Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Bucs.
B QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns on 18-for-29 passing. Newton also led the Panthers in rushing for the third consecutive game, picking up 68 yards and a touchdown on five carries. The bulk of the yardage came on a 56-yard, first-half scramble. Newton threw a pair of interceptions on poor passes but otherwise was efficient.
B RUNNING BACKS : With DeAngelo Williams out with a quad injury, the Panthers needed someone to step up. Enter the wide frame of fullback Mike Tolbert, who bounced off of tacklers as a runner (nine carries for 48 yards) and a receiver (three catches for 41 yards). Jonathan Stewart averaged just 2.8 yards on 14 carries.
B+ RECEIVERS : The Panthers got contributions from nearly everyone in the passing game. Tight end Greg Olsen was targeted seven times, catching five passes for a game-high 85 yards. Steve Smith pulled down three passes for 51 yards to move past Hines Ward into 20th place on the all-time receiving yardage list. Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. caught touchdowns.
A OFFENSIVE LINE : The line kept Newton clean, the first time he hasn’t been sacked since a win at Washington last November. They also paved the way for a 163-yard rushing effort, the second-highest total of the season. Line coach John Matsko started a different lineup with Geoff Hangartner at right guard and Nate Chandler at right tackle, although tackle Byron Bell also played.
B+ DEFENSIVE LINE : Playing without Charles Johnson a second consecutive game, the Panthers sacked Mike Glennon five times. Rookie defensive end Wes Horton, an undrafted free agent from Southern Cal, had two of them. Greg Hardy also had a sack despite playing with stitches in his left thumb, and tackle Dwan Edwards recovered Glennon’s first-half fumble after the Bucs had driven to the Panthers 4.
B LINEBACKERS : Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had a team-high nine tackles, but he picked up another penalty in pass coverage. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis added five tackles. Rookie A.J. Klein, who continues to play well in place of the injured Chase Blackburn, had a sack and three tackles for loss.
B DEFENSIVE BACKS : The Panthers confused Glennon by disguising their coverages, lining their corners off of the line of scrimmage and then having them jump into press coverage before the ball was snapped. Free safety Mike Mitchell snared his team-high fourth interception, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn played well a week after giving up two long completions to Mike Wallace.
B- SPECIAL TEAMS : Brad Nortman didn’t match his huge game at Miami, but he was solid enough, averaging 46 yards on three punts and not allowing a return. Graham Gano made both of his field-goal attempts. Ginn averaged 8.3 yards per punt return but only 17 yards on two kickoff returns.
B COACHING : Cornerback Drayton Florence said part of the reason the Panthers disguised their coverages was to give Saints quarterback Drew Brees more to prepare for before next weekend’s game. The Panthers will go to New Orleans riding a franchise-record, eight-game winning streak. Riverboat Ron Rivera went for – and made – two more fourth-and-1s against the Bucs.