'MNF's Carolina-Tampa Contest Scores With 11.6 Million Viewers

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After recording its season low, ESPN rebounded with its Monday Night Football coverage of the NFC South battle between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Dec. 8 contest, in which the Panthers clawed the Bucs 38-23 to move into first-place in the division, tackled an 8.7 household rating and 11.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That was up from the 8.8 million who tuned in the Dec. 1 meeting between non-playoff teams the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.

Still, the Carolina-Tampa match-up fell short of MNF’s 2008 season average to date: an 8.9 rating with 12 million viewers, performances that were up 2% and 6%, respectively, from the 8.7 and 11.3 million viewers the franchise generated through the first 15 contests last season.

It was unclear what impact a disruption in digital cable service Monday by Bright House Networks in the central Florida region, where it has some 800,000 customers, might have had on the game’s Nielsens. The operator, which serves nine counties in the region, only suffered the outage in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. Bright House will issue a credit to those impacted.

ESPN closes the current MNF campaign Dec. 15 with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns and Dec. 22 with the league’s oldest rivals, the Green Bay Packers visiting the Chicago Bears in a contest that could decide the NFC North.

Last season, the final two MNF games yielded a 9.5 rating and 12.8 million viewers for Bears-Minnesota Vikings and a season-low 6.0 rating and 8.8 million watchers for San Diego-Denver.