Newton leads Panthers to 48-16 rout of Bucs

By Steve Reed

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. The Panthers won 48-16.

Bob Leverone, Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton had no shortage of doubters coming into the NFL.

They're much harder to find now.

The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft added to his remarkable season by breaking Peyton Manning's rookie record for yards passing and setting a franchise mark with a 91-yard touchdown toss to Brandon LaFell as the Carolina Panthers handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their ninth straight defeat, 48-16 on Saturday.

Newton threw for 171 yards and three touchdowns and scored on an amazing 49-yard run up the middle in which he showed his speed by outracing smaller defensive backs to the end zone.

He has accounted for 34 touchdowns on the season and has the Panthers playing well down the stretch, something coach Ron Rivera wanted to see so his team can carry momentum into next season.

Carolina (6-9) has won four of its last five games.

"There's always going to be something," Newton said when asked if he's answered his critics this season. "I continuously try to do what I can control. ... I don't worry about what people say because you know one day you'll be on top of the world and everybody is praising you and the next day the world will be on top of you and everybody else will be criticizing you."

Nobody was criticizing him Saturday.

Behind Newton's masterful performance, the Panthers scored on eight of their first nine possessions and piled up 397 yards in three quarters against the league's 30th-ranked defense.

Rivera pulled Newton and the other key starters early in the fourth.

As Newton walked over to the bench, teammates DeAngelo Williams and Jordan Gross sat with towels over their head — some good-natured ribbing directed at Newton, who has been criticized by some fans for covering his head when things weren't going well.

That drew a big smile from Newton.

So did the support he got from his teammates on the field.

Williams scored on runs of 8 and 22 yards, his sixth and seventh TDs of the season, and Jonathan Stewart ran for 88 yards and caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Newton.

Newton entered the game needing 18 yards passing to break Manning's rookie record of 3,739 and did so with a 7-yard pass to LaFell on the first possession.

"It's very nice to do something with a record that's so prestigious in this league," Newton said before crediting his teammates and coaching staff for allowing him to break the mark.

Newton, however, was just getting started at that point.

On Carolina's third possession, he backpedaled into his own end zone and unleashed a strike to LaFell, who got a key downfield block from Steve Smith to spring him for a 91-yard score. That topped the franchise record of 89 yards set in the Panthers' expansion season of 1995 by Kerry Collins and Willie Green.

LaFell finished with a career-high 103 yards receiving.

Carolina's offensive line completely mauled a Bucs defense that was without starting defensive tackles Albert Haynesworth and Brian Price due to injuries. The Panthers piled up a season-high 270 yards on the ground and scored three rushing touchdowns, giving them 25 for the season — most in the NFL.

"It's unfortunate that we're playing like this at the end when we let a lot of games slip away," Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross said. "It's exciting for the future. I love the look of this team right now."

The Panthers have led in all but one of their 15 games this season, but have shown a penchant for blowing fourth-quarter leads.

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