Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY

Carolina Panthers Leading the Tampa Bay Bucs 24-3 at Halftime

The Carolina Panthers had plenty to play for in Week 17 as they needed a win against the Bucs, or a Cardinals loss, to secure the number one seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They certainly came to play as they are leading the Bucs 24-3 at halftime.

  • The Carolina Panthers started with the ball and had a promising drive but it was stopped due to two sacks by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that knocked them out of field goal range. The offense leaned heavily on Mike Tolbert, who had three straight runs to pick up the first first down and then a reception on the next play. Cam Newton then took over completing four of five passes but the incompletion was probably the biggest play though as Philly Brown dropped a 37-yard touchdown pass in the end zone. 
  • The Bucs got the scoring started on a 39-yard field goal by Connor Barth after wide receiver Devin Funchess fumbled on the Panthers' second possession. However, the Bucs have not been able to get much offense going since that field goal with those being the only points of the first half.
  • The Panthers then responded with 24 straight points and entered halftime with a three touchdown lead over the Bucs. The majority of the work was done by Newton throwing the ball down the field with 211 passing yards, more than he had all game against the Atlanta Falcons. However, it was the run game that got the ball across the goal line with Newton scoring the first touchdown and then rookie Cameron Artis-Payne scoring his first career touchdown.
  • While Newton and Artis-Payne have the rushing touchdowns, Mike Tolbert has been the most effective running back with 44 rushing yards on eight attempts in the first half. 
  • Cam Newton also tied an NFL record with his 31st game with at least one rushing and one passing touchdown, tying Hall of Famer Steve Young. He got the record with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
  • The one area the team will need to improve, or it could be a determining factor in pulling Newton early, is they need to do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback. Newton was sacked three times by the Bucs in the first half with one additional QB hit by Gerald McCoy.
  • The defense has played much better today than they have the past few weeks and after giving up 234 rushing yards the past two games, they have allowed only 11 rushing yard to Doug Martin, who is the second leading rusher in the league.
  • The biggest concern though may be for Luke Kuechly who had to leave the field on the third to last play of the first half after taking a big hit on a screen pass. The Panthers are going to probably not try to push it and this will be the end of the day for the Panthers' middle linebacker.

Scoreboard Watch

 Seattle Seahawks 30, Arizona Cardinals 6 Halftime

This game was certainly important for the Panthers entering Week 17 because they needed a win or a Cardinals loss to secure the top seed in the NFC. Well it seems to be going all Panthers way as they are up 21 points on the Bucs and Seattle is running away from Arizona.

Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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