CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To a man, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew what was coming.
Still, they couldn’t do anything about it.
Late in the opening half, 6-foot-5 quarterback Cam Newton used his length and athleticism to extend Carolina’s lead to 17-6 with a fourth-down touchdown leap that justified the faith of coach Ron Rivera.
“I felt obligated to get the football in the end zone by any means necessary,’’ Newton said after posting his team-high sixth rushing score of the season.
A 30-yard screen pass to tight end Greg Olsen gave the Panthers a first down at the 8-yard line, and three consecutive running plays left Rivera with a tough fourth-down decision, with the ball resting a yard away from the Tampa Bay end zone.
“To me, it was a point in the game where if you can score points going in, I think it sends a really good message,’’ Rivera said. “If you don’t score the points, the way we were playing on defense, I felt really confident in our guys as a team.’’
Each club called a timeout to prepare for the pivotal snap and Newton vaulted over the top behind a nine-man front, extending the ball past the goal line just before Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis jarred it loose.
“We knew what they were going to do,’’ said Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David, who finished with nine tackles and his third interception of the season. “Cam made it across by a slim margin. He got it over the line before we could get to the ball.’’
Newton also dashed 56 yards around left end in the opening quarter to set up a go-ahead touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell, but it was Newton’s clutch scoring run that broke open a tight game.
“You’ve got an athletic guy who made an athletic play,’’ Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It’s not tough, we just have to stop them.’’
Because Bucs coach Greg Schiano chose not to use all three of his timeouts during that crucial sequence, only 25 seconds remained in the second quarter when Tampa Bay began the ensuing drive at its 20-yard line. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon took a knee to end the half.
Revis grounded once again
Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis was listed as questionable with a groin strain but played until suffering a different injury late in the third quarter.
He nearly intercepted quarterback Cam Newton’s pass intended for wide receiver Steve Smith at the right sideline, in front of the Carolina bench, but Revis came down awkwardly and remained on the ground for several minutes. Revis never returned and the Bucs said he hurt his chest and shoulder on the play.
“All I know is I hit my head on the ground,’’ Revis said. “Other than that, I don’t know what’s going on. You’re going to have to talk to the trainer.’’
At that point, Revis departed the locker room to board the team bus, leaving his status for Sunday’s home matchup against Buffalo uncertain.
After driving 59 yards on their opening possession, leading to Rian Lindell’s 27-yard field goal and an early lead, Tampa Bay’s offense basically took the rest of the day off.
The Bucs set season lows for total yards (206), third-down conversions (1-for-10), offensive snaps (46) and sacks allowed (5), while registering only 10 first downs for the second consecutive week.
“They’ve got a good defense for sure, but there were a lot of things we could have done better,’’ Bucs left tackle Donald Penn said. “We came into this game with some momentum and we didn’t get the job done. I can’t wait to play these guys again, but right now, they’re playing good football.’’
The Bucs were unable to establish a credible ground game, leaving quarterback Mike Glennon in too many third-and-long situations.
“To say we struggled on third down would be an understatement,’’ coach Greg Schiano said. “We were non-effective.’’
By the time the Bucs gained 50 of their 66 total rushing yards in the third quarter, they were 11 points down against the hottest team in the league.
“We knew we needed to stop the running game, because that’s a big part of their offense,’’ Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein said. “Especially with their play-action pass off of it, too. So, the No. 1 goal was to stop the run first and foremost, and then get after the quarterback, which we did.’’