TAMPA — A month has passed since the Carolina Panthers downed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-13 at Raymond James Stadium in front of a national television audience, and Gerald McCoy still hasn’t gotten over it.
Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl defensive tackle is eager for Sunday’s rematch in Charlotte, N.C, where Carolina will put a seven-game winning streak on the line before facing New Orleans twice within a three-week span to determine NFC South supremacy.
“I definitely am,’’ McCoy said Monday when asked whether he’s looking forward to another crack at the Panthers, who won only once in their first four games. “If nobody else is, Gerald is. They got under my skin that first game. I truly believe we had an opportunity to win that game ... and we just let that one slip away.’’
The Bucs never led against Carolina on that Thursday evening, falling to 0-7. Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score while Bucs rookie Mike Glennon was forced to throw 51 times due to the lack of a productive ground game.
“They’re (Panthers) playing great right now,’’ said McCoy, who posted two tackles for loss in Sunday’s 24-21 victory at Detroit, Tampa Bay’s third consecutive win. “They’re not playing good, not playing OK, they’re playing great.’’
Carolina leads the NFL in scoring defense (13.7 points per game), and the Panthers have yielded only 12 touchdowns while going 8-3. Newton is more patient and making better decisions in his third year under center, completing 64.6 percent of his third-down attempts.
“It’s not easy to win seven in a row,’’ McCoy said. “We’ve got a tough test ahead of us, but I think we can pull it off. I really do.’’
Accounts of Tampa Bay’s return flight Sunday night from Detroit vary, depending on the source.
After edging the Lions for their first road victory since the 2012 season finale at Atlanta, the Bucs took off on their charter bound for the Bay area.
“After a victory, it’s always a good ride home,’’ said WR Tiquan Underwood. “Guys are joking around and smiling.’’
Second-year safety Kelcie McCray, a key contributor on two of Tampa Bay’s five takeaways, agreed with Underwood, saying, “The flight is always better after a win.’’
But McCoy offered a different view of the 992-mile trip.
“Honestly, it was kind of chill,’’ McCoy said. “You would think that we would be on the plane really going crazy and just really enjoying it. I think we put so much effort into winning that game that we were just worn out. We kind of were just relaxing and everybody was kind of quiet on the way back.’’
Talkin’ bout practice
After a three-week span when they registered only two takeaways, the Bucs have forced 12 turnovers in the past four games, fueling their dramatic November turnaround.
“I think it’s reaping what you sow,’’ said Bucs coach Greg Schiano. “We do a takeaway circuit every day. If the ball’s on the ground, it doesn’t matter where or who, we’re scooping it up and trying to score.’’
G Davin Joseph said the Bucs have “the hardest practices’’ in the league and McCoy said the flurry of takeaways by Tampa Bay opponents is hardly an accident.
“I don’t think anybody practices harder than us on Wednesdays (pads),’’ McCoy said. “I don’t think anybody has a training camp harder than ours. We prepare mentally for games like that, fighting all the way to the end. Coach puts the hardest stuff we’ll face at the end of practice for times like that. You’re tired, you’ve been running all day and now we’ve got a 2-minute drill at the end of practice.’’
The Panthers boast a 48-15 scoring advantage in the opening quarter. ...Tampa Bay’s total of 12 giveaways is tied with Dallas for the fewest in the NFC. ...Glennon’s passer rating has soared to 91.6, ninth in the league and by far the best mark among rookie QBs.