They left no doubt on Saturday, breaking open a 20-10 halftime lead with three touchdowns in 15:04 to start the second half. The 48 points were the second-most in team history.
"I believe there is certainly that kind of talent in the locker where we can certainly take the next step and become a very competitive football team (next year)," Rivera said. "We have that ability."
Newton scored eight touchdowns in two games against Tampa Bay this season — four rushing and four passing — as the Panthers racked up 79 points.
The play of the game came when Newton faked a handoff to Stewart and took off through a huge hole on the right side of the line. Newton juked a defender before shifting into another gear and blowing through the Tampa Bay secondary for the longest touchdown run ever by a Panthers quarterback.
"With the guys that we have on our team, with my father, my family members here, it was just saying, 'Don't get caught. Don't get caught because if I get caught I'm never, ever going to hear the last of this,'" Newton said.
"I just wanted to finish it out with a touchdown and put a smile on my face first so I can have something to talk about."
He added a touchdown toss to Jeremy Shockey to close out the scoring.
Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris came into the game on the hot seat and Saturday's loss may not bode well for his future. After a 4-2 start, the Bucs have dropped nine straight, scoring more than 20 points only once during that span.
The Bucs turned the ball over four times.
"The mistakes led to points, and that's been the difference between this year and last," Morris said. "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."
Starting running back LaGarrette Blount fumbled on Tampa Bay's first play from scrimmage, leading to Olindo Mare's field goal.
Blount was benched until the second half.
"It's a basic thing, and to fumble like that, that's unacceptable," Morris said. "If some players aren't ready to play, we'll put others in."
NOTES: Jordan Pugh was slated to start at strong safety for the injured Charles Godfrey, but developed concussion-like symptoms prior to the game and didn't play. That forced the Panthers to start Jonathan Nelson, who was added to the roster from the practice squad. Nelson had the game's only interception. ... Josh Freeman had a hand in both Tampa Bay touchdowns — one rushing and one passing. ... In two games against the Panthers, Blount was held to 30 yards rushing combined.
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