Rookie vs. Rookie
Two of the leading candidates for the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year collide when Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin squares up against Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly. Martin, a first-round pick from Boise State, is tied for fourth in the league in rushing with 862 yards. The “Muscle Hamster” has seven rushing touchdowns. Kuechly, the No. 9 overall pick, is averaging 15 tackles a game since taking over at middle linebacker, but might need a few takeaways to increase his ROY candidacy.
In no rush
The Panthers rushed for 10 yards on 13 carries in the first game against the Bucs. The 10 rushing yards tied for the fewest in franchise history, matching the output in a 24-6 loss to New Orleans on Oct. 15, 2000. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has de-emphasized the zone-read package in favor of a more traditional, I-formation rushing attack. But it hasn’t been any more effective. Meanwhile, the Bucs have the league’s best rushing defense and worst pass defense.
Not-so special teams
A day after the Panthers gave up a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown to Denver’s Trindon Holliday, Ron Rivera sacked special teams coordinator Brian Murphy. Richard Rodgers, Rivera’s former Cal teammate, took over, with help from several assistants. The Panthers have lacked a spark on special teams, with returner Joe Adams buried in Rivera’s doghouse. In a Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay, Brad Nortman had a punt blocked that set up a fourth-quarter field goal. Joseph Person