Newton, Panthers offense looks to bounce back after 1st loss

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers may need an MVP-type performance from Cam Newton on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to secure home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

He and the Panthers are looking to bound back from their first loss of the season.

The Panthers had the No. 1 scoring offense in the league entering last weekend after putting up at least 27 points in 12 straight games. But they were held to 13 points in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons - one that cost them a shot at an unbeaten season.

Newton said Thursday he's anxious to get back on the field against the Buccaneers, who have been eliminated from playoff contention.

''Of course you wish you could push the reset button and go out there and play them again, but it is what it is,'' Newton said Thursday. ''I guarantee you will see a lot of guys geared up and ready to go and trying to eliminate that from happening again.''

Carolina can wrap up the No. 1 seed with a win Sunday or an Arizona loss.

The Panthers seem to go as Newton goes, particularly with Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Stewart still nursing a foot injury.

Newton led the Panthers on a touchdown drive to open against Atlanta, but the Panthers struggled to move the chains after that in the quarterback's home town where his girlfriend had just given birth to the couple's first son a few days earlier on Christmas eve - a 9-pound, 6-ounce son that Newton joked ''is already getting scholarship offers.'' Carolina managed just two field goals for the remainder of the game and 268 total yards on offense.

''We have to get back to what we did the week before,'' coach Ron Rivera said.

The Panthers don't seem overly concerned they'll be able to do that against a Tampa Bay team they beat 37-23 on the road in October.

Carolina tight end Greg Olsen said the concern on the outside surrounding this team is grossly overblown after just one loss.

''We won 14 games in a row for a reason,'' said Olsen, the team's leader in receptions. ''Everybody just needs to relax. It's not the end of the world. We're disappointed that we lost. ... I don't think there's any added pressure. We have one last box to check, and that's what this week is about.''

Rivera said Thursday his team appears focused following what he called a ''weird'' week full of distractions leading up the Falcons game that included the fallout from the Odell Beckman Jr. incident.

''Once the game was over we should have been able to move on but we weren't,'' Rivera said. ''Because I was constantly asked the question, players were constantly asked the question and we were trying to focus on (the Falcons). It was like people didn't want to let it go. I tried to end, They tried to end it. But it didn't (end). That contributed to the weirdness of last week.''

Newton, who announced the birth of his son on Twitter Wednesday night, left practice early last week to travel to Atlanta to be there when his son was born. Rivera said that didn't contribute to Sunday's poor performance against the Falcons, and the coach isn't concerned it will impact Newton this week.

Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said he wouldn't be surprised if Newton is named the league's MVP. He also believes Carolina's offense won't stay down for long.

''They just didn't get 20 points,'' Smith said. ''I saw them still committed to running the football. Some of the runs didn't get as much as they normally did. They had opportunities, didn't cash in and get the scores. But again, I didn't see much of a big difference. The outcome was just a little different.''

For Newton, he has more to be prepared for this week than just a football game. His life has changed some in the last week since becoming a father.

When asked what his plans were for New Year's Eve, he smiled and said, ''Burping.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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