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Bucs At Panthers: The Matchup

(Sports Network) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did something last week that it took them until November to achieve last season. When they serve as the opponent for the Carolina Panthers’ home opener on Sunday, the Bucs can knock out two objectives that the 2009 team failed to meet until December – to win within the NFC South, and prevail away from Tampa.

The Bucs, predicted by most to finish with one of the NFL’s worst records in 2010, put that talk aside for at least a week with a 17-14 come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns.

Making the start after missing the latter stages of the preseason with a broken thumb, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was 17-of-28 for 182 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the victory. A young receiving corps came through to help Freeman, with fourth-round rookie Mike Williams and former special teams ace Micheal Spurlock both catching touchdown passes. Spurlock’s TD, which came on a 33-yard pass play from Freeman in the fourth quarter, provided the Bucs with the final margin of victory.

A much-maligned defense, playing without suspended cornerback Aqib Talib due to his violation of the NFL personal conduct policy, goaded the Browns into three turnovers in the contest. Cornerbacks Ronde’ Barber and E.J. Biggers both recorded interceptions in the victory, and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and first-round rookie tackle Gerald McCoy each forced fumbles.

The playmaking abilities of the Buccaneers cannot be music to the ears of the Panthers, who could be featuring a rookie quarterback on Sunday.

Week 1 starter Matt Moore was knocked out with a concussion in the late stages of Carolina’s 31-18 loss at the New York Giants last week, and his availability for the Tampa Bay game will likely remain unknown until later in the week.

If Moore can’t go, second-round rookie Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame), regarded by most as the future of the franchise at the QB position, would get the start.

Clausen was not particularly sharp in his first NFL game, missing on both of his pass attempts after relieving Moore (14-of-33, 182 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 4 sacks absorbed) in the fourth quarter.

Carolina’s vaunted running game was also a disappointment in the defeat, with neither DeAngelo Williams (16 carries, 62 yards) nor Jonathan Stewart (5 carries, 12 yards) gaining enough traction to fuel a Carolina win.

The Panthers did manage to intercept Eli Manning three times in the loss, with safety Charles Godfrey notching two of the picks as the unit turned the page on the Julius Peppers era.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.