CHARLOTTE (AP) — When cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2009 he thought he’d be playing in the Super Bowl as a rookie.
Five years later, Munnerlyn and the Panthers are just hoping to get above .500.
Despite the addition of quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers have not had a winning record since the end of the 2008 season when they finished 12-4 and lost to the Arizona Cardinals at home in the first round of the NFC playoffs.
Slow starts in the previous four seasons put the Panthers in big holes and they’ve not been able to climb out of them.
After starting 1-3 this year, the Panthers have a chance to eclipse the .500 mark and move to 4-3 on the season tonight when they visit winless division rival Tampa Bay.
“It would be a great boost of confidence to have a winning record,” said Munnerlyn, who had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown in Carolina’s 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
“This is my fifth year and I’ve never been over .500. I know that’s kind of sad to say.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said a win this week to get to 4-3 would be “huge” for his team.
“Because we’re relevant then,” Rivera said.
He said it’s time for young team to take the next step.
“We’ve gotten to the point now where we are doing the things that we need to do and we’re showing that we’re capable,” Rivera said. “It’s a great opportunity for us and for this city to make a mark and we have to go out and do that.”
Linebacker Thomas Davis is in his ninth year with the Panthers and has seen plenty of ups and downs over the course of his career and said he’s watched a lot of good players come and go.
He said it blows his mind that it has been five seasons since the Panthers were above .500.
“It definitely does because I know what kind of talent we’ve had on this team,” Davis said. “I know what the guys in this locker room are capable of and hopefully this week we can feed off of what we’re capable of.”
The Panthers are riding high after back-to-back wins over Minnesota and St. Louis.
Newton is a combined 35 of 43 passing for 464 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in those two games. He’s also run for a TD.
Despite Newton’s hot hand, the Panthers aren’t about to take the Bucs lightly even though they’re starting a rookie quarterback in former N.C. State product Mike Glennon and will be without starting running back Doug Martin, who injured his shoulder in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons.
Tampa Bay swept the season series with Carolina in 2012 and both Munnerlyn and Davis agree this has all the makings of a “trap game” since it comes on a short week and the Panthers have to guard against looking ahead to the following week against the Falcons.
“In this league anything is possible and we know what Tampa Bay is capable of,” Davis said. “If you look at their games this year they’ve pretty much been in all of those games. It just came down to executing in the fourth quarter and they could have a much different record. We know that.”
NOTES: The Panthers announced they’ve claimed wide receiver Tavarres King off waivers from Denver and terminated the contract of cornerback DJ Moore. Moore played in two games for the Panthers but was injured and hasn’t played since. … Rivera said running back Jonathan Stewart will return to practice on Tuesday but said it’s still unclear if he will play against Tampa Bay.