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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Some teams might struggle when they lose their top pass rusher.
The Carolina Panthers just seem to keep on rolling.
Despite defensive end Charles Johnson missing a second straight game with a sprained knee, the Panthers were able to sack Mike Glennon five times, force two turnovers and limit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to two field goals in a 27-6 win Sunday.
The Panthers are on an eight-game winning streak heading into a huge showdown next Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints with first place in the NFC South on the line.
Johnson, who leads the team with 8½ sacks, was injured in Carolina's 24-20 win over New England two weeks ago. But the Panthers got two sacks from rookie defensive end Wes Horton and another from Greg Hardy.
The Panthers have not lost since falling to Arizona 22-6 on Oct. 6.
"There is no roof, no sky," 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."
Glennon had thrown at least one touchdown pass in his first eight games as a rookie, an NFL record.
But that streak ended.
"I think the big part of it was how our secondary played," coach Ron Rivera said. "I thought them getting up and being physical early on helped set a tone. We disguised coverages very well so it put a little bit of doubt in the quarterback's mind. He didn't have the opportunity to release the ball quickly because I'm not sure that he was sure what our coverages were. I thought they did a nice job jamming and being physical when they had to."
The Panthers got a few breaks along the way — some of which they created themselves.
After Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson hauled in a deep pass and appeared headed for the end zone, cornerback Drayton Florence was able to trip him up from behind at the 4-yard line.
Three plays later the Panthers pounced on Glennon's fumble.
"It was a great effort by Drayton Florence to get him down and then something good happened and we got the fumble," Rivera said. "Like I said, there are some things that need to be cleaned up. Apparently, we like to bite on the double moves and we just need to be a little bit more disciplined."
Five things we learned during Carolina's victory:
NEWTON'S BAR HIGHER: You can tell Cam Newton's confidence is growing when he's not satisfied with scoring three touchdowns. Newton was more upset over his two interceptions — one in which he overthrew a receiver and another where he made a poor decision throwing over the middle into traffic.
"We don't want to get accustomed to the careless mistakes, but we're just going to have games like this," said Newton, who threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. "We know that we're going to have to minimize these turnovers."
TOLBERT TOUGH: Fullback Mike Tolbert is a beast to bring down because of his low center of gravity. The fullback had 89 total yards from scrimmage and picked up some key first downs for Carolina.
"People underestimate me all the time," Tolbert said. "They see a guy that is short and fat and they think, 'Oh, yeah we got him no problem.' Then they are like 'Whoa, where did he get those feet from? I didn't know he was that fast.' Everybody always underestimates me for a minute, but once I start playing they change their opinion."
GLENNON'S STILL A ROOKIE: The Panthers mixed coverages and it seemed to throw off Glennon, who was limited to 180 yards passing.
"He maybe looked more like a rookie than he's looked," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "The ball slips out of his hand going to his left. That's an awkward deal and unfortunate, but it happened unfortunately. The throw to Vince (Jackson) that gets intercepted and the flag gets picked up on that play. It just didn't look like it came off his hand clean. There were a couple of those today. I'm not sure why. I guess everybody, including yours truly, sometimes doesn't have a great day."
GINN REBORN: If you hadn't noticed, Ted Ginn Jr. is back — in a big way. The former high first-round draft pick caught his fourth TD pass of the season after beating Darrelle Revis on a double move. Ginn's speed has been a huge asset to the Panthers. Not bad for a guy who caught just two passes last season for San Francisco.
BUCS CAN'T RUN: Of course, we knew this, but it's becoming a consistent problem for Tampa Bay, now on its fifth running back. Bobby Rainey was held to 63 yards on 17 carries.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org