NFL Nation: 2013 Week 13 TB at CAR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nobody in the Carolina Panthers locker room has more nicknames than running back Mike Tolbert.

Bowling Ball. Tub of Mayonnaise. Tub of Goo. Plate of Paste. Sugar Bear.

You name it, Tolbert has been called it. He has been for most of his football career because he's short and squatty. I won't say fat, but he's been called that, too.

[+] EnlargeMike Tolbert
Grant Halverson/Getty Images"Everybody always underestimates me for a minute, but once I start playing they change their opinion," Mike Tolbert said.
But when Tolbert's number is called, he usually answers in a big way, whether he's lined up at running back, fullback or tight end.

Sunday's 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay was a prime example. With leading rusher DeAngelo Williams out with a quad contusion, Tolbert rushed nine times for 48 yards, including a 17-yarder in which he and his blockers looked like a freight train around the right side.

He also caught three passes for 41 yards.

So to underestimate Tolbert because of his 5-foot-9, 245-pound frame or cute nicknames is a mistake.

"They underestimate me all the time,'' Tolbert said. "They see a guy that is short and fat and they think, 'Oh, yeah, we got him, no problem.' Then they are like, 'Whoa! Where did he get those feet from? I didn't know he was that fast.'

"Everybody always underestimates me for a minute, but once I start playing they change their opinion.''

Coach Ron Rivera got to know Tolbert when both were in San Diego; Rivera was the defensive coordinator. When he had the chance to bring Tolbert to Carolina last year, he jumped at the opportunity.

Despite having Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Rivera knew Tolbert offered things few others could in terms of toughness and leadership.

On Sunday, Tolbert once again showed he's a handful for defenses.

"He is a downhill runner, and believe me once he gets going down, he goes pretty fast,'' Rivera said with a laugh. "He's about as smart a football player as I've been around. He understands the game offensively about as good as anybody.

"He's great to have on your team. He is great in the locker room. He is great in the huddle from what I understand.''

And Rivera, a former linebacker, is glad he never had to tackle Tolbert.

"I'll tell you right now, I know for sure that he would hit me in the chest,'' he said. "He is so low to the ground, it's hard to get leverage on him.''

Tolbert could be a big weapon next week against a New Orleans defense that entered this weekend ranked 15th against the run. He'll definitely be one of the players that keeps the Panthers (9-3), who have won a franchise-record eight straight games, focused on the task.

"Being what they call an undersized player, you've got to be a little smarter, know different positions and do different things ... be versatile,'' Tolbert said.

Rivera was smart to bring Tolbert -- or whatever you call him -- to Carolina.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton leaned into the microphone on Sunday after leading the Carolina Panthers to a franchise-record eighth straight victory and whispered, "War Eagle."

Then he did it again.

And again.

"War dang Eagle!" the Carolina quarterback said, in what one could only hope was his final moment of gloating about Auburn's dramatic victory against top-ranked Alabama before moving on to the Panthers' 27-6 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers have a pretty big game for the NFC South lead coming up next Sunday night in New Orleans, but you couldn't tell it the way Newton kept referencing his alma mater's upset victory.

You really couldn't tell it by the demeanor of anybody in the locker room. This team is focused on more than the New Orleans Saints and a division title.

"We know it will be a challenge," cornerback Drayton Florence said of the prime-time game against the Saints (9-2), who have a half-game lead over Carolina (9-3) heading into their Monday night game at Seattle. "But they're just in our way to get to that bowl."

That would be the Super Bowl.

Yes, the Panthers are becoming serious contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, which would have been hard to imagine when they were 1-3.

That they handily defeated the Buccaneers (3-9), winners of three straight, despite two interceptions from Newton shows just how focused they are.

And confident.

"There's no roof," defensive end Greg Hardy said. "[Just] the sky. We're going up. We're going up. Every person on this team, every person in this building, has the same mentality right now. I feel like it's contagious. They feel like they can't be beat."

There is a sense of invincibility building here, but it's not something anybody takes for granted. After going 2-14, 6-10 and 7-9 the past three seasons, there's more of an appreciation for what is taking place and what it has taken to make it happen.

[+] EnlargeByron Bell, Cam Newton and Nate Chandler.
AP Photo/Mike McCarnByron Bell, Cam Newton and Nate Chandler had fun Sunday, but don't get them wrong. Their goal for this season is serious business.
"All the work we put in, the blood and sweat and tears … trying to figure out how to win, was for this," said Hardy, who had a sack and two quarterback hurries against Tampa Bay. "We've had this talent for years. We just didn't have the 'want to.' Now it's there."

Sunday's win was an example of how deep the talent is. Sack leader Charles Johnson (knee) missed his second straight start, but the defense held the Bucs to two field goals and shut out its opponent in the second half for the third time in four games.

Leading rusher DeAngelo Williams sat out with a quadriceps injury, yet the Panthers rushed for 163 yards behind Newton, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart.

They won with the same formula that has gotten them this far. Newton dove for a 1-yard touchdown on fourth down and passed for two more scores. The defense shut down the Buccaneers' running game (66 yards) and then came down on quarterback Mike Glennon for five sacks.

"Efficient," coach Ron Rivera said of the effort.

Rivera expects to have both Johnson and Williams back for the Saints game, but even he's more interested in long term because he understands the potential this team has.

"It is very satisfying because of where we came from," the third-year coach said of the winning streak. "As I have said before, it's been a hard four years for a lot of guys in that locker room. It is very satisfying to be on a nice little roll, but again there is a lot of work to do."

That begins with preparation for the first of two games against New Orleans during a three-game stretch that likely will decide the division title and a first-round bye for the playoffs, based on the way things are going in the other divisions.

"Ready, man," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "It's a game all of y'all [media] have been waiting for. It's a game y'all have been getting us to talk about. Now it's here. The showdown. I'm excited for it. It's prime-time football again."

But Munnerlyn isn't any more excited to talk about the Saints than he was the Buccaneers a week ago.

"Not really," he said. "It's just the next game."

That's a theme that won't go away.

"It's great to be a part of," Newton said of the winning streak. "But we're not done yet. I don't think there is a sense of entitlement in the locker room with these guys. Everyone continues to know what we have to do in the upcoming weeks, starting off with this."

Newton leaned back into the microphone. You got it. He wasn't done gloating.

"Did I say War Eagle?" asked Newton, who led Auburn to the national championship in 2010. "War Eagle!"

One play aside, secondary passes test

December, 1, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cornerback Drayton Florence smiled when asked about the 60-yard completion to Vincent Jackson in the second quarter of the Carolina Panthers' 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday.

He wasn't smiling because he was happy Jackson made him look silly on the deep pass, or because he was able to trip the three-time Pro Bowl receiver at the 4-yard line.

He wasn't smiling because quarterback Mike Glennon lost a fumble three plays later, even though he was happy the defense took him off the hook.

[+] EnlargeDrayton Florence and Chris Owusu
AP Photo/Mike McCarnDrayton Florence and the Panthers' secondary limited the Buccaneers' passing attack to 180 yards and no scores.
He was smiling because Jackson didn't catch another pass on him the rest of the game.

"You can't let one play worry you,'' Florence said. "You have to move on to the next play and make sure it doesn't happen again.''

A week ago, the Panthers didn't do that. Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace beat cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for completions of 53 and 57 yards. He had another where he was overthrown and he ended the game getting behind the secondary for what ultimately was an incompletion near the end zone.

Those plays were so scary that coach Ron Rivera opened the competition at both corners this past week, not naming his starters until Sunday.

Not even Munnerlyn, the senior member of the secondary, was guaranteed a spot outside the nickel position.

Florence was the benefactor, replacing rookie Melvin White at right corner in the base defense.

One play aside, Rivera was pleased.

"I thought our secondary did a nice job disguising,'' he said. "They did a nice job jamming and being physical when they had to. We did it again -- bite on the double move -- but it was a great effort by Drayton Florence to get him down.''

Still, he admitted, "There are some things that need to be cleaned up.''

The Panthers (9-3) can't afford such mistakes against New Orleans (9-2), which with quarterback Drew Brees and his stable full of talented receivers has the second-best passing attack in the NFL.

But Sunday's performance was a step in the right direction because the Panthers did a nice job of keeping plays in front of them as this defense requires.

Munnerlyn says the secondary passed whatever test Rivera and the coaching staff had for it. Florence agreed, saying competition makes everyone better.

Both like the way the defense is playing as a whole heading to New Orleans.

"The only way teams are going to beat us is if we beat ourselves,'' Florence said.

That almost happened at Miami, so Rivera adjusted. Other than the 60-yarder to Jackson, the adjustments worked.

That's why Florence was smiling.

"We responded like we've been responding all year,'' he said. "When teams get down in the red zone we come up with big plays, getting the turnover or holding them to three.

"It's big for our defense to keep playing like that. That's what's going to separate us once we get into the playoffs.''

Mike Glennon has a rookie-type day

December, 1, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There were moments in the past few weeks when it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have something special in rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.

He was playing efficiently and with poise, especially during a three-game winning streak. Then, along came Sunday and a matchup with the Carolina Panthers. For one of the few times since he took over as the starter in Week 4, Glennon looked like he belonged back up the road in Raleigh, where he went to college at NC State. In a 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Glennon looked vulnerable.

"I don't know 'step back' as much as he maybe looked a little more like a rookie than he's looked," coach Greg Schiano said.

For the first time in his career, Glennon went through an entire game without a touchdown pass. And Glennon had two costly turnovers.

The first came with Tampa Bay trailing 7-6 with 12:38 left in the second quarter. After Glennon hit Vincent Jackson with a 60-yard pass, the Bucs had a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. But, on third down, a scrambling Glennon lost his grip on the ball. Carolina defensive tackle Dwan Edwards pounced on the fumble and that started the onslaught.

"The first one wasn't really a careless mistake," Glennon said. "Just the ball slipped out of my hand and it really hurt us because we would have gotten at least three points in that situation."

Glennon also looked bad on a third-quarter interception. His pass, intended for Jackson was woefully underthrown.

"I tried to make a play and I should have just thrown it away," Glennon said.

Glennon finished with 14 completions on 21 attempts for 180 yards. He was sacked five times and had a 73.5 passer rating.

"I think it is always a learning moment," Glennon said. "Like I always say, you can learn from the good; you learn from the bad. And there was some bad today that I will learn from. We will go back and watch the film and we will make the corrections."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- To all those people who like to blame coach Greg Schiano for everything that goes wrong with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, get in line.

Schiano's going first this time, and his critique is harsh but appropriate. After Sunday’s 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, Schiano repeatedly pointed the finger straight at himself.

"We didn't do enough to help them as coaches and we didn't execute well enough on the field," Schiano said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images"I look at some of the stuff," coach Greg Schiano said after the Bucs' loss, "and it's on me."
Yes, the three-week dynasty that was the Bucs is over. The criticism of Schiano and speculation about his job security are flowing again, and they should be. After winning their previous three games, the Bucs took about six steps back with their worst performance of the season.

"This is a sick feeling going three in a row and then coming here and not playing your best football," left tackle Donald Penn said.

All the momentum that came with the wins is gone now. Give plenty of credit to Carolina, which won its eighth straight and continued to look like one of the league's best teams. But this was as much about the Bucs as it was about the Panthers.

The running game never got going, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon had his worst game and the defense couldn't stop Cam Newton on the ground or through the air.

Who's to blame?

"It just didn't feel like we gave them enough good opportunities," Schiano said. "I look at some of the stuff and it's on me. We've got to figure a way to put them in better situations. It's easy to say play calling -- when play calls work, they're great. When they don't, they're not. I just mean, overall, why did we show up today and not perform the way we're capable of? All the reasons, guys missing ... that's the way it's been. It's no different than it's been. We needed to play better. I did not see it coming. I thought we had an excellent week of practice."

Schiano even blamed himself for his team's poor tackling.

"We didn't tackle," Schiano said. "That wasn't the way we play defense. We didn't tackle, and I don't know why. That's another reason that, somehow as the head coach, I didn't get us to tackle the way that we’re capable of."

It's admirable that Schiano is taking the blame for everything. Ultimately, the head coach has to take the blame when things don't go well, and it really doesn't matter if that's fair. I'm not saying that taking the blame rings hollow after a while. But, if you got your hopes up after three big Sundays in November, the reality is that the calendar has turned to December. That's the month of reality in the NFL.

Now that the three-week joyride is over, Schiano may be running short on time. Let's face the facts. The Bucs are 3-9 after going 7-9 last season.

There was a time when an NFL coach was reasonably certain to get three years to show what he could do. But those days are gone because owners no longer can afford to wait to win. Schiano isn't even done with his second season, but he already is down to crunch time.

The Glazer family, which owns the team, likes a lot of things about Schiano (starting with the fact he cleaned up a locker room that was a laughingstock under his predecessor, Raheem Morris). But the Glazers also like to win, and they don't like to be embarrassed.

That's why Schiano is at a critical moment in his tenure. There are four games left in the season and he can't afford for the rest of them to go the way the Carolina contest did.

"We just didn't play well today," Schiano said. "That's all I know. When you live in the one-game-season mode like we do, you have to [play well]. It is really hard to win an NFL football game. If you put everything into it and it doesn't work, then you've got to evaluate what you did. Did you not do the right things? Did you not give your guys the best chance to win?"

I'm not saying Schiano has to run the table to keep his job, although that certainly would help. But I think he needs to finish on some sort of upswing, something like winning three out of the last four.

If he doesn't finish strong and generate some hope for the future, the fans aren't going to be the only ones blaming Schiano. And Schiano's not going to be the only one blaming Schiano.

There are four games left and the Glazers need to use them to evaluate everything. When it comes right down to it, the opinions of the Glazers are the only ones that really matter.

If Schiano's postgame critique ends up being similar in three or four of these remaining games, it's pretty obvious the Glazers will end up agreeing with their coach.

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

December, 1, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 27-6 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

What it means: The Sunday night (Dec. 8) showdown with the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South lead is now a reality. The Panthers won a franchise-record eighth straight game, improving to 9-3. They moved within half a game of the Saints (9-2), who play at Seattle on Monday night. It will be the first of two games between Carolina and New Orleans during a three-week stretch that likely will decide the division and possibly a first-round playoff bye. That the Panthers were able to defeat Tampa, which had won three straight, with such a workmanlike performance shows their focus.

Stock watch: This seems like a weekly segment here, but it's hard to ignore what Cam Newton is doing. He dove for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 and passed for two more. His 56-yard scramble in the first half got the offense going early. He did make a horrible throw that was intercepted late in the third quarter with Carolina leading 24-6, but otherwise this was another solid performance.

Riverboat Ron: This seems like a weekly segment as well, mainly because coach Ron Rivera takes a chance on fourth-and-1 almost every game now. Newton rewarded his coach's confidence with a 1-yard touchdown dive with 25 seconds left in the half to make it 17-6 and pretty much end the suspense in this one. Carolina made one more fourth-and-1 late, improving to 8-for-10 on the season. It is 9-for-11 on fourth down overall.

Bowling ball: Running back Mike Tolbert, aka the "Bowling Ball," doesn't get enough credit for all he does as a leader, runner, blocker and receiver. But with leading rusher DeAngelo Williams (quad) out, perhaps a few took notice. He rushed nine times for 48 yards and caught three passes for 41 yards. His second effort was impossible to miss.

Secondary woes: The secondary was under the magnifying glass after Rivera opened the competition at both cornerback spots this week. New starter Drayton Florence allowed a 60-yard reception in the first half, but otherwise this group held its own.

What's next? The Panthers travel to New Orleans for an NFC South showdown against the New Orleans Saints. Carolina swept the two-game series last season.

Rapid Reaction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

December, 1, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A few thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

What it means: The winning streak ends at three games, and it does so with a thud. The Bucs simply were outclassed by the Panthers in every way. Now, reality can set back in. The Bucs are 3-9, and coach Greg Schiano might have moved back to the hot seat. The loss also keeps the Bucs in the running for a very early draft pick.

Stock watch: A couple of weeks ago, running back Bobby Rainey looked like a phenomenon. The past two weeks, he’s been bottled up. The blame for that doesn't fall on Rainey. Opposing defenses are loading up against the run and challenging rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to beat them. Until Glennon shows he can consistently throw the deep ball, there will not be a lot of room for Rainey to run.

Rocky outing: Glennon had played mistake-free football during the winning streak, but that ended Sunday. Glennon lost a fumble, threw an interception and wasn't able to get the offense to do much of anything. For the first time this season, Glennon didn't throw a touchdown pass.

Revis injured again: Cornerback Darrelle Revis was questionable for this game with a groin injury. He played into the third quarter but suffered a shoulder and chest injury while attempting to make an interception. Revis did not return.

What’s next: The Buccaneers host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.