than 20 Yards Downfield - Last 2 Seasons
ESPN Stats & Information