The Carolina Panthers blasted the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-13 at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, notching their third consecutive win and moving over .500 (4-3) for the first time since 2008.
Cam Newton turned in yet another spectacular performance in front of a national audience, using both his arm and legs to dismantle the winless Buccaneers.
The third-year quarterback completed 23 of 32 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 50 yards and another score and, most importantly, played mistake-free football for the third straight week.
Once again, Ron Rivera's team took the lead early and never looked back.
After the NFL's third-ranked defense forced a three-and-out on Tampa Bay's opening possession, Newton capped off a 15-play, 70-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen to give Carolina the early 7-0 lead.
A 47-yard Rian Lindell field goal on the subsequent Tampa Bay possession cut it to 7-3, but that would be the closest the Bucs would get to securing that elusive first victory.
DeAngelo Williams added a 12-yard touchdown scamper to extend the lead to 14-3, and Carolina took an eight-point lead into halftime after Lindell snuck a 48-yard kick inside the uprights midway through the second quarter.
But the Panthers would erase any doubt of a second-half slipup by reeling off 17 straight points in the third and fourth quarters to put the game out of reach.
It was an embarrassing night for the Bucs and head coach Greg Schiano, who was booed emphatically by the few thousand fans that stuck around Raymond James Stadium to watch the massacre.
Facing a large deficit and without starting running back Doug Martin, Tampa was forced to abandon the ground game early and put rookie quarterback Mike Glennon behind the eight ball. Glennon – due to sheer volume – finished with respectable numbers, completing 30 of 51 passes for 275 yards and a score.
For Ron Rivera, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, however, there is still much to prove. Although the team's four victories have come by a combined 96 points, they have also come against opponents with a combined 5-22 record.
The schedule gets very difficult very quickly for the upstart Panthers, whose next three games are against Atlanta, at San Francisco and at home against New England on Monday Night Football.
The month of November will test the mettle of this Carolina team, and reveal once and for all if they are contenders or pretenders.
- Ted Ginn led the Panthers in receiving with five catches for 80 yards. Those numbers would have been even better if the veteran wideout would have held onto a deep ball that fell right through his hands in the second quarter.
- Mike Tolbert continued to see an expanded role in the Panthers offense as both a runner and pass catcher. The plodding fullback gained 35 yards on seven carries while adding 29 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
- Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy further cemented their position as one of the NFL's best defensive end tandems on Thursday night. Johnson tallied two sacks and Hardy registered one to increase their season totals to six and five, respectively.
- Kicker Graham Gano improved to a perfect 10 for 10 on the season with a 29-yard kick in the fourth quarter.
- Vincent Jackson led the Buccaneers with five catches for 79 yards.
- Bucs' rookie Mike James started at running back in place of the injured Doug Martin, but was limited to just 39 yards on 10 carries.
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