TAMPA, Fla. — National TV, a chance to shine with the rest of the NFL watching.
The winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers can think of no better stage to prove they’re not nearly as bad as an 0-6 record suggests heading into Thursday’s prime-time test against Cam Newton and the surging Carolina Panthers.
The Bucs have lost 10 of 11 dating to last season, six straight at home, and frankly are running out of competition for the label of worst team in the league.
Tampa Bay and Jacksonville are the only teams who’ve yet to win this season.
“Desperate, that’s kind of like the last straw isn’t it, if you don’t have a win?” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
“The Giants won (Monday night). I was like: ‘C’mon now … another team with a win.’ We’ve got to get one,” the fourth-year pro added. “We don’t want to be the last ones. We’ve got to get it.”
Coach Greg Schiano hopes playing at home in a short week in which Tampa Bay doesn’t have to travel will help against Carolina (3-3), which has won three of four following an 0-2 start.
Newton completed 81.4 percent of his passes the past two weeks while throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions in lopsided wins over Minnesota and St. Louis.
“First and foremost, we desperately need a win, right? … But I think what’s most important is the guys recognize that every other NFL player watches this game; at least if they’re a football fan they do. The Thursday night game is part of their week,” Schiano said. “It’s a big part of our league.”
Carolina coach Ron Rivera can relate to Tampa Bay’s struggles. He inherited a team coming off a 2-14 season in 2011, and the Panthers have endured some bumps while improving to six wins two years ago, seven in 2012 and rebounding after losing the first two games this season.
“It’s hard to win in this league. You go watch the games they play and they’ve played some good football teams, and they’ve lost some tough games,” Rivera said.
“Believe me, I’ve gone through it. I know exactly how they feel. … You can play great and have something crazy happen. You can have a ball bounce the wrong way. You can miss a kick, they can make a kick, they can make a great catch,” Rivera added. “They’re a good football team, it’s just a matter of time, keep pushing and keep working. That’s the way it is in this league.”
Five things to watch for as the Bucs seek their first win and the Panthers try to climb over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2008 season, when they were 12-4 and last made the playoffs:
EFFICIENT CAM: Newton has suddenly turned into Mr. Efficient. He completed 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over St. Louis, and is 35 of 43 for 464 yards, four TDs and no interceptions over his last two games. The NFC South rival Bucs have taken notice.
“He’s starting to become an NFL quarterback. He came in the league on fire, but he still had college-style playing. People didn’t know how to react to it. Last year, he still was more college style and people knew how to handle it because they had dealt with it the year before,” McCoy said. “Now he’s starting to become an NFL quarterback, and that’s scary. With as athletic as he is, as strong an arm as he has, he’s starting to understand the game more. That’s scary to have to deal with that for a long time.”
ANOTHER STEP FOR GLENNON: Rookie Mike Glennon makes his fourth start at quarterback for the Bucs. No one’s attempted (130) or completed (76) more passes in his first three games than the third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State.
LOOKING FOR JACKSON: Glennon threw 44 times during last week’s 31-23 loss to Atlanta. He targeted WR Vincent Jackson 22 times, connecting 10 times for 138 yards and two TDs. Jackson’s looking for his third straight game with at least nine receptions, 100 yards and a pair of TDs.
NO MARTIN: The Bucs likely will be without RB Doug Martin, who injured his left shoulder last week. Rookie Mike James probably will make his first start, with veteran Brian Leonard backing him up. James has 17 carries for 57 yards.
KNACK FOR TURNOVERS: Carolina forced three turnovers against St. Louis and has 14 for a plus-5 takeaway/giveaway margin — tied for third in the NFC. The Bucs are even, which puts them right in the middle of the league, and had Schiano wondering why their record isn’t closer to .500. “Usually when you’re even, your record’s pretty even. You’re 3-3, 2-4, 4-2. We’re 0-6.”