The Carolina Panthers (4-8) are on a winning streak.
For the first time since 2009, when they closed the season with three consecutive victories, the Panthers followed a win with another win.
Carolina beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8) 38-19 at Raymond James Stadium on the back of a strong running game and a stout run defense.
In doing so, they emerged from the NFC South cellar with their highest-scoring offensive output since their 41-9 victory over the New York Giants on December 27, 2009.
The Panthers had not won back-to-back games on the road since October 2007.
For the second week in a row, and for the third time in their four wins this season, the Panthers ran the ball more often than they threw it.
Cam Newton completed 12 passes on 21 attempts for 204 yards and his 13th touchdown pass of the season. He also ran the ball 14 times for 54 yards and three scores (rushing touchdowns 11, 12 and 13 of the season) en route to setting the NFL record for most touchdown runs in a season by a quarterback.
Jonathan Stewart rushed for an additional 80 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown on the opening drive.
Newton has not been the leading passer in a game since the break, after accomplishing that feat six times in the Panthers’ first eight games.
However, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski seems to have found a winning formula in keeping his passing attempts in the 20-25 range and running the ball upwards of 30 times per game.
The Panthers defense, which was giving up over 135 rushing yards per game heading into Week 13, allowed the Buccaners just 78 yards on the ground.
The Bucs were led by fill-in quarterback Josh Johnson’s 45 yards rushing, while Tampa Bay’s leading rusher and human wrecking ball, LeGarrette Blount, was held to just 25 yards on eight carries.
This was just the second time this year that the Panthers did not allow a single runner to gain at least 80 yards in a game.
Panthers defensive tackle Andre Neblett filled in well for Simone Fua and his presence in the middle of the defense may be key to the Panthers slowing down their opponents' running games the rest of the season, though that will be a tall task with the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner and the Houston Texans' Arian Foster and Ben Tate coming up on the schedule.
If Cam Newton’s goal was to re-write the record books for rookie NFL quarterbacks this season, he has succeeded.
After becoming the first quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games, Newton has taken to using his legs to get his team into the end zone and move the chains up and down the field.
Newton ran for three one-yard touchdowns against the Buccaneers to break former New England Patriots signal-caller Steve Grogan’s 35-year-old record for most rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback.
Newton is also on pace to eclipse Peyton Manning's record for most yards passing by a rookie NFL quarterback.
Quarterbacking records are made to be broken, but last year’s Heisman Trophy winner seems to have a leg up on the competition.
The Panthers have four remaining games in 2011, including a rematch against the Bucs in Charlotte, NC, and one each against the Atlanta Falcons (7-5), the New Orleans Saints (9-3) and the Houston Texans (9-3).
The Panthers’ remaining schedule is among the most difficult closing stretches in the league, but the team will try to win them all. Anything less than two wins in the final four games of the season would be a major disappointment.
As head coach Ron Rivera would modify his comments from last week, the Panthers are playing for five weeks now with four to go in the 2011 NFL season.
They are playing for this season and for positive momentum to carry the Panthers towards a winning and successful 2012 NFL season.