Carolina @ Tampa Bay preview
Raymond James Stadium
Last Meeting ( Jan 1, 2023 ) Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 30
Not often does the team with the NFL's worst record grab headlines entering the final month of the season, but here the Carolina Panthers stand as their 12th game of the season approaches.
Head coach Frank Reich was fired as coach Monday and the Panthers (1-10) scurried to prepare behind interim head coach Chris Tabor before Carolina visits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) on Sunday in a Week 13 NFC South matchup.
"Feels like Week 72," Tabor joked on Wednesday.
The Panthers made significant changes behind Reich, who recently reclaimed play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. Brown kept his job, but Tabor said he made the decision to fire quarterbacks coach Josh McCown and running backs coach Duce Staley.
"You can't overhaul everything, but I think you can do some things and we'll work on that," said Tabor, who is keeping his duties as special teams coach.
Turmoil tiptoed through the Panthers organization long before owner David Tepper made a change following Carolina's 10th loss of the season last week at Tennessee.
The future of general manager Scott Fitterer wasn't addressed by Tepper, who left his news conference Monday as that question was being asked, and any rebuild comes with complications.
The Panthers are in position to hold the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft based on their league-worst record, but that pick belongs to the Chicago Bears.
Fitterer and Carolina spent that draft capital and more to select quarterback Bryce Young as the top pick in April. But he has been sacked 40 times and has 12 turnovers (four fumbles lost) in 10 starts.
The Buccaneers (4-7) aren't exactly in a groove. But they're still squarely in the hunt for the division title behind a reclamation project well known to the Panthers, Baker Mayfield.
"We won't turn this corner until they start being accountable for each other on the field," said Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, whose team has lost two in a row and six of its past seven games. "We're desperate to win a ball game."
The Buccaneers get two swings at the Panthers in the next five weeks, the second one being the Jan. 7 finale.
Mayfield began last season with Carolina and lasted seven games, with the team posting a 1-6 record, before he was released.
Mayfield is dealing with an ankle injury, though he practiced fully all week. He has thrown 17 touchdown passes with seven interceptions this season. He said he would sit out if he thought it would be best for the team but that he can play through pain.
"He has an old-school mentality," Bowles said. "He loves to play the game and he does everything every week to be ready to play."
Mayfield had thrown for more than 200 yards in seven consecutive games until last week's 199-yard outing at Indianapolis.
The Panthers will be without safety Vonn Bell (shoulder) and tight end Hayden Hurst (concussion), while tight end Tommy Tremble (hip) is doubtful after sitting out Friday. Seven other players are questionable.
While Carolina expects cornerback C.J. Henderson back from a concussion and safety Jeremy Chinn, who was limited Friday, could also play, Bowles said the Buccaneers aren't overly concerned about seeing massive scheme changes from the Panthers.
"You can't revamp your team in a week," Bowles said. "So you concentrate on the scheme. I'm sure they'll tweak some things, but we have to worry about the things we can correct ourselves."
A year ago, the Panthers went 6-6 with Steve Wilks as interim coach. Tabor was on the Carolina staff and was retained by Reich.
"The NFL train is always moving, and the NFL monster will eat you at any time," Tabor said. "You need to be prepared and you need to take the proper steps to set yourself up for success. And that's what we're trying to work on right now."
Tabor said he's used to juggling responsibilities and personnel with special teams. Now, he has more to oversee.
Getting the offense going would be a plus. The Panthers are 30th out of 32 teams in the NFL in total offense and passing offense.
"We all take ownership," Young said. "It's all of us."
Out for Tampa Bay are linebackers Lavonte David (groin) and Devin White (foot), defensive back Jamel Dean (ankle/foot) and defensive tackle Mike Greene (calf). Carolina ruled out tight end Hayden Hurst (concussion) and safety Vonn Bell (shoulder), while Panthers tight end Tommy Tremble (hip) was listed as doubtful as of Friday.
--Field Level Media