Carolina Panthers Approach Opener at Bucs Like a Bowl Game

Jimmy Grappone@cltsportshubCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2012

Steve Smith (89) and the Panthers will be singing Kumbaya in Bradenton, Florida this week.
Steve Smith (89) and the Panthers will be singing Kumbaya in Bradenton, Florida this week.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With the Democratic National Convention (DNC) descending upon Charlotte, North Carolina this week and President Obama's acceptance speech taking place at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday, September 6, the Carolina Panthers are leaving town after practice today to prepare for their opening week matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers will prepare for this weekend's road game against their NFC South rival at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida to get away from the distractions and logistical issues that could have wreaked havoc on Carolina's preparations for their first game of the season. 

Panthers coach Ron Rivera recognized early on that the convention and all the encompassing political media, delegates and protesters expected in Center City, not to mention preparations to the stadium, could have been a distraction for his team.

He was planning to take his team on the road this season no matter where they played their first game, and the Panthers began scouting possible practice venues before the schedule was ever released.

Rivera said he does not want the Panthers to have any excuses to play poorly and start the season on a bad note in an important divisional game.

Rivera views the road trip as an opportunity to come together as a team and to get the season started on the right foot.  As he told reporters on Monday:

"We're going to try and develop a little more cohesiveness. This can be a rallying cry. This is an opportunity to get away and focus in on an opponent, focus in on football. I think the attitude is going to be about coming together."

Coincidentally, Carolina's top draft picks in 2011 and 2012, quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly, have both trained at IMG Academy and will view this week's practice facility as their home away from home.

Carolina's Pro Bowl middle linebacker, Jon Beason, who will make his 2012 debut on Sunday after sitting out Carolina's four preseason matchups, is treating the extended road trip like an abbreviated training camp.

“We’re doing a good job of leaving the madness. And it’s going to be like camp,” linebacker Jon Beason said. “Guys are staying in a hotel, you have a lot of down time to spend with each other, so there are benefits with that.”

Many Panthers are treating their extended stay in Florida like a college bowl game—Steve Smith suggested the Panthers would sing Kumbaya and make S'mores—and they view this as an opportunity for the team to bond during a week away from the comforts of home and family.

Carolina defeated the Bucs handily both times the teams faced off in 2011, winning 38-19 at Tampa and 48-16 in a Christmas Eve massacre at home, and Tampa Bay will be anxious to prove that they have gotten better in the offseason after finishing last season on a 10-game losing streak.