Newton, Norman help unbeaten Panthers improve to 4-0
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Carolina Panthers aren't apologizing for who they have beaten during their fastest start in 12 years. What really matters is they are undefeated heading into their bye week after Sunday's 37-23 victory over the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
''How many other teams are 4-0? We're going to continue to keep pounding regardless of what they say, because at the end of the day, they're not where we're at,'' cornerback Josh Norman said.
Ed Dickson lumbered 57 yards after recovering a fumble to score for Carolina, which is off to its best start since 2003, when the Panthers began with five consecutive victories and wound up playing in the Super Bowl.
''It's nice to be in the situation we are in,'' Panthers coach Rob Rivera said. ''We still think we have room to improve and be a better football team.''
They've done it without star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has missed the past three games after suffering a concussion.
''It gives us confidence,'' Newton said. ''But through it all, we still haven't played the football that we know we're capable of.''
Newton threw scoring passes of 6 and 12 yards to Ted Ginn, Jr. He had a modest day statistically, with 124 yards passing and a team-leading 51 more rushing. But the fifth-year pro had just one turnover - a third-quarter fumble - on a day when play was affected at times by heavy rain.
Meanwhile, Norman was center stage again, a week after making a game-saving interception in the end zone against New Orleans. He has four picks overall, and he's scored twice.
According to the NFL, the fourth-year pro became the first Carolina player to return a pair of interceptions for TDs in the first four weeks of a season. He's the first in the league to do it in the past five years.
''This will be Josh Norman's best year,'' Newton said. ''Up until this point he's playing lights out, giving everybody confidence.''
The Bucs (1-3), have lost five straight in the NFC South rivalry and have dropped 11 consecutive homes games - 10 under second-year coach Lovie Smith - dating to December 2013.
''All losses are disappointing,'' Smith said, ''but we shouldn't be getting beat that way.''
Some things to know about Carolina's success and Tampa Bay's struggles:
DISRUPTING JAMEIS: The Panthers only sacked Winston twice, but they also had six quarterback hits while forcing the rookie into some poor decisions. The No. 1 overall pick finished 26 of 43, including TDs of 10 yards to Charles Sims and 6 yards to Vincent Jackson, who had 10 receptions for 147 yards.
FINDING WAYS TO LOSE: The Bucs outgained the Panthers 411 yards to 244 and limited Newton's top receiver, tight end Greg Olsen, to two catches for 28 yards. That sounds like a recipe for success, except for the team's kicking woes and costly turnovers that led to 27 points for Carolina.
KICKING WOES: Smith declined to say whether he's considering a change after another poor performance by Kyle Brindza. ''We're not going to start kicking people off (the team) in the press conference,'' the coach said.
STRIVING FOR BALANCE: The Bucs rushed for 141 yards, which is an encouraging sign. Doug Martin averaged 5.3 yards per carry, with a long of 26 yards on Sunday. His 5-yard TD run in the second quarter trimmed Tampa Bay's deficit to 17-10.
FORTUNATE BOUNCE: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries. He gained 8 before fumbling on the zany play, in which Dickson recovered the loose ball in midair and took off for the end zone in the third quarter. ''Just seeing the ball pop up like a greased pig, nobody really panicked because Ed picked it up mid-stride,'' Newton said. ''We've just got to work on him taking that car out of neutral when he's running.''
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