TAMPA – The Carolina Panthers have not been above .500 since 2008. 70 games, to be exact. George Bush was in the White House the last time the Panthers had a winning record. Quarterback Cam Newton was a sophomore at the University of Florida. Yes, it has been THAT long. But Thursday night, the Panthers, with a 31-13 rout of the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got that elusive winning record (4-3).
Using the same strategy that has worked so well for the past three games,the Panthers won the coin toss and again deferred to the second half. This put their defense on the field going up against rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. The Panthers did their thing…and then it was the offense running the show.
The first drive took 15 plays, they went 70 yards and ate 8:52 off the clock. Oh, and the end result was a one-yard touchdown pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen and a quick 7-0 Panthers lead which they would not relinquish all game.
Newton was again efficient and accurate. He ended up completing 23-of-32 passes for 221 yard, two touchdowns, and, again, NO interceptions. He also ran for 50 yards and scored a touchdown. Wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. caught five passes, and dropped one that would have been a sure touchdown. Wide receiver Steve Smith had four receptions, fullback Mike Tolbert caught four out of the backfield including one for a touchdown and tight end Greg Olsen had a touchdown on one of his three receptions.
Defensively, linebacker Thomas Davis led the team with 7 tackles. Defensive linemen Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy rushed Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon effectively, sacking him three times during the game. Linebacker Luke Kuechly again had an outstanding game (when was the last time he didn’t?), making five unassisted tackles and assisting on three others.
Now the Panthers are off until Nov. 3 when they play division rival Atlanta at Bank of America Stadium.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross (one of nine players remaining from the 2008 team – the one with the last winning record, until Thursday night): “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position. Our next game’s in November against another division team (Atlanta). We put ourselves in a position where we’re in the mix, and that’s great. Guys in this locker room deserve that. The young guys that have never felt this deserve it. Coach (Ron) Rivera deserves it. The thing that I love is that nobody around here thinks that we finished anything.”
Gross continued: “I think you might have quoted me as saying, ‘When Cam’s hot, we’re hot,’ earlier in the year. I think that’s more true now than ever. The thing that’s great about him is I wouldn’t even necessarily say he’s been hot. He’s just been good – smart with the ball, running for first downs, diving on the ground, not taking as many hits. He’s just managing the game really, really well. I think he knows he doesn’t have to do it all.”
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, whose 1-yard touchdown catch started the scoring: “To come on the road and win on a short week and just handle our business is what good teams should do. Games in the past we would have let them hang close and made it difficult. But I think this is starting to show a new step that we’ve taken where we come out businesslike, move forward and get ready for the next game. That’s what the good teams do.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: “It’s a relief in numerous reasons, but being (above) .500 is just a small percentage of it. We’ve got to keep meshing as a team, keep building off and keep getting momentum in the upcoming weeks because we’re about to hit the meat of our schedule and we’re going to need every single ounce of energy that we’ll have.”
Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano (whose job is definitely on the line): “We got licked. My hat’s off to Carolina. They played better than we did. They coached better than we did. That was the result.”
Schiano on his team’s 0-7 start: “It falls on me.”
Schiano on how the “Fire Schiano” billboards that have gone up in Tampa, bought by a radio station effect him: “Doesn’t effect me. People are certainly entitled to their opinion.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Ted Ginn’s drop of a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter that would have given the team a 21-3 lead: “He’s going to kick himself. He knows it.”
Rivera on his team’s transformation from a 1-3 start to being 4-3: “I never doubted this group of guys.”