Panthers vs. Buccaneers: 5 Things We Learned in Carolina's Win over Tampa Bay

Tyler Horner@BR_TylerHornerCorrespondent IIDecember 24, 2011

Panthers vs. Buccaneers: 5 Things We Learned in Carolina's Win over Tampa Bay

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    The Panthers are ending the 2011 season quite nicely, and a 48-point dismantling of the division rival Buccaneers only cemented the change of atmosphere in Carolina. 

    Cam Newton broke Peyton Manning's rookie record for passing yards on the offense's first drive and went on to pass for three touchdowns and run one in from 49 yards out. 

    The offense was rolling on all cylinders, and the defense stepped up as well, limiting the Bucs to only 3.1 yards per carry. 

    Here are five notes to take away from the victory. 

Cam Puts It into High Gear

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    Cam Newton has been an incredibly efficient runner this season, but being urged by the coaching staff to avoid more hits, the athletic quarterback has been tentative to go for the big play—his longest run before the Buccaneers game was 26 yards. 

    Late in the third quarter, Newton broke that trend and ran 49 yards into the end zone, making a defensive back miss in the open field and then muscling his way into the end zone. As he cut into the open field, Newton glided away from Buccaneer defenders, looking like one of the fastest quarterbacks I've ever seen. 

LaFell Steps It Up

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    Steve Smith faced double coverage all day and with Newton's top target taken out of the game, someone had to step up. That man was Brandon LaFell. 

    LaFell made an impressive catch at the Carolina 40 yard line and proceeded to take the ball the remaining 60 yards into the end zone for the longest pass of Cam Newton's young career. 

    Not only was it an incredible catch, but it came at just the right time, with the Buccaneers having cut the Panthers' lead to three. 

Running Game Looks Unstoppable

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    The Panthers ran for an amazing 270 yards against Tampa Bay, with three players running for more than 60 yards—the leader was Jonathan Stewart with 88.

    Carolina now has three players with over 600 yards on the season and Stewart and Cam Newton are both nearing 700 while Williams is nearing 800. 

    If Newton can continue to progress as a passer and the running game remains potent, this team will have possibly the most balanced offense in the NFL next season. 

Defense Tightens Up

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    One of the story lines of the Panthers' season has been the defense's failures in the second half. Lack of depth and less than stellar play calling have been responsible for multiple second half debacles for this team. 

    Today, the defense played the run stout all game, allowing only one run over 10 yards; a 15 yarder. The secondary didn't play poorly either, allowing the bulk of the yardage to Josh Freeman in garbage time. This was undoubtedly a good sign for a defense that has been beat up on all season. 

Turnovers Torture Tampa Bay

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    The Buccaneers were unable to get rolling on offense, mainly due to a slew of mental mistakes that switched the momentum and gave Carolina a huge advantage. 

    The defense hit hard all day, jarring loose two fumbles, including one on a kickoff that set the team up with an easy score. 

    I made a note of this last week, but it's obviously become more than just a side note at this point; Carolina is 6-0 when not committing a turnover and 0-9 when they do.