1. Cam Newtons third-down scramble
The score: Scoreless, first quarter, 7:35 to play.
The situation: With the Panthers driving on their first possession of the game, Cam Newton is sacked on first down for a loss of 12. A second-down pass to Steve Smith sets up third and 12.
The play: Newton, forced to scramble left by pressure, turns upfield and gains 16 yards for a first down at the Tampa Bay 19. Four plays later, Newton found Greg Olsen for a 1-yard touchdown pass.
Why it mattered: The Panthers won the toss for the fifth straight game, and for the fifth straight time deferred their choice to the second half and started on defense. After forcing a three-and-out, Carolina drove 70 yards in 15 plays for an early 7-0 lead.
2. Ted Ginns drop
The score: Panthers lead 14-3.
The situation: With 9:53 to play in the second quarter, and after Ted Ginns fumble on a Buccaneers punt is ruled down by contact, the Panthers have the ball at their 27, first down.
The play: Newton throws a perfect strike to Ginn, in stride and behind the defense, down the right sideline, and Ginn drops it.
Why it mattered: Instead of a 73-yard touchdown and an early 21-3 lead, the Panthers go three-and-out. and the Bucs drove 43 yards in 10 plays for a second Rian Lindell field goal, cutting the Carolina lead to 14-6 and keeping Tampa Bay in the game.
3. Rivera being Rivera
The score: Panthers leading 21-6.
The situation: With 8:33 to play in the third quarter, Riverboat Ron Rivera and the Panthers faced fourth and 1 at the Tampa Bay 28.
The play: The Panthers, as has been their custom of late, go for it, and hand the ball to Mike Tolbert off right tackle. Despite a hit by the Bucs Mark Barron short of the first down, second effort gives Carolina the first down.
Why it mattered: Cam Newtons 6-yard touchdown run four plays later gave the Panthers a 21-6 lead and a little breathing room.
4. The muffed punt
The score: Panthers leading 21-6, third quarter.
The situation: The Panthers are forced to punt after a three-and-out that includes a sack of Newton.
The play: Bucs return man Eric Page muffs the punt, and Colin Jones recovers for the Panthers at the Tampa Bay 29 with 2:08 to play in the third quarter.
Why it mattered: The turnover set up a 3-yard Newton touchdown pass to Tolbert four plays later, and the Panthers took a 28-6 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
5. Bucs last gasp
The score: Panthers leading 28-6, fourth quarter.
The situation: The Bucs, needing three scores, go for it on fourth down from their 16 with 7:57 to go.
The play: Mike Glennons pass is almost intercepted by Panthers safety Robert Lester, bringing down a chorus of boos, and the ball goes over on downs to the Panthers. The Panthers cant get a first down, but Graham Ganos field goal makes it 31-6.
Why it mattered: The game was probably already decided, but the field goal made it a four-score game and removed all doubt the Panthers would be above .500 for the first time since before Barack Obama was inaugurated for his first term as president.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less