Published December 24, 2011
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that the season is almost over.
The bad news is they'll have to see Cam Newton twice a year for a while.
For the second time this month, Newton handed the Buccaneers an embarrassing defeat, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another in the Carolina Panthers' 48-16 victory Saturday. The staggering Bucs have lost nine straight games, perhaps putting coach Raheem Morris' job in jeopardy.
"As a player, you try not to think of that," defensive tackle Frank Okam said. "You want to play hard for him. We know how hard he works, and how he's doing everything he can to help us win. Then, we go out and make him look bad. When we don't execute, it's on us."
Buccaneers receiver Arrelious Benn, who scored one of Tampa Bay's two touchdowns, echoed those sentiments.
"A team must go out and do what it's meant to do," Benn said. "A coach can do only so much. I know I want to play well for my coach. I can say everyone in here wants to play well for our coach. We have to learn from this adversity we've had, and know that we're not going to do the things that got us here again."
Morris blamed this loss — and the season — on turnovers.
The Bucs have coughed up the ball 36 times this year, while taking it away only 23.
"That's the difference between this season and last season," Morris said, recalling Tampa Bay's 10-6 record a year ago.
The Bucs (4-11) turned the ball over four times Saturday, including a fumble by LaGarrette Blount on the game's first possession. After that, a frustrated Morris benched the running back until the second half.
"It's a basic thing, and to fumble like that, that's unacceptable," Morris said. "If some players aren't ready to play, we'll put others in."
And hope they can do something to slow Newton.
In two games against the Bucs this season, Newton accounted for eight touchdowns — four passing and four rushing — as the Panthers totaled 79 points.
Newton threw for 171 yards and three touchdowns and scored on a remarkable 49-yard run up the middle in which he outraced smaller defensive backs to the end zone.
The Panthers (6-9) scored on eight of their first nine possessions and piled up 397 yards in three quarters against the league's 30th-ranked defense. Carolina coach Ron Rivera pulled Newton and the other key starters early in the fourth.
Newton entered the game needing 18 yards passing to break Manning's rookie record of 3,739 and did so with a 7-yard pass to LaFell on the first possession.
"It's tremendous, but if you ask the young man he'll tell you the most important thing is we won the game," Rivera said. "There's a lot of good things ahead for us."
Newton, however, was just getting started.
On Carolina's third possession, he backpedaled into his own end zone and unleashed a strike to LaFell, who got a key downfield block from Steve Smith to spring him for a 91-yard score. That topped the franchise record of 89 yards set in the Panthers' expansion season of 1995 by Kerry Collins and Willie Green.
LaFell finished with a career-high 103 yards receiving.
Carolina's offensive line completely mauled a Bucs defense that was without starting defensive tackles Albert Haynesworth and Brian Price. The Panthers piled up a season-high 270 yards rushing and scored three times on the ground, giving them 25 for the season — most in the league.
Just as they did on Dec. 4, the Panthers jumped all over the Bucs early.
Newton led the Panthers on a picture-perfect, 80-yard, nine-play touchdown drive to open the game, with Williams scoring on an 8-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers led 20-10 at halftime but put the hammer down in the third quarter as Williams ran for a 22-yard touchdown and Newton threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Stewart on fourth-and-1 to put Carolina up 34-10.
Then came the play of the game as Newton faked a handoff to Stewart and took off through a huge hole on the right side of the line. Newton juked a defender before shifting into another gear and blowing through the Tampa Bay secondary for the longest touchdown run ever by a Panthers quarterback.
He added a touchdown toss to Jeremy Shockey to close out the scoring.
Josh Freeman threw for 274 yards and accounted for both Tampa Bay touchdowns — one passing and one rushing.
NOTES: Jordan Pugh was slated to start at strong safety for the injured Charles Godfrey, but developed concussion-like symptoms prior to the game and didn't play. That forced the Panthers to start Jonathan Nelson, who was added to the roster from the practice squad. Nelson had the game's only interception. ... In two games against the Panthers, Blount was held to 30 yards rushing combined.