The Carolina Panthers now know that they only time they will have to travel over the month will be if they make it to the Super Bowl and head to San Francisco. The team controlled their own destiny and with a 38-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured the top seed in the NFC and a 15-1 regular season record.
The game looked to get off to a fast start for the Panthers but two sacks by the Bucs on the opening drive knocked them out of field goal range. This was the only time they really threatened to score in the first quarter after Devin Funchess fumbled to end the second drive and the Bucs capitalized with a field goal.
The second quarter was a completely different story as the offense put up 24 points with two rushing touchdowns, one by Cam Newton and one by Cameron Artis-Payne, and a passing touchdown by Newton to Jerricho Cotchery inside the final two minutes to give them a three possession lead.
Newton wasn't done there as he had another rushing touchdown in the third quarter and passing touchdown to Funchess in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach for the Bucs.
This was a great bounce back game for Newton, who was coming off one of his worst statistical games of the season last week against the Falcons. He finished the game completing 21 of 26 passes for 293 passing yards with the three total touchdowns. Newton also tied two NFL records on Sunday against the Bucs, which can be read here.
He was able to put these passing numbers thanks to a career game from Devin Funchess, who finished with seven receptions for 120 receiving yards and the one score. The offense was desperate to have one of their wide receivers step up with Ted Ginn Jr. out due to injuries and the rookie answered the call.
The biggest positive from this game may have been the play of the defense and the way they were able to shut down Doug Martin. The past two games the Panthers' defense gave up 234 rushing yards on the ground and this certainly looked like a bad matchup as they prepared to shut down the second leading rusher. Well the defense won this battle as Martin only ran for 48 rushing yards on 15 attempts, his third lowest total of the season.
While Jameis Winston did throw for over 300 yards, the Panthers were able to force him into mistakes and the offense took advantage of those. The Panthers picked off Winston twice, once by Thomas Davis and one by cornerback Robert McClain, and both times responded with touchdowns of their own.
The Panthers will now get some time to rest as they have earned a first-round bye and it certainly couldn't have come at a better time. The team is dealing with a number of injuries that should know have time to heal and hopefully be healthy in two weeks.