The Buccaneers will try for a two-game sweep of the injury-depleted Panthers when the two teams meet Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
While the Panthers have triumphed in six of seven games at Tampa, they could be in for a long day without their starting quarterback and two leading rushers.
“When you’re at the midway point, and you’re still playing meaningful games instead of being worried about draft status, you’re feeling much better about where you are and what you’re trying to do,” said coach Raheem Morris.
Freeman has taken control of the offense since the team’s bye Oct. 3, averaging 235.6 passing yards his last five games compared to 181.3 prior to the off week.
The second-year quarterback has also been given the green light to throw the ball downfield, and connected with Mike Williams on a 47-yard touchdown pass in Week 8 and a 58-yard score during last Sunday’s 27-21 loss at Atlanta.
“Its been good play-calling,” said Freeman, who threw two TD passes in a 20-7 win over Carolina in Week 2. “When you call a shot play, its very seldom that you get the shot by chance. Each play is designed to beat a specific coverage, and thats how you get a guy running one-on-one or running free down the field.”
Freeman is largely responsible for the Buccaneers plus-6 mark in turnover differential, as his five interceptions are tied for the fourth-fewest among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts. He also ranks second at the position with 202 rushing yards.
Williams is averaging 92.0 receiving yards over his previous three games, and is the first rookie in franchise history with five touchdown receptions in his first eight games.
Blount is averaging 5.2 yards per carry over the previous three weeks and goes up against a Carolina defense allowing 124.8 rushing yards per contest - tied for 25th in the league.
Coach Fox decided to go back to Clausen for Sunday’s game after an impressive practice Wednesday.
“I’m just thrilled that Coach Fox and the coaching staff have confidence in me to go out and start against Tampa,” said Clausen, whose four interceptions have contributed to Carolina’s NFL-high 14 on the season.
“I think the biggest thing is to just try to get comfortable,” he continued. “The speed of the game is faster, just get comfortable with that. Get comfortable with what defenses are trying to do, what their disguises are.”
Clausen will need to be patient against a Buccaneers defense that is tied with Green Bay for the league lead with 14 interceptions.
Williams, the team’s leading rusher with 361 yards, will likely miss his third straight game as he recovers from a sprained ankle he suffered Oct. 24 against San Francisco. Stewart is also unlikely to suit up after suffering a concussion last week against the Saints.
Despite the Week 2 loss, Carolina has won 11 of 15 versus Tampa Bay.
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R.J. Webb WR, Linden Gaydosh DT, Kealoha Pilares WR, Michael Zordich RB, Bruce Campbell T, Edmund Kugbila G, Jimmy Clausen QB, Garry Williams T, Charles Godfrey S, Amini Silatolu G, Jeff Byers G, James Dockery CB