Newton leads Panthers to NFC's top seed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) For the first time, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through Charlotte.
Cam Newton ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, and the Carolina Panthers captured the No. 1 seed for the first time in their 21-year history with a 38-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Newton tied Steve Young’s NFL record for most career TDs rushing by a quarterback with 43. Young took 15 seasons to reach that plateau; Newton did it in five.
Newton completed 21 of 26 passes for 293 yards as Carolina (15-1) overcame a slow start to build a 31-3 lead in the third quarter.
Rookie Devin Funchess had seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown and Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 44 yards and a score as Carolina won its 11th straight home game, the longest streak in the NFL.
Jameis Winston threw for 325 yards, but was intercepted twice as the Bucs (6-10) finished last in the NFC South for the fourth time in five years.
The Bucs led 3-0 after the first quarter before Newton began to heat up.
The Pro Bowl quarterback put the Panthers up for good early in the second quarter by scoring on a quarterback bootleg around the right end.
After Graham Gano’s 49-yard field goal, linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted an underthrown pass by Winston setting up an 11-yard TD run by Artis-Payne, who saw extensive action with Carolina’s top two running backs – Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker – sitting out with injuries.
The Panthers made it 24-3 when Newton connected on a 31-yard strike down the middle to an open Jerricho Cotchery just before halftime. It marked the 31st time Newton had thrown and run for a touchdown in the game, tying him with Young for another NFL record.
Carolina increased its lead to 31-3 after Tampa Bay’s Robby Rainey fumbled a punt return and Joe Webb picked up the ball and returned it to the Bucs 5. Two plays later, Newton scored on a quarterback sneak to tie Young’s rushing record.
The Panthers needed a win or an Arizona loss to seal home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But despite the big lead – and the fact the Cardinals were losing big to the Seattle Seahawks – Panthers coach Ron Rivera kept his starters in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
Winston scored on a 4-yard rushing touchdown before Newton added a 16-yard TD pass to Funchess over the middle, bringing fans to their feet with chants of ”MVP! MVP!”
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