Bucs defense left searching for answers
Big plays, steady gains, it didn’t matter. Whatever the Panthers tried Sunday seemed to work. Carolina boasted 10 plays — seven passes, three runs — that covered 16 yards or more against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 27-6 triumph that never seemed in doubt after halftime. Quarterback Cam Newton did most of the damage again, throwing two touchdown passes and running for another score to match his output against the Bucs in a 31-13 triumph in Tampa five weeks ago.
The key gain was an early 56-yard scramble by Newton, who caught the Bucs in a blitz and darted to the 15-yard line, setting up his scoring pass to Brandon LaFell. “They’ve got a running quarterback who sure can throw, and Cam showed that again today,’’ said Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster, who returned after missing last week’s game at Detroit with a concussion.
“He’s a playmaker, that’s what he does, and they’ve got a lot of weapons around him. On that long run, we tried to get him down, but he’s a great athlete. He makes one or two plays like that every week. ... That’s why he was the No. 1 pick in the (2011) draft.’’
LaFell capitalized on a breakdown in the secondary to score from 16 yards out. When he caught Newton’s pass in the back of the end zone to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish, the closest person to LaFell was the official.
Newton added a 36-yard scoring strike to Ted Ginn Jr., who beat Darrelle Revis on a stop-and-go down the left sideline in the third quarter to open up a 24-6 advantage.
“You had Cam’s long run, which he’s done to a lot of people, but make it a 20-yard run, get him on the ground,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “Then we had the bust down in the red zone for the touchdown and we got beat on a double move.’’
Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks said the Panthers were well prepared for Sunday’s divisional rematch en route to the season sweep. “Hats off to Carolina,’’ Banks said. “They had a great game plan, they ran the ball well and we didn’t tackle. On Ginn’s touchdown, he was basically setting that play up the whole game by running a lot of curls. When he ran a double move, Cam hit him in stride. After a game like this, we’ve got to get back to our style of play on defense.’’
Newton was intercepted twice, including an ill-advised floater in LaFell’s direction that was picked off by linebacker Lavonte David, but he averaged better than 9 yards per attempt.
“People want to keep pointing at me, but the truth of the matter is our defense is playing lights out, giving us opportunities,’’ Newton said. “When we’re playing with a short field, it’s hard not to be good. I’m just doing what’s expected of me, nothing more, nothing less.’’
Newton credited a key block by diminutive wide receiver Steve Smith with clearing the way for his 56-yard run. Late in the first half, Newton jumped over the top of the pile for a 1-yard score on fourth down.
“We didn’t close the pocket down like we should have and Cam found a hole on that long run,’’ Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “That’s not supposed to happen against this defense.’’
Newton wasn’t sacked while completing 18 of 29 pass attempts for 263 yards and the Panthers added 163 yards on the ground in improving to 9-3.
“We all thought we were going to come in here and take care of business,’’ Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer said. “Instead, we kind of beat ourselves. They came out, they executed well and we didn’t.’’