Buccaneers at Panthers 1 p.m. Sunday (WJZY)

Tampa Bay much improved since first meeting between teams

jjones@charlotteobserver.comNovember 29, 2013 

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Mike Glennon #8 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 24, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Tampa Bay won the game 24-21.

GREGORY SHAMUS — Getty

Four weeks removed from an embarrassing 31-13 home loss to the Carolina Panthers on national television, Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy reflected honestly on the game.

“Carolina just came out, and they came in our house and just beat us,” McCoy said this week. “They beat us into the ground, and this is me being honest. That’s from the top all the way down; from coaches all the way down to the players. We just got beat mentally and physically last time.”

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano couldn’t find a redeeming quality from the game, a loss that dropped the Buccaneers to 0-7 while the cries to fire him grew louder.

“We got handled pretty well by the Panthers and I think they’ve only gotten better since they’ve played us,” Schiano said. “I look at them, I really don’t see a weakness.”

The Bucs sit at 3-8 in a season that is all but guaranteed to end without a playoff appearance for the sixth consecutive season. Though Carolina handily defeated the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium with “Fire Schiano“ billboards popping up around the town, the Panthers are aware this isn’t the same Tampa Bay team they faced just more than a month ago.

Since the Carolina loss, Tampa Bay has won three of its past four, with its only loss in the form of a 27-24 come-from-behind overtime win for Seattle. The Bucs have rattled off three consecutive wins and no longer look like a team destined for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said it’s “evident” this Buccaneers team is much different than the one Carolina rolled on Thursday Night Football in October.

“These guys are playing very confident now,” Newton said. “They’re playing with somewhat of a good feeling. The quarterback is even playing better. When you get that type of mixtures of things where a team is playing with confidence, who knows? The sky is always the limit.”

The Bucs sandwiched a 41-28 win against Atlanta with three-point wins against playoff contenders Miami and Detroit. One big boost for the team has been running back Bobby Rainey, who wasn’t even with Tampa Bay until the Bucs picked him off waivers from Cleveland.

Rainey has rushed for 243 yards on 56 carries and three touchdowns in the Bucs’ three victories after Tampa Bay had to place Doug Martin on injured reserve and backup Mike James suffered a fractured ankle earlier this month.

“We have four running backs on the IR right now, 14 guys total but four running backs,” Schiano said, “so Bobby wasn’t on our roster four weeks ago, and we’re blessed to have him because he’s doing a great job.”

The Bucs have also enjoyed improved play by quarterback Mike Glennon. The rookie from N.C. State is averaging more than 200 passing yards per game since taking over for dismissed Josh Freeman while also tossing 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

But one of the biggest questions surrounding the Bucs during their winless stretch was the cohesion of the locker room and, more specifically, the locker room’s cohesion with Schiano.

Reports of disgruntled players surrounded Carolina’s last trip to Tampa Bay, but those murmurs have quieted with the recent turn of events.

“Our players have stuck together, there’s been no finger pointing,” Schiano said. “It’s hard when you get on that 0-5, 0-6, the pressure mounts to get that win, and I think our guys have done a good job of just sticking together, that’s the best part of it.

“When you have a group of guys that are putting forth that effort it’s nice to see them be able to succeed and have a smile on their face after the game.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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