CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers didn’t have to sweat out a last-second win this time. Using a bruising defense to stifle any chances the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought they had, the Panthers (9-3) won their franchise-record eighth game in a row, 27-6. Now, however, the next two-out-of-three games against the New Orleans Saints loom, and everyone is ready.
Cam Newton, who sat out the last series, is ready. “It was great to be a part of this type of win,” Newton said. “But we all know that all roads are leading to New Orleans.” The Saints play tonight in Seattle in one of the biggest games of the season, and will host Carolina on Sunday night.
The Panthers defense dominated the Bucs, sacking quarterback Mike Glennon five times and forced him into two turnovers. Just how dominating was the Panthers’ defense? How about holding the Bucs to just one third-down conversion in ten attempts.
And the offensive line did a great job protecting Newton, not allowing a sack for the first time since November, 2012. The Bucs entered the game with 24 sacks in 11 games.
After two very tight games, the Panthers came out and took care of business. Carolina had more than a 2-to-1 edge in total yardage, racking up 426 yards while holding Tampa Bay to 206. Newton was 18-of-23 for 263 yards, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. Additionally, he led the team in rushing with 68 yards on five carries. It was the third consecutive game Newton has led the team in rushing. Tight end Greg Olsen was his favorite target via the air, catching 5 passes for 85 yards. Ted Ginn, Jr. and Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown pass each. Carolina swept the season series with the Bucs by a combined score of 58-19.
Once again, “Riverboat” Ron (Rivera) gambled on fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1 late in the first half. He got it on a Cam Newton dive in which Newton broke the plane of the goal line a half-second before fumbling. The Panthers never looked back.
Rivera called the win “cautiously efficient,” which was correct. The Panthers weren’t perfect, but they played well enough to never be in serious danger. In many ways, for Panthers fans used to sweating it out until deep in the fourth quarter, Sunday was a relief.
Panthers right tackle Jordan Gross: “It’s awesome. I’ve been a part of a few winning seasons and some good teams, but winning eight in a row is tough. Especially now. As the wins pile up, you become the team other teams want to beat to put a notch in their belt. … It was a good win going into a huge game.”
Panthers center Ryan Kalil: “I’ve always felt we had a pretty talented group here. The difference has been the maturity. It’s been sort of a culmination of the last two seasons, of finally saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on the dominating defense: “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.”
Rivera on not only this win but the season as well: “It’s very satisfying because of where we came from. As I’ve said before, it’s been a hard four years for a lot of guys in that locker room. It’s been a hard two years for myself and a lot of other people as well. It is very satisfying to be on a nice little roll, but again there is a lot of work to do.”
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen: “We’ve said it all along we’re not going to have any one individual that’s up in the top of the league lead in anything.”
Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell: “It’s a great feeling but we’ve got a lot of unfinished business. We’re going to enjoy this win and keep rolling.”
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy: “They beat us physically, mentally, every facet of the game. They just dominated us.”