The Carolina Panthers didn't expect to be in the same situation as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a quarter of the way through the season. One of them will take a step in the right direction in Monday night's game at Bank of America Stadium.
"Four games doesn't make a season. We have been in this situation before," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "This is a challenge. We have to accept this challenge. We have to take it one game at a time, and that's the approach."
Both teams hold 1-3 records.
While the Buccaneers are in a rebuilding phase with a first-year coach, the Panthers are the defending NFC champions. "I think we should be better than we are," Rivera said. "We've had some opportunities that we haven't taken advantage of."
Tampa Bay is playing back-to-back games against last season's Super Bowl participants after a home loss to the Denver Broncos. Adding to the task is several injuries that have created uncertainties.
"Somebody needs to rise up anytime another guy is down," Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said. "We have high expectations for everybody."
The tricky part for the Panthers is preparing to be without quarterback Cam Newton, who was placed in the NFL's concussion protocol after a late-game hit last week in Atlanta and was officially ruled out on Saturday.
Derek Anderson will make his third start for Carolina since joining the team in 2011. He was 2-0 in his other two starts, both against the Buccaneers in 2014 when Newton was injured.
Anderson finished last Sunday's game, completing 17 of 23 pass attempts for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 49 of 74 pass attempts for 501 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in his other two starts for the Panthers. "We're going to do what we do, play who we play," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said after Saturday's practice. "We've done this before. It's that next man up mentality. We've done it before."
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston hasn't been immune from hits that have drawn concerns as well.
"Jameis is taking some hits that we would like him not to take because he is trying to extend some plays," Koetter said. If Winston is sharp, he might uncover some cracks in the Panthers, who have defensive issues to sort through.
The Panthers have won the last six matchups with the Buccaneers, including at home in last season's regular-season finale. They'll meet in this season's finale in Tampa, Fla.