Year 2 of Rivera-Newton Era begins
There has been a lot of build-up for a Panthers team that went 6-10 in the first year of Ron Rivera and Cam Newton. The way the Panthers finished 2011, winning four of six, plus the exciting play of Newton and a top-10 offense, have fans and players thinking playoffs. The Panthers will know how they stack up in the NFC South immediately: Sundays game against the Bucs is the first of three divisional contests in the first four weeks.
Adjusting on the fly
Rivera said this week hed rather open against an opponent he is familiar with. Thats not the case with the Bucs, who hired ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano to replace Raheem Morris and brought in an entirely new coaching staff. The Panthers have studied what Schiano ran at Rutgers, as well as the Bucs preseason games. Theyve also looked at the New York Giants, since Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was the quarterbacks coach for last seasons Super Bowl champs. The key for Riveras assistants will be communicating on the sideline early in the game and reacting to whatever wrinkles the Bucs unveil.
Big play day
The game isnt a sellout, so the Panthers will have to create their own energy. Newton is a natural at generating excitement with his deep throws, long runs and Superman celebration. But the Panthers defense needs to get into the act, as well. Coordinator Sean McDermott preached all preseason about coming up with takeaways. McDermott can force the issue by blitzing more than he did last season and throwing pressures at Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. Joseph Person