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Move over Peyton Manning. The all-time rookie passing record set by the Colts quarterback back in 1998 was broken on Christmas Eve by the electrifying Cam Newton.Newton surpassed Manning’s mark of 3,739 yards with a 171 yard display in the Panthers’ (6-9) 48-16 thrashing of the Bucs (4-11).
“It’s very nice to do something with a record that’s so prestigious in this league,” said Newton. The number one pick in this year’s draft accounted for 4 touchdowns on the day, 3 passing and one rushing – the exact figures he posted against Tampa Bay only 3 weeks ago, ironically.
As for the Bucs, the common theme during their 9 game losing streak plagued them once again – turnovers. Tampa Bay gave it away 4 times on Saturday, giving them an overwhelming total of 28 during their slide. Carolina turned takeaways into early Christmas presents, scoring half of their points off of them.
“The mistakes led to points, and that’s been the difference between this year and last,” said coach Raheem Morris. “When you can’t maintain possession, this is the result. It causes lopsided results. It causes mental mistakes. It causes poor performances on defense, and out-of-character offense. Things begin to spiral out of control.”
These turnovers are also making Morris’ seat hotter by the week. The Bucs look nothing like the team that came out of the gate 4-2. Carolina struck first blood on the game’s opening possession when DeAngelo Williams went untouched into the end zone on an 8 yard carry to conclude a 9 play, 80 yard drive. Sixty of the yards came on the ground for the Panthers, while the other 20 broke Manning’s record for Newton.
Williams added his second and final touchdown run in the 3rd quarter with a 22 yard sprint down the right sideline on a pitch from Newton to give Carolina a 27-10 lead. Carolina players were definitely in the holiday spirit. Every player that scored a touchdown made his way to the stands and handed the ball to a fan. LeGarrette Blount’s fumble on Tampa Bay’s first possession would not be tolerated by Morris. Blount was immediately benched for the remainder of the first half.
After the Panthers turned the fumble recovery into a 21 yard field goal, it appeared that the Bucs responded to Blount’s benching, as they went on their longest touchdown drive of the year. A coach’s challenge overturned the initial ruling of an incompletion to finish off a 15 play, 9 minute and 20 second drive with a touchdown catch by Arrelious Benn.
Carolina went into halftime with a 20-10 lead after the team’s exchanged field goals following Brandon LaFell’s superb 91 yard touchdown reception. The play was the longest touchdown pass in team history for the Panthers. Josh Freeman’s interception on the first drive of the 3rd quarter by Jonathan Nelson led to another Panthers touchdown. Nelson was signed off the practice squad just one day earlier.
A Kellen Winslow fumble later in the quarter led to an 11 yard touchdown catch by Jonathan Stewart on a 60 yard drive for Carolina. The Panthers would score two more touchdowns during the game – a 49 yard dash right up the middle for Newton and Jeremy Shockey’s 4th touchdown of the season, thanks to a kickoff return fumble by Tampa’s Sammie Stroughter.
Freeman’s one yard touchdown sneak with about 11 minutes remaining would be the final scoring play for either side. Freeman passed for 274 yards, completing 28 of 38 attempts. Newton would be replaced by backup Derek Anderson after Tampa’s failed 2 point conversion attempt.
The Bucs defense will now look to rebound in Atlanta on New Year’s Day after giving up 48 points in a game for the second time this season. The last thing they want to do is send Morris off, having lost his final 10 games as coach. For the Panthers, it’s all about continuing to move in the right direction. A win at the Saints in Week 17 for first year coach Ron Rivera would mean a 5 game improvement upon the team’s 2-14 2010 campaign.
“I believe there is certainly that kind of talent in the locker room where we can certainly take the next step and become a very competitive football team (next year),” said Rivera. “We have that ability.”
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