Panthers-Buccaneers Preview

The Associated Press

While the Carolina Panthers are trying to move above the .500 mark for the first time in five seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers simply hope to a win a game.

The visiting Panthers look for a third consecutive victory while trying to keep the Buccaneers winless Thursday night.

Not since finishing 12-4 in 2008 - three seasons before Cam Newton became the face of the franchise - has Carolina (3-3) been above .500. After outscoring Minnesota and St. Louis 65-25 over the last two weeks and visiting a Tampa Bay (0-6) team off to its worst start since 2009, the Panthers appear to be in good shape to again rise above mediocrity.

"It would be a great boost of confidence to have a winning record," said defensive back Captain Munnerlyn, whose 45-yard interception return for a touchdown highlighted Sunday's 30-15 win over the Rams.

The Panthers have already made the most of a favorable three-game stretch that ends Thursday with the Buccaneers, who remain positive despite being in danger of going 0-7 for the second time in five years.

"You've got to go with the next task at hand," Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said.

''I want to be clear on this because I don't take lightly 0-6. I've never been 0-6. But we do our best. We're trying our hardest. Our guys are working ... and I have found when you have good people and they work hard and they work smart it'll turn. That's what I believe."

Carolina also believes the Bucs' struggles don't justify any reason to take them for granted, especially with games against Atlanta, San Francisco, New England and Miami to follow.

"In this league anything is possible and we know what Tampa Bay is capable of," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "If you look at their games this year they've pretty much been in all of those games. It just came down to executing in the fourth quarter and they could have a much different record. We know that."

With rookie quarterback Mike Glennon starting his fourth straight game and star running back Doug Martin likely out with a shoulder injury, Tampa Bay certainly faces a difficult challenge on a short week.

Martin, whose 3.6 average yards per carry is a yard fewer than he recorded while rushing for 1,454 as a rookie in 2012, was injured during Sunday's 31-23 loss to Atlanta. Schiano said it "probably will be a stretch" for Martin to play Thursday, but has not gone into detail of the severity of the injury despite reports that the second-year back suffered a torn labrum.

"I'm not going to get into specifics of exactly what his issue is," he said. "If it was season-ending I'd let you know. But I don't feel that it is right now. ... We're just going to play it by ear and go from there."

Rookie backup Mike James, who rushed for 45 yards on 14 carries Sunday, is expected to start against a Carolina defense that's fourth in the NFL giving up 84.5 yards per game on the ground.

The Panthers are fifth allowing 217.7 passing yards per contest, which also doesn't bode well for a Tampa Bay offense entering this game 31st in both total yards (297.8 per game) and scoring (14.5 points per game).

"(The Panthers are) definitely really talented. They're one of top defensive teams in the league statistically with how they're playing," said Glennon, the North Carolina State product who threw two TDs and no interceptions against the Falcons, but has attempted at least 43 passes in each of this three starts.

Glennon has targeted Vincent Jackson a whopping 36 times in the last two weeks, with the veteran receiver catching 19 balls for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson had 10 receptions for 138 with no scores in the three games prior to that stretch.

He had six catches for 94 yards and a TD during Tampa Bay's 27-21 overtime win at Carolina on Nov. 18 to sweep the 2012 season series.

Newton has completed 63.0 percent of his passes and thrown six TDs with two interceptions while rushing for 163 yards and four scores to split his four career games against the Bucs. He threw for 555 of his 930 career yards versus Tampa Bay last season, but both picks came during a 16-10 season-opening road loss.

After going 21 of 39 with three INTs and no TDs during a 22-6 loss at Arizona on Oct. 6, Newton has gone 35 of 43 for 446 yards with four touchdowns, no picks and a rushing score over the last two weeks.

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