CHARLOTTE -- Even though they're consistently one of the best defenses he faces, Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme loves seeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Delhomme's 4-0 in Raymond James Stadium, site of this weekend's game, and 7-1 overall and had career-best stats against the Bucs.
Of teams he's faced at least four times, he's posted his highest passer rating of 93.5 in eight games against Tampa. In a career that began with a 15.9 rating in his first Panthers start, he's gone on to top 90.0 ratings five times and 100.0s three.
"A lot of those games have come down to the wire, and people remember those kinds of finishes -- Jake has stepped up," coach John Fox said. "I remember the one year (2006) we were down there, we were both 0-2, and it came down to a last-minute drive. We got into about a fourth-and-11 or something, and Jake actually scrambled for the first down. We might have caught them a little off-guard with that one. But he's been big in some clutch spots, and that's what you expect, especially out of your quarterback."
Tampa coach Jon Gruden acknowledged how much tougher the Panthers are now with Delhomme.
"Delhomme is one of the premier players in the league," Gruden said. "He's a leader of that team, and he makes plays at crunch time. You watch that San Diego game and in his career, he showcases his best stuff at crunch time."
• INJURY UPDATE: Starting tackles Jordan Gross (concussion) and Jeff Otah (ankle) were listed as questionable on the official injury report submitted to the league. Both practiced the last two days and are expected to go this weekend even if Fox won't say so.
Fox admitted there probably wasn't much of a difference between Gross being cleared for practice and being cleared for a game. The Panthers' left tackle missed his first career game last week after taking a knee to the head in the first quarter of the Atlanta game.
Defensive tackle Darwin Walker (thigh) and safety Quinton Teal (ankle) also are questionable, but both practiced twice this week.
Center Ryan Kalil (ankle), who's been out all week, is listed as doubtful. Wide receiver D.J. Hackett's doubtful, though there's no chance he'll play this week after spraining his MCL against Kansas City last week.
• FAMILIAR FACES: Though the Bucs' defense has remained one of the league's best over the years, much has changed.
Coordinator Monte Kiffin's been a constant, but the pieces are constantly changing. Linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber are the only starters left from the Super Bowl defense, though safety Jermaine Phillips was a rookie backup that year (2002). Where there once were Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, now there's former Panther Jovan Haye and former Clemson standout Gaines Adams.
"The biggest testimony is the way we go about our business everyday," Brooks said of he and Barber.