Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Tampa Bay coordinator Monte Kiffin told his defense that it didn't suddenly become bad in Monday night's loss to Carolina. But it sure looked that way.
The Bucs, who have been known for their defense since the Tony Dungy days, got run over by Carolina. Poor tackling played a role, but that can be fixed. What might not be able to be fixed is that the Panthers showed you can get into a slugfest with the Bucs and win.
Tampa Bay's defensive line, particularly the interior, was getting blown off the ball by Carolina. You can bet that Atlanta coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey spotted all that on film and are ready to turn Michael Turner loose on the Tampa Bay defense.
Kiffin is reportedly leaving to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee and a lot of Tampa Bay's defensive players are getting older (Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Kevin Carter and Chris Hovan). With quarterback Jeff Garcia banged up, the Bucs need one more big game from this defense.
If that doesn't happen, the Bucs' playoff hopes could be in real trouble. And Atlanta's playoff hopes could be growing.
There was a playoff atmosphere in Charlotte for Monday night's huge victory against Tampa Bay, which brought on a lot of talk about the Panthers having a shot at the No. 1 seed.
That's all true and Carolina's got a big game coming up next week in New York against the Giants. But the Panthers haven't clinched anything yet and they have to take care of business in their final home game (they have a chance to go 8-0 in Bank of America Stadium).
That's why this matchup is scary. Denver's been inconsistent all year. But the Broncos have the ability to throw the ball all over the field and can score points in bunches. Carolina's pass defense hasn't been exactly stellar the last month.
Veteran cornerback Ken Lucas was burned several times Monday night and there's a growing concern he might be slowing down. Rookie free safety Charles Godfrey has shown he still is capable of rookie mistakes.
The Panthers are in great shape pretty much everywhere else. They've got to get the secondary fixed and win this game. Then, it will be time to truly start the talk about the No. 1 seed.
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