CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The last time Cam Newton faced the Buccaneers he ran his way into the NFL record books.
This time he'll use his arm to do the same.
The Panthers sensational rookie quarterback needs 18 yards passing Saturday against Tampa Bay to break Peyton Manning's rookie single-season record of 3,739 yards.
But Newton said that record is not as important as closing the season with two wins and helping the Panthers (5-9) carry a load of momentum into next season when their games once again starting counting for something.
"We need this win and it would be an excellent early gift on Christmas Eve," Newton said. "So I'm more worried about the win column than the individual stats. If the season is going right, individual awards will take care of themselves. The big goal is to win the game first."
The Panthers come in hot having won three of their last four, including a 28-13 win last Sunday against the playoff-bound Texans, and looking for a series sweep of the Bucs.
The Bucs (4-10) are reeling.
They lost eight straight, including a 38-19 defeat to Carolina three weeks ago, and have only managed to eclipse 20 points once during that span as questions swirl around the future of their young coach Raheem Morris.
If there's some bit of good news for the Bucs it's that Josh Freeman will be back at quarterback.
Josh Johnson started the Dec. 4 game against the Panthers and was sacked twice and intercepted once and was unable to bring the Bucs back from an early 21-6 deficit. Forced into catch up mode, the Bucs pretty much abandon the run and running back LaGarrette Blount was a non-factor with 19 yards rushing on 11 carries.
A year ago, the Bucs were as resilient as any team in the league, winning 10 games.
This year, not so much.
"It's been a rough year," Freeman said. "We haven't played up to our potential."
The Bucs have really struggled to find consistency on offense, although they did have some luck against Dallas running the hurry-up offense. Freeman suggested that might be something that could help jumpstart a unit in need of a spark.
"I could see that happening, trying to really get something going early," Freeman said. "We're playing a good team this weekend in the Panthers and their offense has been playing extremely well. It's going to be a game where we're going to have score some points."
He's probably right.
Newton had his way with the Bucs earlier this month in leading five touchdown drives.
He threw for one touchdown and ran for three others. Newton's third touchdown run cemented Carolina's win and broke Steve Grogan's 35-year-old NFL record for touchdowns in a season by a quarterback with 13.
For Newton, this season has been about learning how to handle adversity, something he didn't have to deal with much while winning back-to-back national championships at Blinn Junior College and Auburn.
On more than one occasion a frustrated Newton has allowed his emotions to get the best of him.
That prompted veteran offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil to pull Newton aside prior to last week's game against the Texans to suggest he start keeping his negative emotions in check for the good of the team.
"They always get on me (because) I have a bad tendency of showing my emotions on my face," said Newton, who was once dubbed Mr. Mopeyhead by coach Ron Rivera.
"I have to change it, and I'm trying to change it. But those guys constantly stay in my ear, saying, 'You've got to be that same leader from the first quarter to the last quarter.' And with them saying that, just that little statement that was said right before the game, it made me mindful it can be somewhat of a detrimental to the team," Newton said. "If you're mad. If you're ticked off. Not saying that everybody else is not feeling the same way you (are). But at the quarterback position, you have to stay even keel."
It seemed to work as the Panthers took a 21-0 lead against the Texans and held on to win.
Gross said he likes Newton better now as a quarterback than he did when he opened the season throwing for 854 yards in his first two games. He said that's because Newton is learning he doesn't have to do everything himself.
"I agree with that 100 percent," Newton said of Gross' comments.
Newton said he's trying to learn to have more fun like veteran teammates Jeremy Shockey, Steve Smith and Gross.
"They bring the fun to the game," Newton said. "And I kind of got sidetracked from that a couple times this year," Newton said. "But like I said, you've got to stay even-keeled, especially at the quarterback position."
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