Panthers cornerback Darius Butler watched last weekend's win against Houston from Charlotte while dealing with the effects of a concussion he suffered Dec. 11 against Atlanta.
Butler noticed starting safety Charles Godfrey leave the Texans' game early in the second half with a shoulder injury, then saw No. 3 safety Jordan Pugh go out a short time later after getting hit in the head.
It got Butler to thinking, "Do we have another safety to go in?"
The answer was yes - sort of.
Injuries forced the Panthers into contingency plans during the 28-13 win at Houston, where backup corner R.J. Stanford saw action at safety and rookie corner Brandon Hogan made his NFL debut filling in for Captain Munnerlyn.
With only four days to prepare for Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, the Panthers (5-9) could be short-handed in the secondary again. Three of the team's top five defensive backs missed or were limited for Tuesday's practice.
Munnerlyn, who pulled his hamstring against the Texans, sat out Tuesday and said he is day-to-day. Godfrey, who aggravated an existing shoulder injury at Houston, participated on a limited basis. Butler passed his concussion test and also was limited during the non-contact practice.
Coach Ron Rivera believes Godfrey and Butler will play against the Buccaneers, but he is less certain about Munnerlyn.
"Hopefully, I can keep getting treatment and get better by Saturday, because I feel like my team needs me and I want to be out there," Munnerlyn said.
When the Panthers won 38-19 at Tampa Bay on Dec. 4, the Bucs were without quarterback Josh Freeman, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Josh Johnson, making his first start since 2009, completed 16 of 27 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown, and also threw an interception.
Johnson had two completions that covered 38 yards or more, and Rivera believes the Bucs will take more deep chances with Freeman back in the lineup.
"I'd be surprised if they didn't, just because they have those kind of receivers and they do a nice job protecting the quarterback," Rivera said. "And (Freeman) has a nice arm."
Freeman was the NFL's 13th-ranked passer last year when he threw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns, with only six interceptions. A year after finishing 3-13, Tampa Bay went 10-6 in 2010 and was a popular pick to make the playoffs this year.
But Freeman has battled turnovers throughout his third season. His 18 interceptions are tied with Washington's Rex Grossman for second most in the league; only Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick, with 19, has more.
Despite Freeman's struggles, Munnerlyn said the 6-foot-6, 248-pounder still is difficult to defend.
"The guy can run. He can pass. He can make those plays that make him elite," Munnerlyn said. "They were 10-6 last year. They've pretty much got the same team. They're just not winning."
The Bucs (4-10) have dropped eight in a row to fall into the cellar of the NFC South, a game behind the Panthers. Carolina, the NFL's second-youngest team behind Tampa Bay, has won three of its past four games while giving some of its young players more reps.
Hogan, who began the season on the physically unable to perform list following knee surgery last year at West Virginia, was pressed into action at Houston after the injuries to Munnerlyn, Godfrey and Pugh. He responded by forcing Texans wideout Kevin Walter out of bounds, nullifying a big play after Walter came back in bounds and caught a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Depending upon how Munnerlyn's hamstring progresses and Godfrey's shoulder holds up, Hogan, Stanford and the other reserve defensive backs could be called on again this week.
"I felt like I played all right. The coaches were pretty pleased. We got a win, and that's all that really matters," Hogan said. "Other guys should be getting some playing time this week because a couple people went down. So we're looking forward to that."