From an 0-2 start to back over .500 for the first time in five years. Cam Newton and the surging Carolina Panthers are gaining confidence with each victory.
"At no point did I ever doubt this group of guys," coach Ron Rivera said Thursday night. "Maybe because I'm an optimist, but I really did believe that it was just a matter of time."
Newton continued a dazzling string of performances by throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third in a 31-13 rout of the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The victory was the third straight for the Panthers (4-3), who've won four of five after dropping their first two of the season. An efficient Newton has thrown for 667 yards, six TDs and no interceptions, while also rushing for two TDs during the winning streak.
"I just feel as if my production is off a lot of other people's production," Newton said. "If you want to solely say I'm playing great, it also means that a lot of other guys are playing great behind the scenes. This is not a one-man show. I understand that, and I will not have that type of attitude."
Newton tossed a 1-yard TD pass to Greg Olsen in the first quarter and added a 3-yarder to Mike Tolbert on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 28-6 lead. Newton had his way against the Bucs in between those scores, too, setting up a nifty 12-yard TD run by DeAngelo Williams and getting into the end zone himself with a 6-yard run midway through the third quarter.
"You're going to win a lot of football games with your quarterback playing like that," Olsen said. "We didn't turn the ball over, our running game was consistent. With a defense like ours, those are ingredients that make you very hard to beat."
The Bucs (0-7), one of two NFL teams yet to win, have dropped the first seven games in a season for the seventh time in franchise history. They've lost 12 of 13 dating to last year, and some fans showed up at Raymond James Stadium carrying signs and wearing paper bags over their heads urging that second-year coach Greg Schiano be fired.
"We got licked," Schiano said, adding that calls for his dismissal haven't become a distraction for him or his players.
"It doesn't affect me. 'People are certainly entitled to their opinion. ... You sit there and cry about it, but that's not going to help."
Newton was 23 of 32 for 221 yards passing. He also rushed for a team-high 50 yards on 11 attempts. Just as important, he hasn't turned the ball over in the past three weeks.
"He's just got to continue to work hard at it," Rivera said. "He did a great job protecting the football, doing the things that he needed to, making good decisions. The guys around him are making plays."
Here are five reasons the Panthers are over .500 for the first time since 2008 and the Bucs — like the Jacksonville Jaguars — remain winless:
HEAVY BURDEN: Rookie Mike Glennon threw for 275 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in his fourth start for Tampa Bay. But he threw the ball 51 times after attempting 43, 43 and 44 in his previous three outings. That's 181 times, a NFL record for a player in the first four games of a career. Not the way you win with a first-year quarterback.
WE RUN IT, TOO: Newton has been outstanding throwing the ball in wins over Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, but Carolina also has been able to run the ball. With Newton leading the way with 50 yards on 11 attempts (he lost 5 while kneeling down on the last two plays of the game), the Panthers finished with 129 yards on the ground.
WE CAN'T RUN IT: With leading rusher Doug Martin sidelined with a shoulder injury, rookie Mike James made his first pro start and gained 39 yards on 10 carries. Playing from behind all night, only two other players had rushing attempts. Brian Leonard had one carry for 7 yards and Glennon gained 2 on three attempts.
NOT-SO-HOME-SWEET-HOME: The Bucs are 3-9 at home under Schiano and have lost seven straight at Raymond James Stadium dating to last season. That's their longest home skid since 1977, when as a second-year expansion team they won their season finale against St. Louis to stop a 13-game streak.
CAROLINA 'D': The Panthers began the night with the league's No. 3 defense. They limited the Bucs to 48 yards rushing and 297 yards overall. They allowed points in the first quarter for the first time when Tampa Bay's Rian Lindell kicked a 47-yard field goal, but the unit kept the Bucs out of the end zone until Glennon threw a 10-yard pass to Tim Wright with just under three minutes left.
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