Tampa Bay’s hits on Cam Newton the set tone
Eduardo Encina, Tampa Bay Times, published 3 December 2018

The Bucs found the formula to stop an offense that ran them around the field when last they met: pressuring Cam Newton. In their 24-17 win over the Panthers on Sunday, the Bucs flipped the script from their 42-28 loss last month by making the quarterback uncomfortable. The Bucs recorded four sacks and nine quarterback hits on Newton.

"Our four sacks were one thing," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said of his team's third straight game with that total. "But the last two interceptions, (Newton) was hit on the throw. Those balls were fluttering. Cam, he's got a rifle. Those balls hung up in the air. Our D-line was relentless. … Those guys, they played their tails off."

Jason Pierre-Paul made a sack on a crucial third-and-5 play late in the fourth quarter. Vinny Curry posted his first sack since Week 3. Gerald McCoy hit Newton on his final two interceptions, fourth-quarter passes that floated in the air and allowed safety Andrew Adams to get underneath them. Carl Nassib also logged two quarterback hits.

Pierre-Paul said there was an emphasis on getting pressure on Newton, especially after the Panthers logged 407 total yards in the last game between the teams. "We practice that; practice what you preach," Pierre-Paul said. "We definitely did that this week. We knew the mistakes we made in the first game, and we corrected it, and it just showed out there. We just all played together. We're all fighting injuries, but that's football."

The Panthers typically do a good job of protecting Newton. Carolina entered Sunday having allowed an average of 1.8 sacks a game. But the Bucs took a page out of the Steelers' playbook for their Nov. 8 win over the Panthers, in which they sacked Newton five times.

The Panthers have allowed 12 sacks during a four-game losing streak. Asked if the Bucs' pressure was a big factor in his interceptions, Newton said, "To a degree, but at the end of the day, our offensive line did great." "You just can't keep throwing the ball up for grabs," he said. "And I'm a better player than that, and I know that."

The defense also set the tone with two early sacks by linebackers. On the Panthers' second offensive play, Kevin Minter's sack put Carolina in a third-and-19 hole. Newton threw his first interception on the next play. "For the guys on the sideline, there's always one play that kind of shifts the momentum," said Minter, signed as a free agent in late October. "It gets guys going, and that seemed to be it. It's a blessing just to be a part of a team like this. I'm just a fortunate dude. I got my number called."

Later in the first quarter, linebacker Lavonte David sacked Newton on a first down at the Carolina 43-yard line, stalling a drive. "We played simple," Pierre-Paul said. "We played for each other. All the coaches preach just playing for each other. That's what we did. You just saw the willpower that we wanted to win.