TAMPA, Fla. — Cam Newton is playing some of the best football of his career, and the surging Carolina Panthers are back over .500 for the first time in five years.
An efficient Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score Thursday night to pace a 31-13 victory over the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Panthers (4-3) won for the fourth time in five games following an 0-2 start. They’ve won three straight, with Newton throwing for 667 yards, six TDs and no interceptions.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of things,” said Newton, who also has two rushing touchdowns in the past three weeks.
” When you’ve got an offensive line that’s protecting the way they protect, when you’ve got a running back that’s running, you’ve got receivers making plays after the catch, it’s really not hard,” Newton added. “It’s just up to me to make the right decision and get the ball into people’s hands that it needs to be.”
The Bucs (0-7), one of two NFL teams yet to win, have dropped the first seven games in a season for the seventh time in franchise history. They’ve lost 12 of 13 dating to last year, and some fans showed up at Raymond James Stadium carrying signs and wearing paper bags over their heads urging that second-year coach Greg Schiano be fired.
“We got licked,” Schiano said, adding that calls for his dismissal haven’t become a distraction for him or his players.
“It doesn’t affect me. ‘People are certainly entitled to their opinion. … You sit there and cry about it, but that’s not going to help.”
Newton tossed a 1-yard TD pass to Greg Olsen in the first quarter and added a 3-yarder to Mike Tolbert on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 28-6 lead. Newton had his way against the Bucs in between those scores, too, setting up a nifty 12-yard TD run by DeAngelo Williams and getting into the end zone himself with a 6-yard run midway through the third quarter.
The third-year quarterback completed 23 of 32 passes for 221 yards. He also rushed for a team-high 50 yards on 11 attempts.
“I just feel as if my production is off a lot of other people’s production,” Newton said. “If you want to solely say I’m playing great, it also means that a lot of other guys are playing great behind the scenes. This is not a one-man show. I understand that, and I will not have that type of attitude.”
Rookie Mike Glennon threw for 275 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in his fourth start for Tampa Bay, which trailed 31-6 before finally getting into the end zone on Tim Wright’s 10-yard reception with just under 3 minutes remaining.
The victory lifted Carolina over .500 for the first time since 2008, when the Panthers finished 12-4.
Newton completed 81.4 percent of his passes for 446 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions over the previous two games — lopsided victories over Minnesota and St. Louis. He set the tone for another efficient performance, going 7 of 8 for 57 yards on Carolina’s opening drive and finishing the nearly 9-minute, 15-play, 70-yard march with his TD pass to Olsen.
The Panthers overcame second-and-22 following a 12-yard sack, with Newton throwing 10 yards to Steve Smith on second down and scrambling for 16 yards on third-and-12. On the TD pass, Newton stiff-armed defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim to buy time before finding Olsen wide open in the left side of the end zone.
Carolina went 80 yards in six plays on its next possession, with Newton setting up Williams’ 12-yard TD run with a 35-yard completion to Ted Ginn Jr. Three minutes later, the Panthers nearly struck again, with Newton throwing deep to Ginn, who had a couple of steps on cornerback Leonard Johnson but let the ball go straight through his hands.
Glennon completed 30 of a career-high 51 passes. He has thrown 181 times this season, a record for a quarterback in the first four games of a career.
Tampa Bay played without injured running back Doug Martin and safety Dashon Goldson. Martin is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, and Goldson, one of the leaders of a defense that’s allowed 31 points in each of the past three games, sat out because of a sore knee.
NOTES: The Bucs are 3-9 at home under Schiano and have lost seven straight at Raymond James Stadium dating to last season. That’s their longest home skid since 1977, when they won their seson finale against St. Louis to stop a 13-game streak. … Williams’ touchdown was his first of the season. He ran through the grasp of S Keith Tandy, then made CB Darrelle Revis miss on his way to the end zone. … Carolina’s defense had not allowed any first-quarter points until Rian Lindell’s 47-yard field goal got Tampa Bay on the board. The offense gave up a safety last week when Tolbert was tackled in the end zone.