Newton sets record, Panthers crush the Buccaneers 48-16

jperson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 24, 2011 

— And on the 112th day, Cam Newton rested.

After breaking Peyton Manning's rookie passing record and hanging nearly 50 points on the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Carolina Panthers' quarterback did the only thing he hadn't done during a remarkable rookie season.

Took a seat.

Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score Saturday before giving way to Derek Anderson for the final two series in the Panthers' 48-16 win before a Christmas Eve crowd of about 55,000 at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers (6-10) won for the fourth time in five games and swept the season series with Tampa Bay (4-11), which has lost nine consecutive games.

It was the second-highest point total in Panthers' history, trailing only a 52-31 win against Cincinnati on Dec. 8, 2002. The 32-point margin of victory tied for the team's third-largest.

The Panthers scored on eight of the nine possessions with Newton behind center, starting with the first drive. The game was four minutes old when Newton hit Brandon LaFell on a 7-yard completion to surpass Manning's rookie record of 3,739 yards.

With 171 yards against the Bucs, Newton has 3,893 yards on the season. Newton, the No. 1 overall pick, needs 107 in next week's finale at New Orleans to become the first quarterback in NFL history to reach 4,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in a season.

“To come in as a rookie, and if you would have told me he's going to break Peyton Manning's passing record and break the all-time rushing (touchdowns for) quarterback record, and should be rookie of the year – that's a pretty good draft pick,” offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.

“He's a huge part of what we do,” Gross added. “We put Derek Anderson in there in the fourth quarterback. He's an outstanding quarterback, as well. But the offense changes a little bit.”

Newton's day included a 91-yard touchdown pass to LaFell – the longest in team history – and a 49-yard touchdown run that was Newton's longest rush of the season. Newton accounted for eight touchdowns in two games against Tampa Bay – four running and four passing – but cited the efforts of those around him.

Everybody pitched in to bury a Bucs' team that might be looking for a new coach in another week. Jonathan Stewart (88 rushing yards on seven carries) and DeAngelo Williams (66 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts) paced a rushing attack that produced 270 yards, tied for the second-most in team history.

Steve Smith had a season-low one catch for 23 yards, but had a nice downfield block on cornerback E.J. Biggers on LaFell's touchdown.

The defense and special teams forced a season-high four takeaways, which led to 24 points. Two of the Bucs' turnovers came at their 8-yard line, including a fumble by LeGarrette Blount on Tampa Bay's first offensive play.

Embattled Bucs coach Raheem Morris benched Blount after the fumble. Blount, the Bucs' leading rusher, had only one other carry the rest of the game.

“Obviously, a terrible result,” Morris said. “We weren't able to execute anything from the very first play on all phases of the ball. It's not good. It's certainly going to be detrimental to how the game ends and that's how it ended up.”

While the Bucs faltered, things were clicking for the Panthers, who had no turnovers for the second game in a row and improved to 6-0 when Newton is turnover-free.

When Newton came out of the game – he was in for the first 884 offensive snaps this season – Gross and Williams marked the occasion by wearing towels over their heads in a nod to Newton's customary sideline posture.

Scoring 48 points put everyone in a festive mood.

“It's in our job description to put up points. It's just like catching fire. When one person does one (good) thing, everybody else does it,” Newton said. “When guys around here have fun, we usually win games. When we're not having fun, it's going to be a long week. Everybody knows that, and the past couple of weeks we've been having good weeks.”

The Panthers took advantage of a Tampa Bay defense missing injured tackles Albert Haynesworth and Brian Price. Carolina had six running plays of at least 18 yards, including two apiece by Stewart and Williams.

“Everything we were doing seemed to work pretty well. Cam and DeAngelo and Stew had great games. LaFell had a great touchdown, but Smitty made a great block on that,” right guard Geoff Hangartner said. “It was one of those days where everything seemed to work the way we planned. It's always nice to go into a few days off with a feeling like that. If you lose a game like that, it kind of sticks with you for three days around the holidays.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is giving his team off until Wednesday, when preparations for the Saints begin. Tampa Bay, a popular playoff pick after last year's 10-6 finish, ends the season at Atlanta.

“I understand the situation they're in. It wasn't very long ago here we were struggling as a team, even this year,” Gross said. “They've got a lot of good players on that team. ... They're struggling right now. I'm just glad it's them and not us.”

Person: 704-358-5123

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service