TAMPA — You can recognize Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton as a much-improved pocket passer.
You can call him an ever-dangerous runner.
But around Raymond James Stadium, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers view Newton in a generally ominous light.
He’s still their nemesis.
“We just got outplayed by him,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
“Cam Newton … oh man … wow!” defensive tackle Akeem Spence said.
Newton produced three TDs — two passing and one rushing — along with 271 total yards in Carolina’s 31-13 victory against the Bucs on Thursday night.
In five career games against Tampa Bay, Newton has accounted for 15 touchdowns.
“He kills us,” Spence said. “He kills a lot of people, not just us.”
Thursday night, Newton completed 23 of 31 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 11 times for 50 yards, his most productive rushing outing of the season.
“He’s a great scrambling quarterback and it’s always tough to face a scrambling quarterback,” said Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, who had a team-leading 12 tackles. “You’ve just got to play football. He just executed what he does, that’s it.”
But Newton’s combination of size, speed and savvy makes him a bigger challenge than the average mobile NFL quarterback. Plus, he has improved immensely at delivering passes.
“He’s definitely better and so is their offense,” Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said before the game. “Cam has definitely matured and he has become a much, much better pocket passer.
“He can still pull it down — and he will — but he’s really looking to throw it.”
Newton hurt the Bucs on the ground during a nine-play, 53-yard drive that put Carolina up 21-6 with 6:34 left in the third quarter. On second-and-10 from Tampa Bay’s 26-yard line, Newton scrambled up the middle for 19 yards. Two plays later, unable to find an open receiver, he scored standing up from the 6.
“What are you going to do?” Spence said. “The guy is built like a defensive lineman or a linebacker and he runs like a receiver. He’s one of the great escape artists in the league.
“If you’ve got the pass defended perfectly, he can still hurt you. He’s a challenge, no doubt. We didn’t answer that challenge tonight.”