Panthers 48, Buccaneers 16

Cam Newton had no shortage of doubters coming into the NFL.

They’re much harder to find now.

The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft added to his remarkable season
by breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie record for yards passing and
setting a franchise mark with a 91-yard touchdown toss to Brandon
LaFell as the Carolina Panthers handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
their ninth straight defeat, 48-16 on Saturday.

Newton threw for 171 yards and three touchdowns and scored on an
amazing 49-yard run up the middle in which he showed his speed by
outracing smaller defensive backs to the end zone.

He has accounted for 34 touchdowns on the season and has the
Panthers playing well down the stretch, something coach Ron Rivera
wanted to see so his team can carry momentum into next season.

Carolina (6-9) has won four of its last five games.

”There’s always going to be something,” Newton said when asked
if he’s answered his critics this season. ”I continuously try to
do what I can control. … I don’t worry about what people say
because you know one day you’ll be on top of the world and
everybody is praising you and the next day the world will be on top
of you and everybody else will be criticizing you.”

Nobody was criticizing him Saturday.

Behind Newton’s masterful performance, the Panthers scored on
eight of their first nine possessions and piled up 397 yards in
three quarters against the league’s 30th-ranked defense.

Rivera pulled Newton and the other key starters early in the
fourth.

As Newton walked over to the bench, teammates DeAngelo Williams
and Jordan Gross sat with towels over their head – some
good-natured ribbing directed at Newton, who has been criticized by
some fans for covering his head when things weren’t going well.

That drew a big smile from Newton.

So did the support he got from his teammates on the field.

Williams scored on runs of 8 and 22 yards, his sixth and seventh
TDs of the season, and Jonathan Stewart ran for 88 yards and caught
an 11-yard touchdown pass from Newton.

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 very nice to do something with a record that’s so
prestigious in this league,” Newton said before crediting his
teammates and coaching staff for allowing him to break the
mark.

Newton, however, was just getting started at that point.

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 due to injuries. The Panthers piled up a season-high 270
yards on the ground and scored three rushing touchdowns, giving
them 25 for the season – most in the NFL.

”It’s unfortunate that we’re playing like this at the end when
we let a lot of games slip away,” Panthers left tackle Jordan
Gross said. ”It’s exciting for the future. I love the look of this
team right now.”

The Panthers have led in all but one of their 15 games this
season, but have shown a penchant for blowing fourth-quarter
leads.

They left no doubt on Saturday, breaking open a 20-10 halftime
lead with three touchdowns in 15:04 to start the second half. The
48 points were the second-most in team history.

”I believe there is certainly that kind of talent in the locker
where we can certainly take the next step and become a very
competitive football team (next year),” Rivera said. ”We have
that ability.”

Newton scored eight touchdowns in two games against Tampa Bay
this season – four rushing and four passing – as the Panthers
racked up 79 points.

The play of the game came when 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.

”With the guys that we have on our team, with my father, my
family members here, it was just saying, `Don’t get caught. Don’t
get caught because if I get caught I’m never, ever going to hear
the last of this,”’ Newton said.

”I just wanted to finish it out with a touchdown and put a
smile on my face first so I can have something to talk about.”

He added a touchdown toss to Jeremy Shockey to close out the
scoring.

Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris came into the game on the hot seat
and Saturday’s loss may not bode well for his future. After a 4-2
start, the Bucs have dropped nine straight, scoring more than 20
points only once during that span.

The Bucs turned the ball over four times.

”The mistakes led to points, and that’s been the difference
between this year and last,” Morris said. ”When you can’t
maintain possession, this is the result. It causes lopsided
results. It causes mental mistakes. It causes poor performances on
defense, and out-of-character offense. Things begin to spiral out
of control.”

Starting running back LaGarrette Blount fumbled on Tampa Bay’s
first play from scrimmage, leading to Olindo Mare’s field goal.

Blount was benched 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.”

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. … Josh
Freeman had a hand in both Tampa Bay touchdowns – one rushing and
one passing. … In two games against the Panthers, Blount was held
to 30 yards rushing combined.