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Carolina Panthers cruise past Bucs

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates a Panthers touchdown against the Bucs in the first half. [AP photo]

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates a Panthers touchdown against the Bucs in the first half. [AP photo]

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Bucs' late-season slide got only worse at the end Sunday, with Cam Newton and Carolina cruising to a 38-10 victory at Bank of America Stadium to end Tampa Bay's season with a four-game losing streak.

Combined with the Saints' win over Atlanta, the Bucs (6-10) finished last in the NFC South for the fifth year in a row. The margin of defeat matched the Bucs' largest this season, bookending their year with 28-point losses to the teams with the NFL's worst (Titans) and best records.

Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston became just the third rookie in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season, joining Newton and Andrew Luck.

Bucs receiver Mike Evans was ejected from the game with 1:55 left after drawing two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play for "disrespectfully addressing the official" after an incompletion.

The Bucs led 3-0 early but saw Newton throw for 211 yards in the first half, with one passing touchdown and another rushing. He would add a second running score in the third quarter as the Panthers (15-1) clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The Bucs struggled again to do anything offensively in the first half, digging another deep hole. Doug Martin, second in the NFL in rushing, had just 11 yards on nine carries in the first half, and Tampa Bay's only points came on a short field after a fumble recovery, the first by the Bucs' defense in six games.

Winston wasn't sharp early, with an interception in the second quarter as the Bucs trailed 10-3. That set up a Carolina touchdown as part of a 24-point second quarter — the Bucs trailed 24-3 at the half.

In two games against Carolina this season, Winston threw six interceptions; in the 11 games between, he threw a total of six interceptions.

Winston passed Peyton Manning for the third-most passing yards ever by a rookie quarterback. The Bucs reset their franchise record for total offense in a season, which had been 5,820 in 2012.

Martin, who had hoped to challenge Minnesota's Adrian Peterson for the NFL rushing title, came in 64 yards behind and finished with a lackluster 48 on 15 carries, including 30 on one run in the third quarter.

Carolina Panthers cruise past Bucs 01/03/16 [Last modified: Sunday, January 3, 2016 7:42pm]
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