Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano has been impressed with Mike Glennon's poise since he replaced Josh Freeman as the team's starting quarterback.
But Schiano has been around long enough to know that rookies sometimes have a bad day.
Glennon struggled Sunday against the league's stingiest defense. He was sacked five times, intercepted once and had a costly fumble as the Bucs' three-game winning streak came to an end with a 27-6 loss Sunday to the Carolina Panthers.
"I don't know if it was a step back, but maybe he looked a little more like a rookie than he's looked in the past," Schiano said. "The ball slips out of his hand going to his left. That's an awkward deal, and unfortunate, but it happened. The throw to Vincent (Jackson) that gets intercepted and the flag gets picked up, it just didn't look like it came off his hand cleanly. I'm not sure if there's any reason."
Glennon had thrown for 10 touchdown passes and turned the ball over only twice in his previous six games.
"We turned the ball over for the first time in a while, and missed a few opportunities here and there," Glennon said. "We need to be better on offense on all three downs, so we're not put in those third and long situations against such a good defense."
Cam Newton and the red hot Panthers had fewer struggles.
Newton threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and "Superman" leaped over the pile for another score as the Panthers (9-3) posted a franchise-record eighth straight regular season victory.
"It wasn't prototypical, or the way we wanted to win, but we found a way to win and that's the most encouraging part about it," said Newton, who overcame two interceptions.
The victory set up a huge game next Sunday night in New Orleans against the Saints with first place in the NFC South on the line.
"We're ready," said fullback Mike Tolbert, who had 48 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving in the win. "Around here we pride ourselves on being able to follow up one game with another."
The Panthers outgained the Buccaneers (3-9) 426-206.
Newton ran for 68 yards, 53 on a first quarter run to set up Carolina's first touchdown. Newton is enjoying the best stretch of this professional career with 13 touchdown passes and five TDs rushing during the win streak.
The Panthers have not lost since a 22-6 loss at Arizona on Oct. 6.
"There is no roof, no sky," defensive end Greg Hardy said. "We're going up. Every person on this team, every coach on this team has the same mentality right now. I feel like it's contagious. Fans are getting it. They feel like they can't be beat."
The turning point came in the second quarter with the Panthers holding a 7-6 lead.
Glennon rolled left on third-and-goal at the Carolina 4 and had the ball inexplicably slip out of his throwing hand without being touched and Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards pounced on the loose ball at the 17.
"It just slipped out of my hand, and it really hurt us because we would have gotten at least three points," Glennon said.
The Panthers cashed in with a 23-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
Newton made it 17-6 with 25 seconds left in the half when coach Ron Rivera went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1. With fans holding signs that read "Riverboat Ron" in the stands, Newton dove headfirst over the pile, extending the ball over the goal line.
It was all Panthers in the second half.
Safety Mike Mitchell intercepted Glennon on the opening drive and Newton quickly took advantage. He moved the Panthers 78 yards in four plays, connecting on a 36-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr., who beat Darrelle Revis on a double move.
It's hard to imagine the Panthers now have a shot at a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs after starting the season 1-3, when talk was rampant about Rivera's future with the team.
"It's unbelievable," said defensive end Wes Horton, who had two of Carolina's sacks. "When we were 1-3 it was tense, we were trying to find ourselves as a team. And now we're rolling and everyone is one the same page."
NOTES: Revis left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder and chest injury and did not return. He will be reevaluated on Monday. ... Greg Olsen had 85 yards receiving on five catches. ... Panthers WR Steve Smith moved into 20th in NFL yards receiving, passing Derrick Mason and Hines Ward. ... RB Jonathan Stewart started for Carolina in place of DeAngelo Williams, who sat with a quadriceps bruise.
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