CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Cam Newton says the Tampa Bay Buccaneers remind him a little of last season's Carolina Panthers in the way the Buccaneers are making a late-season surge.
Newton better hope the Panthers (8-3) don't fall victim to Tampa Bay (3-8) the way other teams did against Carolina a year ago when the Panthers won their final four games and five or their last six.
Carolina has won a franchise-record seven straight games to put it on a collision course with New Orleans (9-2) next week for the NFC South lead. It must get past a Tampa team that has won three straight and was an overtime loss to Seattle from having won four straight since a 31-13 loss to the Panthers.
Here are five keys for Carolina:
Start fast: The Panthers squandered several early scoring opportunities last week against Miami. They wound up rallying for a 20-16 victory on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left. If you let struggling teams hang around long enough, you're eventually going to lose.
Establish the run: Newton has led the team in rushing the past two games and in three of the past five, including the win against Tampa (11 carries, 50 yards). The Panthers need to get backs DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart more involved, even if it means sticking with the hot hand instead of rotating the three. That might be tough with Williams questionable with a quad injury.
Stop McCoy: Tampa defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has four sacks in his past three games, including three two weeks ago against Atlanta. The Panthers held this disruptive force to two tackles and no sacks in their first meeting. They must do it again to get in rhythm offensively.
Keep flipping the field: Punter Brad Nortman quietly has been a huge weapon for Carolina. He was instrumental in the win against Miami with a team-record 56.7-yard average on seven punts. He basically flipped the field on three punts where he kicked inside his own 20.
Pressure Glennon: A big reason for Tampa's recent success has been the consistent play of quarterback Mike Glennon. The Panthers kept him off balance in the first game with three sacks, but two came from defensive end Charles Johnson, who will miss his second straight game with a sprained right knee. Somebody has to step up, likely Greg Hardy who had one sack in the first meeting.