One week after losing on their bid for an undefeated season, coach Ron Rivera's Carolina Panthers bounced back on Sunday to thump Tampa Bay by the convincing margin of 38-10, earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
In the process, MVP candidate Cam Newton continued his assault on the NFL record book. The Panthers' quarterback tied Steve Young's NFL record for most career touchdowns rushing by a quarterback with 43.
Here's what is really impressive: Young took 15 seasons to reach that plateau; Newton did it in five.
Newton threw for 293 yards and had four touchdowns — two rushing and two passing — marking the 31st time he's thrown and run for a touchdown in the same game, tying him with Young for another NFL record.
"Steve was always a guy I idolized," Newton said. "I got an opportunity to meet him a couple of times and for me to be in the same talks with him — it's just a blessing. I couldn't throw left-handed, but I tried to mimic his style as much as possible."
Newton finished the regular season with 35 touchdowns passes and 10 touchdowns runs, becoming the first QB in history to accomplish that feat.
"You can see why he's MVP of the league," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said.
Five things we learned from the Buccaneers-Panthers game:
CORNERBACK CONCERNS: The Panthers might have lost another key cornerback.
Charles Tillman re-injured his right knee in the victory and Rivera said after the game "there is some concern" about his status moving forward. Tillman had sprained the knee earlier this season and missed four games.
Earlier in December the Panthers lost starting nickel back Bene Benwikere and their third down defense has been struggling ever since. Tillman was a starter and veteran presence in the secondary, so his loss would be a huge blow for Carolina.
The Panthers are also having a problem generating a pass rush from Charles Johnson and Jared Allen.
FRUSTRATED WINSTON: Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Jameis Winston questioned his teammates' desire and expressed angst over the team's 6-10 season.
"If you look at this team, and you look at what we came from, if our coaches weren't on (us), we wouldn't have won six games," Winston said. "I guarantee that. There are coaches here who want it more than some of our players, and that's the bad part."
The Bucs lost their last four games after starting 6-6.
RUNNING AWAY: The Panthers eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the 27th straight game, by far the longest active streak in the NFL. They did so despite being without their top two running backs in Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker, who sat out with injuries.
Fullback Mike Tolbert carried the load, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 10 rushes and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne chipped in with 44 yards rushing and a touchdown.
EVANS TOSSED: Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans was tossed from the game in the final two minutes for arguing with officials. Evans finished with 99 yards on four receptions.
"He said some things to the official's he shouldn't," Smith said. "He got thrown out of the game and that happened."
FUNCHESS COMING ON STRONG: Rookie Devin Funchess had a career game for the Panthers, catching seven passes for 120 yards and a touchdown starting in place of the injured Ted Ginn Jr.
CLOSED SCREENING: The Panthers entered the weekend needing a win or an Arizona loss to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC. But Rivera didn't want his team focusing on option No. 2, so he informed stadium operations not to post any highlights of the Cardinals-Seahawks game inside the stadium.
As a result, Rivera kept his starters in the game until late in the fourth quarter — even with his team up by three touchdowns and the Cardinals losing by 30 points to the Seahawks out West.
"I didn't want to know," Rivera said. "I wanted to make sure we were focusing in on what we needed to do. We wanted to play the way we needed to play. It's interesting, like I said the other day, I would have loved to see what we would have done if we were 15-0. But we played it, we played to win and that's the way we approached things."