With Josh Freeman back at quarterback after missing Tampa Bay's first game against the Panthers, coach Ron Rivera said it's likely to alter the Bucs' playcalling.
With Freeman, who was replaced by Josh Johnson in the Panthers' 38-19 win three weeks ago, the Bucs are more likely to throw more deep passes, particularly if the Panthers' secondary is missing strong safety Charles Godfrey and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Rivera said it's critical that the Panthers not let what happened three weeks ago in Tampa lull them in a false sense of security.
"The big thing is we can't be complacent," Rivera said. "This team has too many good football players. I know their record is not indicative of the type of talent they have and not indicative of the way they were playing last season.
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"They've had some unfortunate breaks and injuries like we have. That's what this league comes down to partly - how healthy you are when you play teams. We've seen the last few weeks teams that are healthy seem to be playing better."
Juggling two jobs: Nearing the end of his first season as a head coach, Rivera said it's difficult to think of also being a defensive coordinator, a role Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris holds.
Rivera said it can be done but it's not easy.
"I've watched some offensive guys do it and do it very successfully and I've watched Norv Turner do it very, very well," Rivera said.
"As I look at it, I think you can (do it) but now having gone through what I did go through this year, boy, it would be awfully hard to do everything good and everything right. Maybe once you got settled in, you could do it and be very effective. That's an interesting question."
While there has been speculation that Morris may be asked to surrender his coordinator role if he returns next season, the third-year coach won't dwell on the season's many disappointments.
"It's about mentally tough men when you're talking about football," Morris said. "People outside the building, none of that stuff really matters. The only thing that really matters is the 61 men I coach including the practice squad, the adminstration, the ownership and the coaching staff."
"We all believe in what we do. Last year, I led us to 10 wins. This year unfortunately, we didn't have the same amount of success. But we look forward to using these last two games to get better and, hopefully, attacking the offseason and going into next season, trying to come back out with some renewed energy."
Injury update: Strong safety Charles Godfrey (shoulder) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) both missed practice again Thursday, raising questions about whether they will be able to play against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Defensive end Greg Hardy left practice due to illness and defensive end Charles Johnson (back) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out the Wednesday session.
If Godfrey and Munnerlyn are out against the Bucs, Darius Butler will start at cornerback while Jordan Pugh will take over at strong safety. R.J. Stanford would be elevated to the nickel back position.
Holiday break: After playing the Bucs on Saturday afternoon, the Panthers players will be off until Wednesday when they begin practicing for their final game of the season at New Orleans. It's an uncommonly long break but it gives the players the opportunity to enjoy the holiday without having to return for a Monday meeting as they would most other weeks.
"The only rule we have is just be smart," Rivera said, reiterating his admonition to players prior to the bye week in October. "It's Christmas and you'd like to believe they'll take care of themselves. We have some guys who want to go home and see their kids. Rather than have them come back for (a little while) on Monday, it doesn't make sense to me."
Munnerlyn honored: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has been awarded the Tom Berry Good Guy award, the Professional Football Writers Association of America announced Thursday.
Munnerlyn, a third-year cornerback from South Carolina, was a unanimous selection among media members who cover the Panthers on a regular basis.
The award is named for Tom Berry, the longtime Panthers beat writer for the High Point (N.C.) Enterprise. Berry passed away at the start of the 2009 season. The award is designed to honor the player who is most helpful to the media in doing its job.
"Tom Berry was a consummate professional and a true gentleman,'' said ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas, the NFC South representative on the PFWA's board of directors. "The members of the Carolina media believed that Captain best represented what Tom stood for. The reporters who cover the Panthers said that, win or lose, Captain is always available and courteous - a true professional, just like Tom."
Former Panthers fullback Brad Hoover won the inaugural award in 2009. Offensive tackle Jordan Gross was last year's winner.
The big man: Defensive tackle Jason Shirley, the Panthers' heaviest player at 345 pounds, has made an impact since being elevated from the practice squad prior to the Atlanta game two weeks ago. Shirley is credited with three tackles - two of them quarterback sacks.
"Big man. He's a space eater. That's what you hope for," Rivera said. "You're looking for a guy that can hold the point and take up space to let your linebackers run. We got a guy who stepped in and has done a nice job."
When Shirley was with the Cincinnati Bengals, he was converted from an offensive lineman to defense.
The CIAA link: Among the coaches on Raheem Morris' Tampa Bay staff is former St. Augustine's linebacker Tyrone Pettaway. The CIAA defensive player of the year in 2005, Pettaway is in his first year as linebackers coach for the Bucs.