The Panthers aren't headed to the playoffs this year, but they will finish the season as one of the hotter teams in the league, which bodes well for next year.
The Panthers have won four of their last five games entering Sunday's New Year's Day season finale against the New Orleans Saints.
"It's unfortunate that we're playing like this at the end when we let a lot of them slip away early on but it's exciting for the future," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We had a banged-up secondary today and those guys played great and our defensive line despite having some injuries inside is really coming into their own. Offense is finally coming together and figuring out how to make this thing go. We're a good team now and everybody is focusing on next week and next season."
Cam Newton has solidified his place as a strong NFL Rookie of the Year candidate with four more touchdowns on Saturday against the Bucs.
He's now combined for 34 touchdowns
"We caught a lot of momentum in the latter part the season with not just making plays, but also understanding what (offensive coordinator ) Rob Chudzinski is trying to do with the blocking schemes. If it's third down, we can try to get a gist of what he is about to call," Newton said. "Understanding the route concepts. Why is he calling this play? When you have the running backs understanding it just as much as I am understanding it and when the linemen are correcting me if I make a mistake with calling a play, that's something special.
"It just tells you how much we evolved from the beginning of the season with everybody's heads turning, with the short offseason, with the lockout taking place. Everybody's just, in the latter part of this season, grabbing the bull by the horns and taken responsibility learning the whole offense and making plays at the same time."
The Panthers ran for 270 yards against the Bucs, the second-most in franchise history. They entered the game fifth in the league in rushing after a slow start this season.
"Throughout the season we are in a lot of games," running back Jonathan Stewart said. "The main thing we have to learn as a team is how to finish games out."